Friday, February 26, 2010

notice of future changes

Right, so I have started, very tentatively, exploring the possibility of - and preparing for - the big shift from Blogger to Wordpress. That means a change of URL, a change of look, and the mothballing of this side of the site. Terrible idea? Possibly. I've not decided definitely, but think I'm going to do it.

Any endorsements, objections, suggestions, encouragment much appreciated. Am I doing the right thing?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Monday, February 22, 2010

nick winterton

Over at Skuds' blog, he's made a couple of very good points about Nick Winterton MP, the Tory who blundered into a political crisis this week when he revealed that he objects to being made to travel in standard class, because they're occupied by "a totally different type of people".

Your constituents, perhaps? Anyway, this was all predictable stuff, and my immediate reaction was that it's ironic that these crass, condescending comments attracted so much ire, rather than the blunt fact that Winterton (and his awful wife, who is also a Tory MP) has been spouting objectionable, backward, bigoted crap for years. As Marina Hyde commented:

"I think quite seriously that the couple should be scientifically preserved in some way to remind people what it was like until, well, about eight months ago. A husband and wife team of such luminous repugnance, the most reasonable assumption is that the Wintertons were hatched in an al-Qaida-underwritten research facility, created with the sole aim of destroying all ­British trust in authority from within".
People, however, are preoccupied with a personal - rather than a political - vendetta against politicians. In the eyes of the Daily Mail reading public, for example, a fine public servant is considered a corrupt charlatan if he or she has an inaccurate expenses claim. A self-serving, arrogant and morally bankrupt MP like George Galloway, meanwhile, can boast of moral superiority by virtue of his having not submitted any expenses at all - regardless of his other (more important) transgressions.

Anyway. Winterton is clearly a vile throwback; he's voted against equalising the age of consent, in favour of Section 28 (which prohibited teachers from discussing homosexuality in their classrooms), for the reintroduction of capital punishment. All this I noted, but Skuds noticed something else, which I think is extremely insightful when considering how the average Conservative thinks.

Winterton complains:
"The people who increasingly dominate this House are people who are intelligent, but they go from school to university, university to researcher, researcher to adviser, then to candidate. They have no experience of life outside. Have they ever paid wages at the end of the week? Have they ever been through negotiations over a business deal? Have they been in the law? No."
Skuds notes:

"Very telling. Note that real-life experience is not being paid wages at the end of the week but paying somebody else. How many people do actually pay somebody else and negotiate business deals? A very small proportion I am guessing. It is another way of saying that you need to be from management to be in parliament – forget about being an ex-teacher or something like that."

A very very good point - this kind of patrician thinking has less and less to do with how modern Britain works. If you've even the slightest interest in a meritocratic society, a Tory government would be a disaster.

friends in other places

Laura, over on her lovely Make Do And Mend blog (which always makes me feel bad for never sending her any post) has some good news; after what seemed like the end of the road for the traditional polaroid camera, the re-invigorated company are now preparing to launch a new range of cameras and a return of the classic Colour 600 film. As Laura says, here's hoping that the film is less expensive than it was last time round.

In the meantime, here's a glimpse at one of the new models. More here.

Meanwhile, I was pleased to see that I'm not the only one who looks forward to seeing Siobhan's lovely drawings - here she is being written about on a German website, in some incomprehensible foreign language. Yay. And here's one of her drawings, which I like.

Lastly, I'm really starting to miss Anne-Sophie and Rich now that they've moved out of the country. Although I like the fact that my friends are a pretty egalitarian, European lot, it's sad that this sometimes means they move away. London, Melbourne, Barcelona, Paris and Alsace have all robbed me of loved friends and drinking buddies, for which I am most resentful.

However. I am delighted that AS and Rich are blogging regularly from their new home, and recommend you bookmark their blog - I envy them having a whole new life to write about. Mine trundles on, punctuated with occasional flurries of sneezing.

Later on, as we had stopped to enjoy the quietness and the sun glaring on the snow, we heard noises coming from the bushes. A deer emerged from nowhere, only about 5 meters from us, quickly to disappear into the forest. A few seconds later, its foal passed even closer, looking absolutely terrorised: we could not believe our eyes! Suddenly a dog that had been chasing them through the trees appeared, stopped, stared at us (I got really scared it might attack us for a moment!) and finally, luckily, realised that it had lost the track of the deers and went away in the opposite direction. What a magical moment!

field music at resident records

For my money, Sunderland's amazing Field Music remain the best band in Britain at the moment. I can't think of a better LP released in the 2000s than their 'Tones of Town' (closest competitors; PJ Harvey's 'Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea', Gorillaz' 'Demon Days') and their new record, 'Measure', is terrific too. The other day I wrote a preview for a local show over at the Bored of Brighton blog, where I described them thus:

Their sound is intensely musical; gorgeous North Eastern harmonies, abrupt tempo-changes and unusual time signatures, with orchestration which varies from lush and pastoral to aggressive and loose.
Not at all surprisingly, their set - they played an instore at Brighton's Resident Records - was every bit as brilliant as I thought it would be. I didn't exactly have the best position in the world, for the shop was crowded, but the following video does I hope do justice to their wonderful sound, if not their stage presence.

Here's the entire set in mp3 form. Hope no-one minds me posting these.

Field Music
live at Resident Records, Brighton
Friday 19th February, 2010
(right click and 'save target as' to download)

1. Measure
2. Them That Do Nothing
3. Pieces
4. Rockist
5. Clear Water
6. Tones of Town
7. If Only The Moon Were Up
8. Effortlessly
9. Tell Me Keep Me

If anyone from Resident, or anyone associated with Field Music, minds me sharing this, let me know.

[edited for geographical accuracy; see comments]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

precious, a film by lee daniels

I watched Precious, today, the second feature by Lee Daniels, and was very impressed, if upset, by its grim, unflinching portrayal of domestic abuse in 1980s Harlem. It’s only Daniels second film, although he is an established name in Hollywood, having produced both the excellent ‘The Woodsman’ – a hard, affecting film about a convicted paedophile – and the execrable ‘Monster’s Ball’, a condescending, unpleasant film about ‘black America’. Here, aided by some excellent casting and several terrific performances, he has crafted a film which is alternately painful to watch, surprisingly heart-warming, and very funny.

It’s the severity of the circumstances his young lead must face that resonate most strongly. Precious, an impassive, obese 16 year old who is pregnant for the second time by her own father, is played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe with real depth and significant restraint, and entirely fulfils her role in a film where appalling events are threaded routinely into the plot. The comedian Mo’Nique, who plays her mother, is even more impressive, bringing a nightmarish intensity to her portrayal of one of the most unsympathetic characters I’ve ever seen in celluloid. In addition, there is good work by a (slightly too-good-to-be-true) Paula Patten and Mariah Carey, whose hard, ambiguous social worker is central to the film’s (ultimately hopeful, despite everything) climax.

At times, particularly when Mo’Nique is inflicting shocking abuse on her screen daughter, it’s terribly hard to watch. To leaven the horror, Daniels provides a hopeful subplot which lauds the role of the state in protecting its most put-upon citizens, and it’s for the best that he does, else the film might be unwatchable. At times the contrast between these two strands seems a little unbelievable, but it is a necessary plot device. As in both Monster’s Ball and The Woodsman, however, there are some ambiguous moral lessons. In The Woodsman, vigilantism is presented in a strangely uncritical light, and in Precious it’s hard not to notice that every character who lines up to help Precious (and thankfully there are several) seem to have progressively lighter skin.

Her relationship with Patten – who plays her teacher and mentor – is touching and convincing; but at times it feels that Patten is a little too good to be true; an impeccably groomed, comfortable liberal – she seems remarkably unfrazzled for an inner city teacher. Indeed, her class – supposedly made up of Harlem’s most troubled teenagers – seems at times to resemble the kids from Fame.

This is nitpicking – there are great performances here, and it’s very difficult not to be upset, moved, and exhausted by the film. It’s a great success and Mo’Nique, for one, might feel unfairly cast aside if she doesn’t pick up an Oscar for her role. I hope that the intolerable life young Precious is handed in 80s Harlem is a historical observation, and that things are better for America’s poor today.

Friday, February 19, 2010

spoon plaudits

According to the Guardian, today, Metacritic have trawled through all of their data (they collate reviews of music, films, games etc) and have identified Spoon as the most critically acclaimed band of the 2000s. I'm not really surprised by that - it was always going to be them, Wilco or Radiohead; consistent, worthy bands who are all loved by critics, who take adventurous steps without alienating their fanbase. And, y'know, you can't argue they're a good band. There must be songwriters, though - like Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, or Mark Everett of Eels - who look on at Britt Daniel and think, um, yeah, but I'm better. Still.

What this does mean, of course, is we have an opportunity to appreciate once again the brilliance that is Adam Buxton's video to Spoon's 'Don't Make Me a Target'. Wonderful.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

encouraging for obama

Early days, but...

the tragedy of unpreparedness

"Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere", EM Forster wrote in Howard's End, warning against "the tragedy of preparedness". But some things must be prepared for, and it is a tragedy if they are not – they become Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns. Here's a bitter example.

From Armando Iannucci, a sorry anecdote heard in Whitehall about post-war planning.

"Donald Rumsfeld weeded out from those going to help the reconstruction of Iraq anyone who could speak Arabic, on the grounds they would be pro-Arab. As a result, it took the Americans 18 months to realise that when marines held up the flat of their hand to oncoming cars to signal them to stop, they were actually using the Iraqi hand-signal for "come forward". That's why so many families in cars were shot".
Almost too appalling to contemplate - perhaps not a war crime, but a crime of negligence.

(via Chicken Yoghurt)

Monday, February 15, 2010

cromer road school, 1984

Saturday, February 13, 2010

this cruelty called sport


I'm back at my parents' house in Cambridgeshire this weekend, where I am normally made to feel unwelcome by their distant, rather jumpy cat, Millie. This time round, however - perhaps spurred by the poor weather, which is keeping her indoors - she seems to be have adopted a tolerant attitude to me; not scampering angrily from the room when I enter, nor leaping a foot into the air when I extend a hand towards her.

And then, finally, a sign that, ten years in, I am finally beginning to win her over.

A gift!

Monday, February 08, 2010

authorship and design

From my experience of working in the publishing industry, it can be a mixed blessing when an author offers to lend a hand in the design of a book cover. Often, the author's ideas can act as a springboard which helps bring about a really unique, or apt, design. Equally, an author's dogmatic or unrealistic expectations can lead to many a fraught conversation. Either way, I enjoyed reading this account of Orhan Panuk's input in the design process, from the Guardian.

"Like his earlier melancholic memoirs of his Turkish childhood and youth, the front of Orhan Pamuk's latest novel, The Museum of Innocence, draws the eye with a sepia-tinted image evoking the romance of bygone Istanbul. But at the Southbank's Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the Nobel-prizewinning author raised smiles with the tale of his use of technology to enhance the appeal of the cover photograph of the new book. The picture, featuring an open-top car containing three smiling women and two men, the latter with hair gelled back in 1950s fashion, was originally bought by the writer from a website he called "the Turkish eBay". There was just one problem: its backdrop was that of woodland somewhere in Turkey's interior. Pamuk explained how he had used Photoshop to resolve the issue. With a few mouse clicks, the car and its occupants were transported to the Bosphorus, the busy shipping lane running through Istanbul, complete with familiar minarets on a facing shore. Graphics wizards at Faber later introduced burn marks to the top half of the image. Pamuk also revealed that there had been worries about what the car's unknown occupants would make of their unwitting cover stardom. There was relief, however, when one of the women, pictured in a headscarf, was traced. A photo was sent to him showing her, now aged 88, happily holding the novel. Whether other authors take such a hands-on approach to the design of their book covers is unclear. However, for Pamuk, a self-described "repressed artist" who once harboured ambitions to forge a career with a brush, doing so must be particularly satisfying".

Sunday, February 07, 2010

top ten films of 2009

Observant readers will notice that I never got round to posting my 2009 lists - records of the year etc. Not quite sure why - I spent ages working out my top tens and exhausted my interest, I think. I'll dig the music list out and post it this week. In the meantime, a bit late, here are my top ten films of 2009. Thoughts in the comments box, please.

Best Films of 2009, in order.
1. An Education (UK)
Utterly charmed by this - everything from the sensitive adaptation to the casting to the period detail was exquisitely done - Carey Mulligan in the lead role acted with incredible subtlety and charm. A beautiful, fascinating film.
2. Fish Tank (UK)
Very unfortunate not to be first in the list, I thought this was terrific, too - another beautifully realised film with a captivating central performance. Here's a link to my more detailed review.
3. Let The Right One In (Sweden)
The thought of the US remake of this perfect film fills me with, well, horror - I just can't understand the decision to remake a film which is so beautiful, accessible and chilling. An unexpected, complex reworking of the Vampire myth. One of only two films in the list I've seen twice, and it impressed even further on the second view. I'd happily watch it a third time.
4. Moon (UK)
A film that really stayed with me - Sam Rockwell is perfect in the central role(s) and this is a brilliantly realised bit of unsettling science fiction. And yet another promising new director in Duncan Jones. Upsetting and brilliant. Here's my review - I got told off for including spoilers, so read with caution.
5. A Prophet (France)
Pretty much as good as everyone says it is - where this film really impressed me was in its dual portrayal of toughness and sensitivity. It has the weight of the great gangster films, with a thoughtful metaphysical component.
6. Thirst (S. Korea)
What with True Blood, Let the Right One in and the wonderful Being Human on the BBC, as well as the many other vampire franchises in operation, one would be forgiven for taking a pass on yet another film about people who bite people. But Thirst was brilliant. Totally repositioning the Priest's role in the Vampire story, this was great stuff.
7. In The Loop (UK)
Do you know, I was a touch underwhelmed by this the first time I saw it, finding it a bit less funny than I was expecting and mostly concentrating on the furious final third. But I've seen it since and thought it much better on a second viewing. A case of it's funny 'cos it's true, perhaps.
8. Star Trek (US)
So much better than it had any right to be. Mystifying middle section apart, this was awesome fun.
9. Down Terrace (UK)
Not sure if this has had a general release yet, but this very dark, low-key comedy is a gangster flick set in Brighton. Somewhere between Mike Leigh and The Sopranos, it was quite brilliant, and genuinely shocking in places.
10. Helen (UK)
Not sure if I actually enjoyed this, but I admired it for its simplicity and purity - a strange, unsatisfying meditation on identity - it's well worth a look.

Obviously there’s a bunch I didn’t see (Avatar, The White Ribbon, The Antichrist, 35 Shots of Rum) that might have made the list, but as I didn’t see ‘em...

Friday, February 05, 2010

drink and the light

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

at least one thoughtful letter

Over on the Faber & Faber blog, The Thought Fox, Faber's Editorial Director, Lee Blackstone, has penned a rather curious, slightly sweet and more than a little embarrasing open letter to Morrissey, in which he asks Moz to consider f&f as the publisher for his much-rumoured memoirs. Its high-level of obsequious fawning demands attention.

Dear Morrissey,

In the hope that you might consider bringing your much-rumoured memoir to The House of Eliot, I am posting this letter on the Faber website. Forlorn as this hope may be, I can only fantasise that at least you might read my letter through and consider the pleasures and prestige of being an author at Faber, the last great family-owned independent publishing house in the western hemisphere.

I have been trying to persuade you of the virtues and wisdom of this for some years now. You probably won’t remember. We even corresponded at one point via a friend of yours, an author of mine, most famous for his biography of Roxy Music which ends just as the band are getting together. You see, we love the perverse and the contrary at Faber. And we also like to think we are the custodians of twentieth-century Modernist poetry. In fact we are. Our shelves groan and bulge and spill over under the weight of Ezra, Larkin, Hughes and Heaney. And that’s just the surface; deep as it may seem. We feel very strongly that you belong in this company. To me (and to many of my colleagues) you are already in this company. It would be the fulfilment of my most pressing and persistent publishing dream to see that ‘ff’ sewn into the spine of your Life. Just any other publisher won’t do. You deserve Faber and the love we can give you. History demands it; destiny commands it.

I don't really get it. Morrissey has already created his great work - the lyrics he wrote in the 1980s. If Faber really feel that his work belongs in the company of Ezra Pound and Philip Larkin, they should just ask him if they can publish his best lyrics in their poetry imprint.

adam buxton reads his press

Well, I'd like to say that the relentless kicking which The Persuasionists has attracted from the media over recent weeks wasn't deserved, but sadly I think it probably was. Nevertheless, I still love Adam Buxton unreservedly. Here he is reading through the reviews.

Monday, February 01, 2010

janet waking

Yikes, I've been really terrible at blogging this last week, and after such a productive first few weeks of January, too. Here's a poem to tide you over - I'll be back shortly.

Janet Waking
by John Crowe Ransom

Beautifully Janet slept
Till it was deeply morning. She woke then
And thought about her dainty-feathered hen,
To see how it had kept.

One kiss she gave her mother,
Only a small one gave she to her daddy
Who would have kissed each curl of his shining baby;
No kiss at all for her brother.

“Old Chucky, Old Chucky!” she cried,
Running on little pink feet upon the grass
To Chucky’s house, and listening. But alas,
Her Chucky had died.

It was a transmogrifying bee
Came droning down on Chucky’s old bald head
And sat and put the poison. It scarcely bled,
But how exceedingly

And purply did the knot
Swell with the venom and communicate
Its rigour! Now the poor comb stood up straight
But Chucky did not.

So there was Janet
Kneeling on the wet grass, crying her brown hen
(Translated far beyond the daughters of men)
To rise and walk upon it.

And weeping fast as she had breath
Janet implored us, “Wake her from her sleep!”
And would not be instructed in how deep
Was the forgetful kingdom of death.