Wednesday, April 29, 2009

book people

Some amazing quotes in tonight's episode of the Apprentice. The young bucks are stood in a Charing Cross Road book shop while a pair of studious booksellers carefully examine some literature they've been given to sell. Quietly, diligently, they set about making a valuation. They take their time, because they are methodical people. The Apprentices are outraged at this abuse of their time.

"We can't take any more shit from them" Ben cries.

His colleague agrees. "You know what they're like, though", she replies. "They're book people, they want to waste your time".

He nods, crossly. "I'm fed up with these book people talking shit to me for too long".

Moment of realisation. That's me, isn't it?

arlo spector waves goodbye to the GOP

A couple of months ago, in the days and weeks after Barack Obama was elected, I had a funny feeling that while American politics was likely to become a great deal more fruitful and worthy, it may well become a lot less interesting as well. The sheer decency of the new President, combined with the size of the task in front of him, seemed to suggest that US politics would become sober, thoughtful, complex, where before it was brash, infuriating and - in the days when the momentum of Obama's campaign was at its height - deliriously full of unrealistic hopes. With Obama in charge, everything was bound to tone down.

And in many ways it has - but American politics remains deeply interesting. The latest incident, the conversion of Arlen Spector from Republican to Democrat, is hugely fascinating. With the election of Al Franken still (temporarily) up in the air, Obama remains tantalisingly close to a workable majority in the Senate. Now that Spector has crossed the floor, he need only wait for the inevitable confirmation of Franken's victory in Minnesota. The implications for Obama's ability to stretch his agenda are profound. The Republicans can't stop him.

And just as interesting are the implications for the Republican Party itself. The GOP looks increasingly to be in the same state that the British Conservative party were in after Tony Blair's election in 1997 - riven with fury at their loss of power and in a tumult over their direction. Like the Tories, the GOP have lurched to the right, and the party's complete lack of focus presents many questions. The modern day Republican party is unrecognisable from the one which was once dominated by sensible conservative moderates like Arlo Spector - politicians of his intellectual calibre are now deeply unfashionable in the GOP tent. So what of the remaining moderates? Will they come over to Obama too? If they do, his potential to affect lasting change is huge.

I hope to heaven that he doesn't waste the opportunity in the way Labour did in the UK.

skinny jeans

I was standing outside The Duke Of Yorks cinema in Brighton with Vic, shortly after watching 'In The Loop', the other day. We stood discussing the film, waiting for Andrew to join us. Dimly, somewhere behind me, I heard the beeping of a horn. I ignored it.

"I really thought it was great", I said, "how the last half hour was so angry. It may not have been as funny as 'The Thick Of It', but it had much more energy".

Beep Beep Beep. "Oi, mate", I hear.

I continued prattling on. Vic fidgeted, bored of my critique, waiting for her brother.

"Oi", the voice persists. "Oi! Skinny jeans!"

I turn around. Sat in a small hatchback are four laughing black guys. One is leaning out of the window and pointing at me.

"Aaaaahhh!" he shouts. "Skinny jeans, mate. Naaaaa..." He shakes his head. They all laugh.

Apparently my choice of trousers opens me up to a certain amount of ridicule.

currently listening

I'm absolutely loving this year for record releases so far. Some brilliant albums. And I've been playing them at the expense of pretty much everything in my record collection, so this week's 'Currently Listening' is kind of a round up of this year's best records so far.

1. The Wave Pictures - If You Leave It Alone LP
2. Emmy The Great - First Love
3. The Horrors - Primary Colours
4. Blue Roses - Blue Roses LP
5. Bat For Lashes - Two Suns LP
6. Graham Coxon - The Spinning Top LP
7. Julie Doiron - I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day LP
8. It Hugs Back - Inside Your Guitar LP
9. Hatcham Social - You Dig The Tunnel, I'll Hide The Soil LP
10. Darren Hayman - Pram Town LP

Saturday, April 25, 2009

nose buddy

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

i buy records and steal

There seem to be loads of people who are perpetually surprised by evidence that people who take advantage of online music piracy are also the people who spend the most on records. It seems perfectly obvious to me, and of my friends there's little doubt that the most voracious downloaders and music-sharers are also the people who spend the most cash in Resident Records. The Guardian today prints yet more evidence that supports this observation:

Piracy may be the bane of the music industry but according to a new study, it may also be its engine. A report from the BI Norwegian School of Management has found that those who download music illegally are also 10 times more likely to pay for songs than those who don't.

Everybody knows that music sales have continued to fall in recent years, and that filesharing is usually blamed. We are made to imagine legions of internet criminals, their fingers on track-pads, downloading songs via BitTorrent and never paying for anything. One of the only bits of good news amid this doom and gloom is the steady rise in digital music sales. Millions of internet do-gooders, their fingers on track-pads, who pay for songs they like – purchasing them from Amazon or iTunes Music Store. And yet according to Professor Anne-Britt Gran's new research, these two groups may be the same.

The Norwegian study looked at almost 2,000 online music users, all over the age of 15. Researchers found that those who downloaded "free" music – whether from lawful or seedy sources – were also 10 times more likely to pay for music. This would make music pirates the industry's largest audience for digital sales.
Article here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

zipless poetry

The other night I dropped by McNally Jackson, a really lovely independent bookstore in New York's SoHo, to see Erica Jong read from her new collection of poems, Love Comes First. I'm a huge fan of Jong's brilliant, fabulously rude 'Fear of Flying', so it was great to see her talk and a pleasure to hear her witty and wise poetry, which is simultaneously accessible and thought-provoking, as you'd expect from a writer of Jong's stature. That's not to say, however, that I'd swap her prose for her poems. I've spent much of my time in the US reading the poems of John Ashbery, and Jong is not in the same class. But that's a mean observation to make, and perhaps an unworthy comment. What's more important is that I really enjoyed Jong's reading, and am very glad I caught it.

matmos, so percussion and PLOrk at the Kitchen

Just back from a triumphant, deeply original concert performed by the ceaselessly inventive electronic duo, Matmos, the Brooklyn-based percussive quartet So Percussion, and PLOrk, the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, a collection of sound artists who create, with nine laptops, a symphonic avalanche of noise. The collaboration, staged over two nights at The Kitchen, a charming little venue on the outskirts of Chelsea (the one in New York, rather than London), showcased new interpretations of the artists’ own songs, as well as material from a forthcoming album they’ve created together.

And how to describe it? It’s hard to say. A member of So Percussion is the first to take the stage, and his first action is to lean over a table, take out a box of plastic toothpicks, and start sticking them into a large sweet potato. Once a few have been inserted, he begins plucking at them, noting with satisfaction that each rings with a different note. He starts picking out a melody of percussive clicks. Three bandmates join him on stage and stand around the vegetable. Each leans forward and before long they have established a hypnotic, mesmeric cycle of sounds. I can scarcely believe I’m watching four men play a root vegetable.

It’s at this stage that Matmos make their entrance; as ever Martin Schmidt looks the very image of the mannered academic, prim and serious in his neatly ironed shirt and bow tie. His colleague, Drew Daniel, arrives dressed in blazer and tie, but soon discards them; he's far less formal; a bit of a joker. When Schmidt is explaining the use of beer cans as musical instruments, Daniel can't resist turning on his mic – which he's fixed up with a filter which makes him sound like Darth Vader – to interrupt his partner and get a big laugh from the audience. As So Percussion continue hammering a tune from their doctored vegetable, Matmos start piling complex squiggles and skittering beats to the mix. The sound builds and builds, simultaneously experimental, primal and funny.

This relaxed, complex but cerebral approach defines the set. The Princton Laptop Orchestra join the proceedings, wringing amazing, cascading sounds from their laptops, and each player is thoroughly distinct, courtesy of a custom designed hemispherical speaker which "emulate the way traditional orchestral instruments cast their sound in space".

'Aluminium Song' begins slowly with atmospheric squeaks and squiggles, but climbs up and down through several dizzying tempo changes, organised intuitively by a rotating set of animations on the video screens, which the players patiently watch and follow. 'Ceramic Song' is an absolutely beautiful number which summons up thoughts of Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Gamelan in the way that So Percussion hammer out a beautiful, cyclical melody (this time played on suspended plant pots). It draws gasps from the audience in its latter stages as PLOrk contribute a simply extraordinary, unfathomable panoply of sounds through floor-mounted devices which allow long strings to be pulled up and stretched, changing sound with the players’ movements. At one point the song is so hypnotic and involving that all nine musicians, their arms cycling through the air as one, look like downhill skiers descending a mountain in unison. Jaws are dropping all around me.

The next few songs (and I started losing track of which song was which here, unfortunately) are just as good. PLOrks’s matching set of Apple laptops are clearly fitted with motion and tilt sensors, meaning that the musicians raise and lower their machines, creating an effect analogous with the bending of a string. Any notion that their highly technical approach is not every bit as real or authentic as a traditional orchestra is quickly dispelled by the sight of their highly physical, emotive performance.

One song (perhaps ‘Boomdinger’, perhaps ‘Inlayers’) begins with dark washes of synthesisers and a steady electronic pulse that recalls something early on Warp Records, but switches tack suddenly to embrace a lush, deeply organic collage of faux-natural sounds. PLOrk’s laptops begin to talk to one another, each emitting a different sound, somewhere between a animal’s grunt and alien song, and the musicians face each-other, responding carefully and offering their voices as if in the most natural of conversations. One member, whose laptop offers up a sound like a lamb’s bleat, begins to sweep his laptop down towards the floor, laughing, and enjoying the way the sound rushes through the registers. Suddenly the noise is anguished. The screen, by now showing leaves nestling in water, consolidates the deeply bucolic noise filling the room. The song ends with the sound of rain, and newspapers and bin-liners being scrunched up and torn up close to the microphones. It’s just stunning.

This is an unqualified recommendation, in case you hadn’t guessed. I’d love to know how different these guys sound from show to show, as so much tonight seemed intuitive and improvised – and yet so often sounds came together with such perfect precision that it seemed impossible not to observe great deliberation being employed. Either way, this was a collaboration that was deeply musical, deeply arty, and deeply enjoyable. Am already excited at the idea that this lot might come over to the UK sometime soon.

amid the noise

I seem to have oriented my visit to New York around the Hudson River - it's been my most consistent and regular landmark, a kind of distant light that always let's me know where I am. This isn't a spiritual observation. Most evenings I've been in the West Village, or Chelsea, and on each occasion the sun has set magnificently over the nearby river, drawing me closer on my wanderings. Tonight I'm sat outside The Kitchen, an arts space on W 19th St, and the sun is throbbing over to my left. I'm waiting for a show by So Percussion and Matmos, which promises a showcase of "the range of colors and expressive possibilities of percussion, from subtle, quiet gestures to raucous, no-holds-barred explosions of sound". The literature makes sure to point out that Matmos craft sound from "amplified crayfish nerve tissue", which sounds like a warning of sorts...

Friday, April 10, 2009

view from hoboken

Thursday, April 09, 2009

you bet

I'm so ridiculously suggestible. I've only been in the US for a few days and I'm already picking up figures of speech (if not the accent). I just went round to talk to a colleague for a few minutes and ended up agreeing to do some work for her; as I left she said "thanks a lot", and I replied - as if it was the sort of thing I always said - "you bet!".

I'm turning into an American!!!

tribeca film festival

Turns out I'm staying in TriBeCa the week before their big film festival, meaning that the area is buzzing with expectation, with lots of activity evident as people prepare for a week of premieres and parties. I'm annoyed I won't be here - it looks really exciting. For those of you who like looking at these things from afar, rather than from just around the corner, here's the programme. Why not imagine the films you'd see if you were here? That's what I'm doing.

sunset over hoboken

I went out for a few drinks today, starting out in Greenwich Village before wandering West to the banks of the Hudson. I've still got some rather lovely shots of Boston to post, so I should really do those first - but I can't resist publishing tonight's photos. The first shot is the very first glimpse I had of the sunset, reflected in a glass doorway as I turned a corner towards the water. The second is the sun setting over Hoboken. Both were sighted as the cool wind both woke and sobered me up, to a soundtrack consisting of the marvellous first album by Blue Roses; a record I suspect I shall forever associate with the West Village and the Hudson River.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

newky brown, abroad

Given that I'm a Brit, it shouldn't be a surprise that I find it rather heartwarming that I encounter so many Anglophiles abroad. I'm in a pub in Greenwich Village (I in turn feel a bit too self consciously British to just call it The Village - I'm still in formal mode) and a guy sat beside me is explaining his enthusiasm for all things English. As we talk, the waitress comes over and takes his order. He very deliberately makes sure he's getting cheddar on his cheeseburger, and muses over what he'll have to drink.

"I tell you what", he says. "The Newcastle looks pretty good right now". He nods to the waitress. "Yeah, I'll take a Newcastle".

I know that he isn't actually wrong. When I order a San Miguel in Brighton I don't ask for a 'San Miguel Continental Lager', so there's no reason he should have to ask for a Newcastle Brown Ale.

To my right are two guys much more comfortable in their American skin. Granted, they both order Stella, but they both belch proudly after their first gulp. One cries "Yeah baby. Let's get this party started!". They start talking about bitches.

I start to drink up.

vicky christina barcelona

Thought I'd add a rather late voice of support to the apparent consensus that Woody Allen's most recent film, Vicky Christina Barcelona, is a significant return to form and a rather good film. I watched it on the flight over to Boston and really enjoyed it, all the more because it seemed to have very little of the clunkiness of his 'British' films, and because, although the film's setting in Spain is hardly essential to the plot, it makes for some beautiful shots and ingenious casting - particularly Javier Bardem and Penolope Cruz, who give magnificent performances.

The film, like most of Allen's oeuvre, is concerned with the transitory, illusory - and yet essential - nature of love and relationships. Vicky and Christina, played by Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johannson respectively, spend a summer in Spain and fall under the spell of Bardem, who is a magnetic, fascinating artist painted initially as a womaniser but later sketched out into an appealing, sophisticated character. Christina, fascinated by Bardem and determined not to restricted by bourgeois or conventional expectations, embarks upon an impulsive but successful relationship with her lover and, later, his ex-wife, played with careering, reckless glee by Penelope Cruz. (Johannson, disappointingly, is below-par throughout).

Vicky, by contract - whose fascination with Bardem is tempered by her desire for a conventional marriage - is the real emotional centre of the film. For all the plaudits Cruz and Bardem have earned for their performances, it is Rebecca Hall's beautiful, precise portrayal of Vicky's cautious, agonised involvement which resonates. And which proves that Woody Allen is still capable of writing proper, grown up parts, and funny, worthwhile films.

Of course VCB is not up with his best, but it was the first one of his films I've seen in many years which left me feeling fully satisfied. Really hope it's a good omen for his future projects.

how good is this?

parents vs society

Never let it be said that the Daily Mail simplifies the key issues of the day:

if you leave it alone

I've already used this blog at length to extol the virtues of the quite stupendous Wave Pictures, who I think are making the best records in the world at the moment. That's not going to stop any time soon.

Perhaps I'm summoning up memories of a fictitious Willy Wonkafied youth here, but I have a probably-false memory of buying chocolate bars and eating them one corner, one segment at a time when I was a child, unwilling to gorge on the whole thing in one go, savouring every mouthful.

That's how I feel about the new Wave Pictures album, which I'm rationing out as a kind of penance for my having illegally downloaded it (I'll buy a copy when it comes out) and as a kind of tease - because I'm frightened that it'll be so good that I won't need another record again this year. So I've only listened to the first three or four songs so far, getting to know them back to front, chewing delightedly on every detail and nuance.

The first track, 'If You Leave It Alone', is transparently one of the best things that Dave Tattersall and co have ever done, but repeated obsessive listens are driving me bit crazed and reaching blindly for superlatives. Like a lot of their stuff, it's achingly simple - little more than a beat, a bass line and a beautiful, tender vocal, but the genius is in the melody and, particularly, the lyric - which, from behind Tattersall's usual oblique wordplay, reveals an absolutely beautiful insight into his song-writing process, which is deliberately straight-forward, unforced, natural.

Once a song is written, it's written, and is just left to sit until it is needed. And like wine, or meat left to hang, it becomes richer and better with age.

Here's the key verse. I can't tell you how beautiful I think it is.

"Now I'm full up with lessons learned
and the days that I made just to throw them away.
Now I'm closing all the curtains, I'm switching off the phone,
now I took down all your cameras and I opened the fridge...
and hung from the hinges with the eggs and garlic,
the cheese and tomatoes, the milk and the beer,
the strings and the bridges of a brand new year;
The first tear was a note and the note made a song,
and I hung the song from the hinges of the door,
then I carried on just the same as before.
And nothing got different, and nothing got changed,
but a new tune gets sweeter and simpler with age
if you leave it alone".

Not much more I can add to that. That for me is reason enough to love the Wave Pictures, unconditionally, forever.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

it felt like a kiss

Regular readers of Assistant Blog will know that this site is nothing without regular, obsessive updates on the cultural whereabouts of Damon Albarn; so here's this week's helping.

This looks magnificent; the latest project from pop's most versatile musician is 'It Felt Like A Kiss', a collaboration with Adam Curtis (who created the BBC's magnificent 'The Power of Nightmares' series) and the Kronos Quartet. The website of the Manchester Festival, where the performance debuts this July, describes the project thus:

"Imagine walking into a disused building. You find yourself inside a film.
It is a ghost story where unexpected forces, veiled by the American Dream, come
out from the dark to haunt you…

It Felt Like a Kiss tells the story of America’s rise to power in the
golden age of pop, and the unforeseen consequences it had on the world and in
our minds. Beginning in 1959, the show spotlights the dreams and desires that
America inspired during the ’60s, when the world began to embrace the country
and its culture as never before. But as this daring production unfolds across
five floors, blending music with documentary and the disorientating whirl of a
fairground ghost train, the audience is forced to face the dark forces that were
veiled by the American dream – a dream that ultimately returns to haunt us

Awesome. More details here.

Monday, April 06, 2009

if only dogs could talk

This is an unbearably lovely story. Jan Griffith and her family - who took the wonderful decision to name their pet dog Sophie Tucker (I'm very much in favour of people giving animals human names, especially if they include a surname) - lost their animal after it fell overboard into choppy waters off Queensland, and were forced to include that their pet had drowned. Now, four months later, they have been reunited with it after it was discovered alive and well, living off its own wits on a pretty much uninhabited island, the equally charmingly named St. Bees Island.

Now back with her family, Sophie Tucker has quickly readjusted to the comforts of home, but her owner has a new-found respect for her, it seems. These last lines of the article just kill me.

"She surprised us all. She was a house dog and look what she's done, she's swum over five nautical miles, she's managed to live off the land all on her own," Griffiths said.

"We wish she could talk, we truly do."

what a difference a day makes

It's too easy to assume that when you go away the weather will be wonderful, and getting it wrong - especially when you're on holiday - can be really hard to get over. A few years ago I went to Cyprus on holiday and the weather was just so much cooler than I'd expected, the sun up less, the water colder than anticipated. It was a real downer, and I had to concentrate on forgetting the disappointment in order to enjoy myself (which I eventually did, but it took a while).

Work trips tend to be a bit less make or break, because at least half of the time you're stuck in a dreary conference centre or an office, so the bad weather - like I experienced in Portugal last year - should only be an irritant. It still takes practice to be so reasonable, however, and I've lost track of business trips where I've had to gee myself up after the initial disappointment of poor weather.

Boston is hardly the Bahamas, of course, and I knew I'd be arriving in late Spring, but the weather has recently really improved in the UK, so I was a bit underwhelmed by the torrential rain which greeted me on Friday and the blustery wind which blew me from pillar to post yesterday. I'd looked forward to visiting the Boston Public Gardens, having heard them described as the epicentre of the city. So when I found them yesterday, desolate and bleak, I quickly moved on and explored Downtown instead.

Here's what the gardens looked like yesterday.

And here they were this afternoon. It's no understatement to say that they simply burst into life overnight.

Today has been the sort of day which restores one's faith in the world - Boston on April 5th 2009 felt like heaven; balmy, beautiful, good-natured and brimming with cheer.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

shifting sands

Changing time-zones does weird things to Facebook - it appears I am now writing on people's walls in the future. Odd.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

breakfast in back bay

Had a cracking breakfast at Trident Booksellers Cafe in Boston this morning. It's a lovely, crowded independent bookshop in the Back Bay district. The cafe occupies more than half the space, and had developed by eleven o'clock today a decent queue, which is always a good sign. Luckily because I was on my own I managed to jump it and grab a seat at the bar, where I grabbed a menu and logged on to the free wi-fi with my phone. I'd actually bought a guide to Boston just before-hand, but taking it out and reading it at the counter seemed somehow appallingly touristy, so I grabbed a paper instead and sat reading and sipping the sharpest Lemonade I'd ever ordered in my life.

I've had enough breakfasts in America to be unsurprised when something the size of a European main course turns up, but I was still pleased to see my order was comfortably obscene. I had plumped for their South-Western breakfast burrito, which consisted of a huge serving of scrambled eggs, tomato, a liberal serving of jalepeno pepper, as well as refried beans, tortilla chips, onions & cheddar cheese, all crammed into a flour tortilla with a side of salsa and a slice of orange. It was immense. I decided to take my time and, taking regular breaths, devoured the whole thing over about forty minutes. It was delicious, and about as much as I normally eat in a day.

And now. Now I'm going out for lunch.

amazing dog

Saw this incredible dog sat in a doorway on Newbury Street - what an amazing animal. People were queuing up to take photographs. He just sat imperiously, surveying the activity on the street. After a while he tired of us, and shuffled back inside.

sensory overload

Well, I've just had easily the most surreal flight of my life. It was enjoyable in a funny way, but distinctly odd and unbelievably loud. The Virgin Atlantic flight I took from London to Boston - expecting a nice, snoozy jaunt - was populated with no less than a hundred and ninety schoolkids, which is every bit as stimulating (noise level = constant) as it is improbable.

Towards the end of the journey - when the kids were seemingly at their most restless - an air hostess came over and gave me a sympathetic smile, which I returned, reasoning that neither of us are getting paid well enough for this. We talked for a bit, and she confirmed that such a high percentage of children on a flight is well out of the ordinary.

I got my first sense of the sheer volume of kids when I arrived at the departure gate at Heathrow, and saw a queue of about forty adolescents standing in line in front of me. I reasoned that I'd walk round the block and come back once they'd gone through passport control. Five minutes later, however, the queue was twice as long and even more youthful. I quickly surmised that, through some cruel trick of fate, several school parties were booked onto the same flight, and watched a small, stoic set of teachers trying in vain to manage the chaos as parties began to intermingle, their curiosity sparked.

It didn't take long to realise, once I boarded the plane, that I'd need to move. I was sat in the middle of a row of four seats, with my three companions a set of youths who made it swiftly clear that they were intent on punching each other and yelling for the entire journey. I negotiated a move to a quieter seat, condemning a pissed-off looking teacher into my place, and found myself sat with a nice-enough pair of boys instead, who I was pleased to overhear telling their peers (who had probably been planning to put chewing gum in my hair, or something) that I was "a nice bloke".

Despite their good nature, they were ridiculously hyperactive and patently unable to sit still for more than half an hour at a time, meaning I had to keep getting up to allow them to slouch past me in search of entertainment or refreshment. A little girl sitting behind us gave me a sparkly smile each time I had to rise, and I recognised for a moment that eagerness to please that marks out the perpetual teacher's pet. The boys, in rare moments of stillness, struggled ineptly with their landing cards, so I helped them out, despairing at their unwillingness to work out the answers to simple questions.

We got the forms sorted in the end, but along the way they made some terrific mistakes. One declared that his country of residence (or 'resistance' as he pronounced it) was 'American', and the other first claimed he lived in the city of 'England' and then that his six-digit date of birth was simply '1996'. They peppered the process with cries of 'Sir! Sir!', sometimes directed at their teacher, and other times, amusingly, at me.

Throughout the ordeal the teachers and cabin staff were the model of restraint. The kids, with a few exceptions, were mostly lovely.

And no, I have NEVER BEEN SO PLEASED to finally land at my destination.

dunkin' donuts

Friday, April 03, 2009

fuck the bankers

Reminded of the extent to which kids are insulated from the problems of the world. Queuing to get on the plane I'm stuck behind a bunch of teenaged school-children. One spots that someone has grafittied 'Fuck The Bankers' on a poster in the aisle.

They look at it, amused and confused.

'RANDOM!', they all chorus, with no clue as to why someone might write such a thing.

good wishes for my journey

Coming through customs at Heathrow airport I watch, interested, as a party of five pensioners decant their pill boxes and medicine bottles into the security-provided polythene bags that others are filling with toothpaste and cosmetics. Each, by the time they are done, is carrying a full bag - their drugs are packaged uniformly in white and red, red white and blue. The English taking their necessities abroad.

Behind them shuffles a man, only slightly younger, his immaturity denoted by the chestnut colour of his hair. He is marsupial by appearence, small and friendly.

"Where are you off to", he asks one of the ladies, and claps his hands when she replies that their destination is Egypt. "Me too", he declares.

As we pick up our baggage at the other end of the machine, he spots my laptop and claps again, smiling.

"Got your laptop!", he cries. "Good, good. Never be without it. Not these days".

I smile and admit I am travelling for business purposes, so I have little choice.

He gives me the warmest smile I can recall, and tells me to enjoy myself regardless.

I depart feeling cheered.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

reluctant heirs

Articles about the Royal family are rather more the preserve of the Daily Mail than the Guardian, but there's a genuinely fascinating article in the paper today, in which Patrick Barkham looks at the two young Princes and attempts a serious study of their respective characters and prospects. When I was younger I was a fervent anti-Royalist, to the extent that I affected to loathe them, using their privilege and position as excuses to wish them ill. I didn't feel the slightest sense of loss when Diana died.

I'm still not a royalist by any means - I'd go for a republic in a heartbeat; but I have to admit that I now reserve my loathing for the institution, rather than the people within it. I suspect they live sad, lonely lives to be honest, and probably do a reasonable (even good) job of coping with the duties along the way.

Barkham's article is fascinating and well worth a read. It ends thus:

"William is nice but I can't help hearing him ask, 'Do I have to do it?'" [Judy]
Wade [, a royal reporter of 30 years] says. "You're a prisoner, not just of
the palace but the Foreign Office - telling you where you can and can't go. You
walk round all day talking to awestruck people who can't string two sentences
together. It's a terrible life. That's why William and Harry don't want to do
it. They want to put it off for as long as possible."

What a strange life.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

corden and horden

In the last couple of weeks I've read an absolute mountain of sniping articles about Horne and Corden (the stars of BBC3's Gavin and Stacey, who have recently launched a very poorly-received sketch show), and I find myself getting quite annoyed by the relentless critism. I don't doubt for a moment that their new show is poor (most TV sketch shows and sitcoms are) but there's something off-putting in the way that TV reviewers have gone for them so aggressively. I'd much rather read a review of a programme that the critic rates, so that I might find something new to watch - especially in the days of iPlayer when catching up on last night's TV is a realistic possibility for an evening's entertainment.

Everyone seems to have back-dated their criticism, too, deciding that Gavin and Stacey was over-rated, too; that it was sentimental, cloying, unfunny. It certainly was a gentle comedy, a million miles from, say, Stewart Lee, but I thought it was beautifully judged - charming and good-natured, witty, silly and believable by turn. I know I am a renowned wimp, but it regularly used to make me cry, too. It may well be fashionable to decry such family fodder - but I don't like the trend.

Over at the Guardian, Mark Lawson is wondering how the pair will revive their nosediving careers. It's a ridiculous article. Cordon is perhaps a bit full of himself, but he's funny and a talented writer, and Matthew Horne is a promising actor. They'll never be conventional comics, perhaps - but writing off their careers at this very early stage is plain daft.