Thursday, July 31, 2008

house of saddam

House of Saddam, a four part mini-series dramatising the several-decade long tyranny of the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, started on BBC2 last night. A collaboration with the American company HBO, and scheduled rather unfortunately in the holiday season, it was a handsome and effective drama which used the family-saga concept of the American gangster film genre to summon up the terror of Hussein's rule.

Saddam was - rightly - terrifying. There were, as in Kevin McDonald's awesome portrait of Idi Amin, The Last King of Scotland, efforts to portray both sides of the fearsome protagonist. But not many. Within minutes, Saddam (played by Gordon Brown) was purging his enemies and murdering his friends, killing his closest ally so that his enemies would fear him all the more. One moment he was talking his son Uday (at this point presumably still a latent psycopath) through the noble history of Iraq, and the next he was declaring war on Iran.

Because the drama was rooted somewhere between Shakespeare and the Sopranos, the war soon faded into the background, so that the family squabbles could resume. This was perhaps a shame, as the war was one of history's most tragic, with over a million Iranian lives lost. But perhaps there is more of this to come in later episodes, as the US and Chemical Ali - whose cameo provided a brief moment of levity - become more involved.

The programme was at its most inventive and engaging when dealing with Saddam's inner circle. Dead centre was his mother, a vicious crone who urged him forward in his unspeakable violence. When she died he shed no tears, telling her "you gave me nothing", despite her offering him the first bit of useful advice of her life. "I'm glad you never knew your father", she tells him, "he had mad blood". Saddam's response is ruthlessly rational. He takes his father's family to his heart forthwith.

Aside from the strong portrayal of Saddamm and Chemical Ali's comic turn, most interesting was the dictator's young half-brother (played by David Milliband) who is first seized close and then betrayed. The episode ends with him in a white fury, considering Saddam's cruelty. As future episodes will doubtless show, he got off, in comparison, deliriously lightly.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

peas and pods

Under two weeks until I move flat now, and the feeling of stress and dread is gradually being eroded by the fact that I am aware that I'm getting things done. I seem to have spent much of the last week on the telephone, arguing with utility providers and my bank, chasing my letting agent, trying to close things down which need closing and open others which demand my attention. So far, broadly, so good.

But I do realise that doing all this makes me feel grim; I've had to buy some furniture and I hate making expensive purchases, it makes me feel sick. I've had to make arrangements over the phone, which I hate too. And I hate waiting for some future event. When I feel better again, like I do now, knowing that the job is done, I reflect there's another reason I'm behaving this way, and that's because I'm exactly like my father. Trying to sort out some online banking problems yesterday I felt positively black; irritated and morose, and looking back I think I was mirroring him exactly when he is feeling under pressure and put upon.

To be clear, my dad is really lovely, and not a bad-tempered person, but since I was a kid I've observed him becoming occasionally snappy and morose ahead of any stressful situation, however superficially happy they are; the only times he ever shouted at me when I was young were in the days preceding summer holidays, or in the days leading up to Christmas. His moods don't last long, happily, and he never holds on to it for long. My own instincts are definitely tempered by my mother's ceaseless good cheer, but in this respect I'm exactly the same.

That's because we're the same, I suppose.

The good news is that in a couple of weeks I'll have moved, and this blog will be back to its normal, sunny self.

five years time

Ugh, completely tied up with flat-move nonsense and heat-exhaustion at the moment, hence the lack of crdible blogging; apologies. In the meantime, just to keep things ticking over, I thought I'd post the cool video to my favourite song right now; Noah & The Whale's ukulele-tastic 'Five Years Time'. Love it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

on karadvic

Just a quick post on this hot, too hot day to send you scampering off towards Dan's excellent Hii Dunia site, where there is a quite brilliant article on the capture of Radovan Karadzic. It posits the question "What does Karadzic’s arrest mean for Serbia, for BiH, for international law and the European Union (E.U)?" Its author, Alice Bloch, has written a really engaging post - go read it.

Here's an extract from her introduction:

Radovan Karadzic, 63, was accosted on a Belgrade bus on an otherwise mundane Monday, July 21st. This principal architect of the war in Bosnia and coordinator of the Srebrenica massacre (killing 8000 muslim men in 5 days in 1995), had been in hiding for thirteen years. During this time he had written a play from an unknown hiding place. Entitled “Situation”, it mocked the west’s attempts to capture him. Today, arrested and uncovered, Karadzic’s play, set in Belgrade, is laughably anachronistic, one scene too short. The world has watched the bearded and devout-looking Dr. Karadzic’s unmasking (and unmaking) with no less incredulity than that of a child seeing a Scooby Doo villain unveiled in a fantastical cartoon. But this is not the end of a cartoon, but a hunt for a war criminal accused - on 15 counts - of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Here's the rest.

Friday, July 25, 2008

lots of hits

Ooh, just noticed this in the sidebar.

Not far off 200,000 hits, which I think is rather amazing, really. I realise that half of those stats are probably me reading my own blog on the occasions when I forget to block the counter from recognising my own visits, or my mum and dad tuning in or something, but still...

If you're reading this and the stat counter on the right is bang on 200,000, then grab a screenshot and send it to me and I'll - probably - buy you a pint (if you live close by) or make you a mix CD (if you don't, or are mystifyingly teetotal).


Lots of work-related phone calls today, which provides a chance for a bit of doodling. Here are some pigeons. I was taking notes too, honest.

[excuse the rubbish scan, from the work photocopier]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

more lomography

Over on her Make Do And Mend blog, Laura has posted some photos taken with her ActionSampler camera, which is one of those cool lomography contraptions which takes four shots in quick succession, each from a seperate lens. I want one. Click here to take a look at her photos.

And here are a couple more of Siobhan's recent lomo photographs. The first was taken in a field near my parents house just outside Cambridge. The second was in Saint Anne's Well Gardens in Brighton. I ridiculed her for taking photographs of shadows. I was wrong.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the thoughtful left

Just a quick post to voice a bit of praise for some really excellent posting over at the Bloggers4Labour site recently; a year or two ago Andrew seemed mired in the recriminations over Iraq and the Euston Manifesto, unable to air his thoughts without being barracked by unfriendly critics on the one hand and unable to resist provoking more approbrium on the other. Thoughtful posts were slagged off mercilessly, and deliberately provocative posts flamed the tension. Towards the end of last year the site suddenly went quiet and Andrew turned his attention elsewhere.

Since his return a month or two ago it's been evident that the break did him good. He's always written well on complex political ideas, and he's always shown an instinct to swim against the tide, but he seems to have found a way to express challenging ideas more evenly and less confrontationally (for the most part), widening his focus and thinking to Labour's future in increasingly creative ways. There are a still a few trolls lurking in the comment boxes, but it's getting harder to pigeonhole his ideas and harder still to find a better or more open-minded Labour blogger. He's well worth a vote in Iain Dale's competition to find the best UK political blogs.

Anyway, the purpose of this post - and yes, he is a friend, and a birthday boy today to boot - is not to big him up but rather to link to a few of his recent posts, not all of which I necessarily agree with, but all of which have given me much pause for thought in recent days. I think - and Andrew may correct me if I'm wrong - that his purpose in blogging is to force people to think carefully about what it is they believe, and confront the possibility that they may be wrong. If I'm right, then he's doing his job perfectly. Even if he is still wrong about Iraq!

Here a few choice examples from recent days and weeks:

Here he is, defending secondary action, where one union goes on strike to express support for another:
Let's put it this way: in the UK, the right to join, and campaign within, a trade union (or any group) is a right due to all individuals. The rights of a trade union come through being a vessel for individuals to exercise their rights, providing the union acts democratically, and providing also that individuals who don't agree with their union's actions are not penalised - for example, by being coerced to support a strike that the majority have approved (unions must adhere to this latter provision, I'm less sure that members always feel bound by it.)

So the individual's right is to enjoy a relationship with a union, with individual secondary action simply an application of that existing right. Though they will be affected in practice by individuals' actions, employers are irrelevant to the question of individuals' rights, as are the employers of the friends and "comrades" the individual chooses to support for whatever reason. The union's secondary action rights are plainly an aggregation of the rights of their members, democratically expressed.

Critics might say: "where will it end, if unions can strike on the basis of sympathy with others, rather than distinct disputes?" This sounds very much like a "rights, but only so far" argument. Rights are there to be pushed as far as they will go. If they can't be pushed, they're worthless, and at the very same time, they cease to be rights.
Here he is again braving the contentious waters of foreign affairs, saying 'death to sovereignty'.
Screw solidarity, and screw sovereignty. What I look forward to is a world where the level of power one exerts over a population is proportionate to the level of punishment due to that person when the population suffers at their hand, or due to their neglect. A world where politicians (almost literally) live in fear of their people, not vice versa; and where sovereignty is invested in populations, not in greedy, corrupt, murderous, propaganda-wielding regimes.

I'm not condemning patriotism, or suggesting that 'national identity' is on the wane, just that the price people pay for their state operating a distinct set of political values, for politicians who look and sound like them, and for restrictions on their moving from one state to another, varies from the merely expensive at one end to impoverishing and brutalising at the other. State sovereignty is simply too high a price for people to pay, even if they did have a choice.

So I propose powerful international institutions that have precedence and authority over all national governments, that adhere to universal values, offer universal human rights, and which are prepared to use all means at their disposal - those of their member (ex-?) states, and the international corporations present within them - to overwhelm and subsume those states that defend their own rights over their people
And on 'nudging' people towards voting:
The argument here is that if the electorate believe that others are not bothering - for any of the myriad of good/explicable/plausible-sounding reasons that politicians have proposed - it's easier to justify not voting either; voting seems less and less like part of one's responsibility to society, and more like something exceptional - the action of a political activist, for example.

So if you believe that society is healthier if turnouts are very high (I'm sure I'd agree) then don't:

- Bleat about the electoral system or the nature of the political parties (which are not uniquely bad in the UK).
- Simply appeal to civic virtue, expecting people to look at their consciences.
- Punish non-voting.
- Devise strategies to make it 'cheaper and easier' to vote.
And lastly, going against the grain on the issue of closing the pay gap between men and women:
Before we look at the evidence, what about the principle? To be honest, I don't think I care whether men and women - across the entire economy - earn either the same average wage or income. Though the kind of people who audit companies don't have to be so crude, us lot use average income as a statistic to guide us to instances of exploitation, injustice, and thwarted ambitions. Those are the things we care about, not the average itself, surely?
There's loads more challenging, interesting, unarguable and occasionally maddening comment at the site - go take a look.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

mercury shortlists 2008

Ah, Mercury Prize Shortlist is up:

Adele - "19"
British Sea Power - "Do You Like Rock Music?"
Burial - "Untrue"
Elbow - "The Seldom Seen Kid"
Estelle - "Shine"
The Last Shadow Puppets - "The Age Of The Understatement"
Laura Marling - "Alas I Cannot Swim"
Neon Neon - "Stainless Style"
Portico Quartet - "Knee-Deep In The North Sea"
Robert Plant And Alison Krauss - "Raising Sand"
Radiohead - "In Rainbows"
Rachel Unthank And The Winterset - "The Bairns"

I'm not familiar with everything there but there's nothing I dramatically dissaprove of. The best albums are clearly Burial's 'Untrue' and my clear favourite, Laura Marling's 'Alas I Cannot Swim', which I really hope wins. I would have thought that The Last Shadow Puppets and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are in with a very good chance. Don't understand the reasoning that places Radiohead's album in at the expense of Portishead's infinitely superior 'Third'. Still.

Of the albums I've heard, here's my order of preference.

Laura Marling - "Alas I Cannot Swim"
Burial - "Untrue"
Elbow - "The Seldom Seen Kid"
Robert Plant And Alison Krauss - "Raising Sand"
British Sea Power - "Do You Like Rock Music?"
The Last Shadow Puppets - "The Age Of The Understatement"
Radiohead - "In Rainbows"
Adele - "19"

Monday, July 21, 2008

into the dragons' den.

BBC2's Dragons' Den returns tonight, which is good news, although it's hard not to feel that the brand has been devalued by endless repeats over the last year. The Apprentice, which is only shown once, always appears relatively fresh, but - a slightly snazzier credit sequence and a flash hairdo aside - this might as well be a repeat, which I fear might put paid to the idea that Dragons Den is about to make a crossover from BBC2 curio to hit show. Nevertheless, I've liked previous series, so I'm interested enough to tune in, wondering whether this time around James Caan, Deborah Meadon and Theo Paphitis will emerge as genuine stars and equal partners, or whether it'll continue to be all about Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne.

My first impression is how odd it is to see Evan Davis back doing his TV presenting stuff, having got so used to hearing him on Radio 4. When you're listening to him on the Today programme each morning - even if he is lighter in tone than most of his colleagues - it's very easy to forget that the man has a mohawk.

The first idiots, sorry, entrepeuners into the den are a bunch of student types, but, do you know what, they've thought of a genuine twist to the process. Either that or they've got lost wondering around looking for the X Factor studio. For they are, in fact, not a business as such but rather a rock band, and a not altogether terrible one either, although they do seem to be called Hamfatter. They play a two minute track which is kind of muso-end indie rock with soul horns. I would not buy it, but someone might.

Anyway, they want 75 grand to record an album and market it. They say they'll be needing ten thousand pounds to record it. What's wrong with these people - why don't they just get 80 quid for a copy of Garageband?

But I discover that I like the young men a lot - they're well spoken, keen and they know their maths. This is vaguely reassuring - it'd be utterly daft for a load of rock and rollers to ask Theo Paphitis for cash, but these lads are as corporate as you like (no insult intended). But things soon start working against them when Peter Jones wants to hear another tune. It turns out they've only rehearsed that song. Well, fair enough, but they won't have a go at another number at all, even one that sounds a bit rough around the edges. A band that can't play their songs live? Eh?

But believe it or not the offers start rolling in. Bannatyne goes for a varied equity deal, where he wants 50% 'til he gets his money back. The newly-coiffured Meadon and Paphitis team up to make a rival bid. And Jones is in, too - it's extraordinary how they're all happy to make an investment on the basis of hearing a two minute clip of one song. They all claim to have loads of contacts in the music industry, too. Really? How is this so? Meaden boasts that she runs a music download site, and the band look impressed. I'm not sure this is warranted, unless she's talking about iTunes. But I doubt she is.

I lose track of which deal they go for. It doesn't matter - you'll never hear from them again.

Next up we're back on more familiar Dragons' Den grounds; someone's invented a cushion, a new kind of cushion. The dragons begin a lip-curling exercise which I anticipate will last much of the rest of the series. We don't need more cushions.

Next up we have a Brighton connection, hurrah. Air Oasis LTD have designed a machine that turns air into water. Just like that. At first I mis-hear and think the effect works the other way around - water into air. But that's just a kettle, isn't it? Anyway, they want 125k for 10% equity. Looks good, but they make the schoolboy error of using the phrase 'educating the public' - words like educating make the Dragons very very angry. It's not as bad as saying 'charity', but still.

The contraption actually looks quite good for hot, water starved countries, and the inventors have taken out patents for a few Middle Eastern territories, so it looks good for a while. I like Barry, the salesperson, although I note he's talking so fast that he's turning air into water himself, too - direct off his shiny pate.

After a few minutes Bannatyne offers an opinion. And he's annoyed about the use of the word 'educating'. Hurrah, I knew it. I notice that Bannatyne gets harder to understand with each series - like Alan Hanson, he is working at eliminating vowels from his vocabulary altogether.

Barry is still banging on, and Deborah complains that his pyramid selling scheme amounts to bullying. All the Dragons nod dissaprovingly, a moment no less hilarious that when Alan Sugar gets angry about the same thing. Pot, black, kettle etc.

Actually, I change my mind - Barry is not a bully, but he is a self-satisfied prat; shut up now. You're losing them, I think, and Evan Davis's voiceover gets a bit silly, talking up the Dragons' mild criticism, describing them as 'furious Deborah' and 'enraged Peter' - of course they're not enraged at all. They decide to taste the water. And now things really do go belly up. It tastes terrible. Totally unpalatable, apparently, and now Theo really does get cross. No deal. Barry makes a few excuses, but he's blown it. Oh dear.

Next up are a couple from Kenilworth, and we're back in pantomime territory; they emerge under a big white sheet - they've come as a ghost!! Indulgent smiles from the Dragons, who are making a show of really quite getting on with each other. That won't last And now the couple are acting out some sort of hammy take on amateur dramatics. They've invented, it turns out, the lay-line sheet. It's a white sheet with a nobbly line down the middle, apparently. The line, dead-centre, will solve arguments about which partner is encroaching onto the other side of the bed. I

It's a novelty bedsheet. It's a bloody terrible idea. But couples argue over this all the time, the inventor - a man with one of those weird groomed goatees, like Morgan Spurlock's - tells us. It's a pretty dispiriting view of relationships, all things considered.

The Dragons don't buy it either. Bannatyne complains that his wife doesn't cross to his side enough, and - capitalising on the silly mood - Theo and Peter jump in the bed and roll around a bit. "Shall we avert our eyes?", one of the inventors asks. Have you shown it to anyone, Jones asks Spurlock. He's shown it to his friends, he says, but that's it.

Well, now you've shown it to the nation. I don't suppose he'll find many orders waiting for him when he turns on his computer tomorrow morning.

The last contestants up are a couple of game girls, who share a 'passion for entertainment', and who have created a bespoke party-giving company which is pretty good stuff, really, even if it's just living sculptures - human trees, human tables, and chandalier ladies. Their past clients include celebrity childrens' parties and Asda. In the end the Dragons all make offers, stick out their chests, and begin to snipe at each-other; it's the first part of the show since the rock band which is vaguely gripping, and this is the problem with the format; the best bits are personal, but unlike the glossy docu-drama format of The Apprentice, which provokes conflict and alliances, the show is dependent on a chemistry in the panel which rarely sparks to life. In similar circumstances, Alan Sugar and his advisors invariably share smiles, raised eyebrows and rueful asides - but because the Dragons are facing out front and in competition with each other, there's nothing except the odd manufactured argument or bout of stage-managed horseplay to break up the only occasionally diverting inventions.

Talking of which, the girls, meanwhile, go off to confer and make a decision. They opt to go with the least boastful Dragon, which is actually rather heartening - if unlikely to prompt a change of tactics from the fevered egos out front. They go for James Caan, who is, I reflect, the only Dragon I'd trust to mind my wallet for ten minutes.

The Dragons Den needs a shake up, I think - or just a raise in temperature; at the moment they're belching out smoke, not fire.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

handmade dresses

Thought I'd post a photo of these nice dresses, which my mum made for my girlfriend this week; they're simple but very lovely and there's something really great about knowing that they are handmade and one-offs - no-one else in the world has them. Great.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

loose change

Confession: I'm absolutely hopeless with loose-change. Or rather, I'm brilliant at collecting it, but utterly hopeless at spending it. A couple of years ago, despairing of the little piles of coins all over my flat, I started depositing them in a mug - and this is not just one and two pence pieces, but smaller silver coins too. Before long the mug was full and I switched receptacles, moving on to a milk bottle, a better size for my burgeoning collection. Not that long ago I despairingly poured its overflowing contents into the lid of a bumper spool of DVDs, about the size of a small waste-basket. Things were clearly getting out of hand.

So today I loaded my rucksack with coins and headed over to Sainsbury's, having realised that they have a machine which automatically sorts and logs your coins before presenting you with a beautiful slip of semi-translucent paper, which can be traded for notes (or a deduction from your shopping bill). The machine is amazing, a large contraption with a big coin tray which resembles a basket from a deep fat fryer. One simply pours the money in and watches the sums totting up on screen, several years worth of coppers being stacked and itemised. The noise is tremendous, a great wall of noise comprising the clangs and whirrs of the mechanism and the sound of a thousand coins bouncing off each other. I was, naturally, dementedly excited, and pouring in coins at such a rate that the machine eventually, desperately, pleaded with me to stop, its display changing to a screen which read "My, you have a lot of coins. Please give the machine a moment to catch up". I love the use of that 'my'.

Eventually I was shocked and slightly appalled to discover that I had fifty quid's worth of money lying around my flat!! Far more than I anticipated, although I admit that when it got to the mid forties I started feeding in a few pound coins from my pocket, too, desperate to get over the half-century, and reluctant for the fun to stop.

So the net result is that a food shop amounting to fifty seven quid actually cost me six pounds and forty pence. And although I am ashamed of the extent of my ridiculous hoarding, I'm secretly yearning for the day when I've built up enough coins to go back and see if I can break the record...

Friday, July 18, 2008

nice dog in the crescent

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

currently listening...

A mixture this week of indie-folk and underground-ish hip hop. A week of two halves.

1. Thomas Tantrum - Why The English Are Rubbish
2. C Rayz Walz And Parallel Thought - Chorus I
3. The Wave Pictures - Long Island
4. Dananananakroyd - The Greater Than Symbol and the Hash
5. K-OS - Electrik Heat, The Seekwill
6. Symmetry - Hater
7. Young Husband - Mass Kiss
8. Kimya Dawson - My Mom
9. Birdengine - Heads Off Dogs
10. Y Society - This is an Introduction

vote tory, (don't) go green

Shocking, ominous stuff from the Guardian:

David Cameron has failed to convince many of his MPs that man-made global warming is a serious problem, according to a poll that finds widespread sceptisicm across parliament about the issue.

A third of Tory MPs who responded to the survey questioned the existence of climate change and its link to human activity. Two-thirds said tackling climate change should not be a priority for local councils.

A significant number of MPs from other parties also told the survey they had doubts on the issue. Overall, the results suggest that up to a fifth of the MPs who have been debating the UK's climate change bill do not understand, or choose to ignore, the science on which it is based.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

when bags attack

High jinks, my flat, Brighton, today.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

gemma correll

Really in love with the drawings on this blog; they're incredibly cute and appealing. The author, Gemma Correll, is an illustator based in Norwich. According to her profile, her interests are "mexico, circus freaks, screen prints, cats, kittens, kitsch, language, flamenco dancers and vintage adverts".

Here's one of her drawings, please do go and have a look at some of her others, they're really ace:

And you can buy a t-shirt she's designed here. I'm going to order one.

roman rock in hanover

After a Friday night drinking in Seven Dials, last night we decided to undertake an expedition over to Hanover for a drink with some friends who are based over that way, and strolled along to The Constant Service, a nice, fairly quiet pub halfway up the sharp slope of Brighton's most villagey district. Walking in we noted, however, a drum kit and guitar amp sat in the corner room and, anticipating a lot of noise, made our way out - via the bar, where for some reason we were made to barter beer prices - to the pub garden.

Mark and Lou were giggling. "Did you see their name on the kick drum?", Mark asked.

I shook my head.

"The Brown Stripes", Lou told me.

After half an hour or so of drinking in the balmy air, we realised that a band were taking to the stage inside. I glanced into the window, and saw a middle-aged man striding on stage dressed as a Roman centaurian. I blinked, and glanced at my beer. The drummer followed him on, dressed identically.

We watched through the glass, and began to look at each other, exchanging surprised glances.

"They're dressed as Romans", James said.

"They do seem to be dressed as Romans, yes", I agreed.

"Look, even the sandals", noted Lou.

"Sandals are very fashionable", Mark replied, knowledgably, "I read it in the Guardian".

The band started up and played for about two hours; enthusiastic cover versions of rock standards, TV theme-tunes and a rather wonderful cover of 'America, Fuck Yeah', from the crude but very funny Team America: World Police film, which they recalibrated into a song that went:

Fuck yeah!"

I wonder if they ever play in Seven Dials. Do they skip this one?

Once or twice we venture in to go to the bar, and note with alarm that the place is full of very enthusiastic audience members.

I muse that my band was never received with such gleeful abandon, and order another drink.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

the other iraq

Iraqi Kurdistan is that rarest of things; a (relatively) safe state in one of the world's most unsettled nations. As such, it's of great interest to anyone who follows events in the Middle East, and to its cautious onlooking neighbours, such as Turkey. I've written a short article about the semi-autonomous region for Hii Dunia, which may be of interest - click here to read it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

rushdie in the guardian

There's a good interview with Salman Rushdie over on the Guardian site today; it's easy to forget, given how disappointing his post-Moor's Last Sigh books have been, how incendiary his 1980s novels really were; Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses are wonderful - and, as he is at pains to point out in the interview - incredibly funny books. His new book is out but I dunno if I'll read it. Here's a quick break down of my recent form with his stuff:

The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) - started, not finished.
Fury (2001) - started, not finished.
Shalimar the Clown (2005) - started, not finished.

Not sure how long I can keep going with this...

But anyway, Midnight's Children is a truly brilliant book, which is why it's won this Best of the Booker malarkey. Although I can't work out exactly what that means, or why it is worth mentioning. Anyway, Rushdie is good on describing what he was trying to do with Midnight's Children, how he felt it necessary to move away from the very cool, detached EM Forster-derived prose of Anita Desai and Narayan. As he points out:

"[India] wasn't cool, it was hot. It's a country where, even if you're in a rural area, you're never alone. I wanted to write the literary equivalent of a crowd. So it was a trick, a deliberate attempt to have too much incident so that you feel pushed this way and that, as if you're in a crowd."
He expressed pleasure that Midnight's Children has lasted and spanned the generations, admitting to a fear that "it might just be a topical book about the birth of India and that it wouldn't endure. The problem of telling contemporary history is that your message gets outdated."

I'm reminded of his observation in The Satantic Verses, that:

"The history of life was not the bumbling progress--the very English, middle-class progress--Victorian thought had wanted it to be, but violent, a thing of dramatic, cumulative transformations: in the old formulation, more revolution than evolution."
And in his hands, a potent subject for comedy too. Which brings us back to the the part of the interview I mentioned above:
Rushdie jokes about the fatwa with the audience at Temple Judea during his warm-up routine. "I don't want to dispute with Ayatollah Khomeini, but I will point out that only one of us is dead. That thing they say about the pen being mightier than the sword? Don't mess with novelists."

How can Rushdie joke about the fatwa, I ask him? "Well, because what happened to me was not funny it was assumed that I'm not funny. From some of the circumstances of the attack, it was assumed that because the criticisms of my book were arcane and theological, my work must be arcane and theologicial. So there is a point to joking: to show that I was misrepresented during the fatwa period. I am funny, and so are my books!"
You can read the rest here.

If anyone wants to counter my predictable assessment of Rushdie's later works, or offer an opinion on the new one, I'd be very glad to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

currently reading

Observant readers may have noted that I've been playing with my blogroll over on the right, importing the new blogger system which lists blogs according to how recently they've been updated. I think it's probably a more useful system, although you'll note that I've not (yet) deleted my Essential Blogs list, which is still visible further down the page. Any thoughts about the new system? Hopefully it'll get used by other people, rather than just me.

Anyway, one side product of populating the new system is that I've had the chance to seek out and add some new things to read, as well as pruning a few blogs which have fallen out of use. So here a few things on the web I recommend for this week:

- Over on the Breakfast In Bed blog - which has plenty of great stuff on music, books, socialising and travel - Rowan has recently been serving up a mouthwatering set of posts on food; she's writing about food every single day for a month, in fact, and lording it over those of us scraping by on leftovers and cheap takeaways. Definitely worth dipping into a daily basis, although in recent days I've learned only to do so after lunch, when my appetite is sated.

- Over at his Inside A Skinny Mind blog, Jimmy has written a bunch of great posts recently, like this write up of a bit of religious curiosity and these thoughts about the miracle effects of technology on long term relationships. My favourite was his description of one of the most bizarre job interviews I've ever heard about, which is here. Extract below.

"The Newlook people opened up the doors and led us all downstairs to the accessories department, and there must have been at least fifty retail aspirants there. The store manager came out and started explaining what was going to happen. Basically we were going to be divided into groups of six, each member of the group got a celebrity profile and you had three minutes to run to the rails behind the escalator to find the perfect outfit for your celebrity. The nightmare only started there"
- I keep finding blogs that are prettier than mine - cue much gnashing of teeth and cursing. A few have caught my attention, recently. Kept In A Jar is lovely, and I'm so jealous of Debbie's Glastonbury weekend, which looks even better than the real one, and of her journal, which is plainly beautiful.

- Old, Old Fashioned is lovely, too - full of nice clothes, nice design and pretty photographs. It sounds like Rosie, the author, is preparing to move to Oslo, so in her instance I'm not just jealous of the cool looking blog but of her entire lifestyle, bah.

- And in mentioning these lovely blogs, I must also send you to Make Do and Mend, which I've read for a while now and never mentioned, which is shameful not only because it's good but because it's written by my lovely friend Laura. It concentrates on good design, beautiful illustrations, and Laura's own craft-related adventures. Go see.

- Here's a blog I've just discovered; MFM is a brighton based music blog, and well worth a look, with recent reviews of Dizzee Rascal, Late of the Pier and Beck.

- Finally, another hearty recommendation for another friend's blog - Amy's excellent One Million Kisses For One Million Girls is super; documenting her ideas, great taste in music and work on Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams, a fanzine that I'll blog about soon, and which you should buy.

There are doubtless other things I've missed. I'll try to do blog round-ups more regularly.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

word bees

Following Andrew's lead, I have just run my blog URL through something called wordle, which, as you can see from the image below, creates a kind of black and white bee-swarm from your content. I can't tell you how pleased I am with this, although that's mainly 'cos I like bees.

bird t-shirt

Here's another bit of lomo photography, this one on slide film and cross-processed. What you can't see, sadly, is that my t-shirt is a fetching shade of pastel pink. On the occasions when I have worn it to work, people have laughed. But I hold my head high.


More evidence that housework is bad for your health: I've got a right headache today, and my suspicion is that it's fogged up after inhaling all the cleaning products I've been using on my flat in the last few days. Ugh.

To clarify, I've been cleaning my flat, not sniffing detergent for kicks.

etsy is brilliant

Am I alone in having never heard of this site before? Etsy is fantastic - tagged as "your place to buy and sell all things handmade", it's exactly that, a kind of brilliant, vivid mix of ebay, portobello market and ffffound; well designed things that you can buy. Don't be put off by the fact that it's American - they've calibrated it so that international purchases are not a problem.

Oh no, I'm clearly going to spend money there.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

thomas tantrum and peggy sue

If I had to devise a list of my favourite bands at the moment it's quite possible that Peggy Sue and Thomas Tantrum would occupy the top two slots, although the likes of Let's Wrestle, The Wave Pictures and Emmy The Great would doubtless be scrapping them all the way.

This pointless fact aside, it may be of interest to you, as it is to me, that Peggy Sue and Thomas Tantrum are playing together at The Social in London on August 5th. If you go to the TT website, you can enter a quiz to win free tickets. The answer is 'Armchair', I think.

Thomas Tantrum are brilliant. Look:

waste not want not

Oh, I wish I wasn't as guilty of inefficient shopping as I am, but sadly I'm useless, always misjudging food quantities and either running out of stock almost immediately, or else opening my fridge and finding food which has passed its sell by date.

With Gordon Brown asking the nation to consider cutting back, the Guardian spend some time thinking about food wastage. Laura Barton writes:

"There is something slightly irritating about the prime minister's insistence that it is down to us consumers to cut our food waste. Less than half of the food thrown away each year comes from households. To suggest that the average householder is to blame for our colossal national wastage is to ignore the way that the food industry has been allowed to develop in this country, from the relentless rise of the supermarket to the flourishing of the fast-food outlet, the decline in farming and the death of the local shop. All of these affect why we buy the wrong things, and why we buy so much of what we do not need".
All of which is undoubtedly true - but the fact remains that a lot of people (including, for the most part, me) could do with developing stategies for efficient food consumption. So the article's tips, put together by Ms. Barton and John Henley, make sound advice and a surprisingly good read. I'll certainly be trying to think this stuff through more.

A few of their best tips:

Don't be afraid of an empty fridge

"I think that goes back to the rise of the big American fridge," notes Blythman. "It's an aspirational thing." You do not, therefore, need to buy acres of food each week to keep it chock-full.

Learn how to use leftovers

The site has a huge array of recipes contributed by celebrity chefs, nutritionists and members of the public, including a large number dubbed "rescue recipes" - in other words, how to put that bit of leftover chicken or half courgette to delicious use. There are also websites out there ( and, to name but two) that, one you've typed in the primary and secondary ingredients you have spare, will go away and search their databases for recipes to use them up. Bit of fish left over, and some broccoli? Try, for example, Chinese steamed fish. And a couple of books may help: Second Time Around: Ideas and Recipes for Leftovers by Pamela Le Bailly, and The Use It Up Cookbook: Creative Recipes for the Frugal Cook, by Catherine Kitcho.

Take sell-by dates with a pinch of salt

As a general rule, only "use by" is worth taking seriously; "sell-by" and "display-until" dates are merely stock-control devices for food retailers, and "best before" is simply the producer's estimate of when the food will stop tasting good, which is fairly subjective anyway. Rather than slavishly observing these date labels, we'd be far better off understanding the kinds of foods that could actually be harmful if they go off, such as ready meals (including sandwiches), soft cheeses, pates and cooked, processed meats and seafood. Eggs with a Lion Quality stamp can be kept for weeks in the fridge; chicken, raw meats and fish will all look and smell unpleasant long before they're actively unsafe (as long as you cook it thoroughly, chicken, for example, is good for at least a week past its sell-by date). Apples last for months; potatoes are fine as long as you chop the green shoots off before cooking; tins and jars will last decades if not centuries; hard cheese is indestructible; and dry foods will last for years too. "Ignore sell-by dates," insists Swannell. "They're not relevant. And best before is just what it says on the tin; it doesn't mean the food is toxic the day after that date."

Elsewhere, over at B4L, Andrew asks an interesting question:
"Would the Government have been brave enough to suggest that people might save money by using less petrol, or that by borrowing less they might insulate themselves from rising interest rates? People inevitably realise this and adapt accordingly, but the reaction to a politician stating it would be furious."

the pace of things

From Michele Hanson's column in the Guardian today:

"People are forever coming round here glaring crabbily at my computer because it isn't fast enough. It takes one whole minute when it ought be taking a nano-second. They sit there, desperate to get online, and to them the huge seconds trundle by, each like the passing of the longest night. Unbearable. "You need a new computer," they complain rattily. "This is ridiculous."

No it isn't. It is heaven. I switch it on, it has a little warm up, I go into the garden and deadhead a few daisies. Clip, clip. I count the froggies in the pond. I come in, I press connect, I turn to the piano, I practise a fragment of sonata, I return to the screen, I press mail, I give the dogs a kiss, I come in, I arrange my coffee and biscuit, and voilà - the computer is ready. It has taken a few brief minutes."
Great stuff.

Monday, July 07, 2008

mary benson

Another ace episode of Mary Queen of Shops tonight, which you'll doubtless be able to watch with your iPlayer whatsit in hours and days to come. This time Mary visited an amazing, fusty old boutique in York and utterly transformed into it without sacrificing it's wayward sense of style. Best of all was the discovery of a wonderfully eccentric fashion designer - Mary Benson - whose dresses were absolutely fantastic and who casually described her clientele as "crazy cool girls" who "all have nice hair". Oh, and she was only 17. If you're ever in the distant North, she's selling stuff in Blue Rinse in Leeds and Selkie in York, as well as via her own website. Here's a brief BBC profile of her, and click the image below to access her myspace:

[Update: lots of hits on this page, so here's a bit more info I found. From Image Magazine].

She is only in her second year of her fashion course at Leeds College of Art and Design but her metallic dresses are already stocked in the boutique Blue Rinse and she will soon be seen on the TV programme Mary Queen of Shops.

Mary said: "I had to pitch my ideas to Mary Portas from Mary Queen of Shops. The competition was whittled down from 30 to three and I was one of them. She said that I was well established and that I was doing really well for my age."

Mary creates womenswear and accessories inspired by the 1950s and 1960s, including pinafore dresses with a splash of eccentricity. She began designing in the summer after she finished high school when she made skirts and sold them at the Corn Exchange.

She then applied to Leeds College of Art and Design and has been unstoppable. Her collections are varied from monochrome to metallics and, most importantly, are wearable.

Mary said: "I’ve been asked to create a collection for Vidal Sassoon. I have also been working on costumes for a music video as well as attending vintage fashion fairs where I sell accessories."

With meetings set with boutiques in Nottingham and a trip to London planned, Mary Benson is definitely one we will hear about in the future."

compression and pop music

One of the more interesting quotes I came across last year was the following, courtesy of Bob Dylan:

"You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them. There’s no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like — static." -Bob Dylan

Pete Bilderback, who posts over at the charmingly titled Flowering Toilet blog, spotted it too but has taken the time to provide a really interesting analysis of the way that compression is used in music production. He demonstrates, by comparing and contrasting songs from artists' back catalogues and recent material, the extent to which an obsession with loudness is leading to the disfiguration of their sound. It's a fascinating article, well worth a read.

Here it is.

Friday, July 04, 2008

new flat

Pending references and all that rubbish, this is my new flat (attic level). Please feel free to coo approvingly and express envious feelings in the comments box below.

The sky will always be this blue.

emmy the great's 'canopies and grapes'

I love break up songs, always have, so much so that I've written tons of them during the happiest of relationships, always finding the raw emotion and mourning a fascinating thing to write about, from whichever side of the break-up fence you're looking. Today my favourite break-up song is 'Canopies and Grapes', by the impossibly great, er, Emmy The Great.

I love how it oscillates between pop culture references and declarations of despair, and I love it how it's funny one minute and tragic the next. Having taken in references to S Club 7 and Friends in the first verse, Emmy goes on to sing, in her slight but beautiful voice:

"Later on, me and a bottle will hook up to have some fun
Then I'll call your house at 12 to let you know that I’m drunk
Say I'm sorry Mr C, I was just looking for your son,
How are you incidentally? Do you know if he's out alone?
There was this book he leant to me something like seven months ago
I'm gonna burn it in the street, be so kind as to let him know...
... That I'm dealing with this badly."

One of the wonderful thing about Emmy's songs are how revealing they are; she always ends up telling you more than she needs to, giving away too much about her vulnerability, in just the way we all do sometimes. I remember a period about two or three years ago when I had a month of just being horribly overcome by emotion generally, so much so that it seemed that every night I was telling a near-stranger something personal in an overwrought voice in a busy pub, acting completely without self-control. It didn't last long but some of Emmy's songs remind me of it.

And she's just as good at constructing the internal conversations, because the dialogue with the one you've lost so rarely stops at the break-up point. Having reeled off a list of bands she's been listening to get through it, she confesses:

"And it's getting much too late to give back your Magnetic Fields EP...
Can I keep it? By my pillow?
Fucking loved it.
How I'd love to tell to tell you so."

Her lyrics aren't just conversational, too, as the many wonderful lines in her songs attest. She's one of those writers capable of dropping brilliant lines in to her songs in a constantly surprising way. It's done better elsewhere in her material, in fact – try her devastating pay-off in 'The City Song'; "They pulled a human from my waist / It had your mouth, it had your face / I would have kept it if I'd stayed" – but as 'Canopies and Grapes' draws to a close there's a line that sticks in my memory, which for the last few days has been dancing around my head. Here it is:

"When I get to sleep I'll dream again of canopies and grapes,
And wake shaking from the knowledge that the mattress holds your shape"

Here's Emmy's myspace. If you go here, you can download 'Canopies and Grapes'.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Here are a couple of selections from Siobhán's first set of lomography pics.

flat hunting

I've spent the last couple of days flat-hunting in Brighton, a wearying but quite enjoyable process so long as there isn't any urgency and – happily – on this occasion there isn't. I'm basically window flat—shopping, wondering if I should upgrade my studio to a bigger and more comfortable place and seeing what's available. Unlike on almost every other occasion I've done it in the past, I'm looking without being forced to do so by a notice period running down.

The first flat I saw was through Direct Lettings, who arranged to show me a flat on Powis Road, and timed the appointment so that they could show a couple round at the same time. I hate this arrangement, so arrived early, establishing my presence as the dominant flat-hunter. The rival couple stood sulkily on the other side of the road, resenting my proximity. After a while a man-child with a thickly knotted tie pulled up in a hatchback and escorted us inside. The flat was nice but too small, a double bedroom which offered space for nothing more than a bed, and a nice living room with a kitchen settled incongruously on its flank, inching into the space. The young man showing us round was clearly tongue-tied so I didn't ask any questions, just peered into spaces and waited to leave.

The second flat was much better, tempting even – a compact but attractive apartment in the middle of Brighton's lively North Laine, complete with laminated floorboards, two balconies and a huge glass window-wall looking out onto the street. It was the sort of place that was easy to fall in love with, so I put my head down and muttered "too small, too small, too small" to myself, until the urge to take it faded away. I left the property exchanging warm words with the agent – this time a charming bloke from Leaders, whose first statement of purpose was the following:

"I don’t know if you can smell it, but I’m covered in deep heat".

Which kind of broke the ice.

This morning the same agent – Ben; if you use Leaders ask for Ben – showed me round a flat on Buckingham Place, well positioned in Seven Dials and near the station, as well as the shops and Dan's house, too. And all of a sudden the luxury of relaxed flat-hunting went out of the window because, well, it was rather super, and now I need to think of notice periods, deposits and contracts because... I think... I'm going to take it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

mick jagger

I'm writing this in the pub garden at the Crescent (the world's finest pub). Me, Dan, Siobhan, Laura and Sam are sat talking rubbish and discussing Glastonbury. But all of a sudden we're distracted...

And you know how it is when you realise that the person behind you starts jabbering in a way that makes it abundantly clear that he is unhinged. He's talking ten to the dozen to no-one at all, pointing and gesticulating. It's hard not to pay attention, but we keep talking while he chatters on.

Then he stands up, and addresses someone nearby, indignantly.

"I'm not going to do Mick Jagger for you!".

He jabs his finger aggressively as he talks.

We look up and realise he is addressing a cat, sat on the pub roof, looking down concerned.

He shifts a little. The man follows him with his pointed finger, and signs off curtly:


We stifle our laughs as he walks, head held high, out onto the street.

florence and the voice

It was partly a hatred of the vocal histrionics of commercial chart music that drove me into the arms of indie rock. My conversion to the less polished music of The Charlatans, Happy Mondays and The House of Love coincided, not accidentally, with a period when vocal divas dominated the charts, and the likes of Ian Brown, David Gedge and Mark E Smith sounded thrillingly, insouciantly unpolished and unpractised. I used to obsess over my VHS of the Stone Roses at Blackpool, marvelling over the way Ian Brown’s voice slowly, song by song, began to settle until after a while he sat neatly, and only slightly tunelessly, over the slight, sly music his bandmates conjured up. For the first six songs, to my delight, he was an utter mess.

Fashions have come and gone in indie music and a series of truly gifted singers have drifted in and out of the limelight, but it’s striking how few have been emboldened or inclined enough to open their lungs and belt it out. The full-blooded, top-volume vocal is even less fashionable in indie circles than the guitar solo, and still the preserve of commercial dance music and arena-rock.

So it's hard to know what to make of Florence & The Machine. Her peers are clearly from the folkier end of the indie spectrum – Emmy The Great and Lightspeed Champion; the guitars on her debut, 'Kiss With A Fist' sound like The White Stripes; and the words ("a kiss with a fist is better than none") are pretty uncompromising, indeed controversial. Yet she belts out her lyrics with a note-perfect perfectionism and power more reminiscent of Leona Lewis than her indie contemporaries. I find listening to the two songs on the 7" quite unsettling, if ultimately rewarding.

"Kiss With A Fist" is nothing special, in fact, trading more on Florence’s vivid lyrical imagery and delivery than the quality of the song. It’s beautifully paced and propulsive, and probably sounds brilliant on the dancefloor, but it doesn’t do anything for me – and Florence's vocal, so over-the-top, is hindering, rather than helping, me get with it.

But the b-side, an extraordinary take on the Cold War Kids' "Hospital Beds", makes me think again completely. It starts with Florence belting out the verse acapella; her full-pelt, bluesy, delivery subsequently accompanied by a spare acoustic guitar and a kick drum. I still hate the exhibitionism of her vocal pyrotechnics, but somehow the song creates a spectacular, heartfelt intimacy and it's impossible to deny that it's the vocal that whips things along. In folk music, of course, mannered and controlled vocals are nothing new, but it still seems somewhat dazzling to hear the power Florence commands placed in this context. I'm glad when it finishes, yet I put it on repeat.

Like all new artists, what matters are the songs, and it’s too early to say whether Florence & The Machine has them. The Cold War Kids cover is, however, one of the most exciting cover versions I’ve heard in many a month, and I’m briefly lifted, suspiciously optimistic; my hope leavened by a dread that if she keeps singing like that, so bloody wonderfully, I’ll end up hating her guts.


Right, I need some new blogs to read - can I have recommendations, please?

Ideally I'd like something fairly regularly updated, quite personal (but not depicting an endless stream of sexual encounters), something that covers books or pop music or art but not in obsesssive detail, and something that is engaged with politics and world affairs but not super-serious; in fact, a sense of humour is quite important. If anyone is reading anything that sounds like that at the moment, please tell me about it.

I realise that the above sounds like I'm looking for a new sexual partner. Sorry about that.

rhonda's sketches

As an antidote to party photos, which may well accurately evoke something of the event (usually the hedonism or, cruelly, the boredom) but inevitably miss much else, here are a few drawings courtesy of Rhonda, who sat with an amused smile for several hours in an armchair at Dan and Laura's joint birthday party, capturing an element of the party which I remember strongly, and which is more in evidence here than in any of the evening's photos; the dressing up and the talking, the interplay between the guests.

Cameras at parties so often tend to draw the focus, arrogate attention until they break up the contents of the viewfinder. Practically every set of party photos I've ever seen - except for those taken by the very talented - seem to summon up the same party and the same guests.

These I like much more.