Time: 2008 Dec 30 14:37:00 1. Consumer Temple of the Year: Belfast's Victoria Square. Almost too splendid to be a shopping mall. A planetarium-style architectural character - so we can wander Crabtree & Evelyn and the Build-A-Bear Workshop. As a new religion maybe Retail Is Not Enough. 2. Feminism didn't fare well in 2008. While Sharon Shoesmith, Cressida Dick, and Lesley Douglas suggested that 'lady' plus 'important decision' equals 'national disgrace', the pay divide actually started widening. By 2014 women will have to pay employers to attend the workplace, to do their hair and lippy in the big glass ceiling. Hillary hit the skid chicane while daft old rape crisis centres survived by a whistle (although it is now illegal to visit a prostitute without first demanding her passport and travel documents). Woman of the Year: Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Quaker Ulsterwoman who discovered pulsars and gave a design to Joy Division t-shirts, became the first female president of the Institute of Physics. Hurrah! 3. My Book of the Year was published in 1905. Hjalmar Söderberg's 'Doctor Glas' has that over-the-shoulder diarist quality of early 'Corbeau', slips naturally into stream of consciousness and shifts of form (stage play dialogue for exteriors), psychological landscaping and scandal. A subtle murder story whose denouement has a man admitting that he is lonely, as if the codes and structures we live by might merely exist to pretend otherwise. In snobbery we have a friend. We can kill for company. I've no idea if Joyce read this prior to 'Ulysses', but Glas has, perhaps, more paradox than Bloom, or Bloom is blown Glas. 4. Feels like I spent most of 2008 watching the UK from Virgin Trains. Cinema of the Year: Aleksandr Sokurov's 'Alexandra'. 'Burn After Reading' might have benefited from less budget, no stars. Enjoyed '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days' and 'I've Loved You So Long'. 5. Chanting-Greek-with-a-hangover of the Year. Afterwards I went to watch 13-16 year-olds from the IdentityDramaSchool at the Arcola Theatre. The only white person there. One boy soliloquised "Asians - they got unity. White people - they got unity. Black people - we're all over the place." White people thinking with one brain - is that how it looks? That said I did spend a very concordant Christmas with my folks. 6. Office Move of the Year. Bev, former occupant of my old chair, has been riled by borrowers, forcing her to the Tippex. 'Bev Sits Here' became 'Spits Sherbet' thanks to a lunchtime ruse. Nicely out of place in a global media concern, you wouldn’t need it spinning into view during a pan-European videoconference. Who knows, if Athens-style insurrection breaks out in the West End, it could be a motif for innocence past. Which side are you on - in the Battle of Bev's Sherbet? 7. Artworks of the Year: Either Charles Avery's 'Islanders: An Introduction' at the Parasol Unit or climbing Graham Hudson's 'On, Off' at the 176 Gallery. Pointless, seemingly built on nothing, a little doomed. Crunch art with real crunch. Quote of the Year goes to my GP. "Let's get this straight. You haven't started a family yet? Most men your age are looking for the snip." Delicious. Where's Doctor Glas when you need him?
Chandler Bing, a character in the sitcom Friends, worked in a department called 'Statistical Analysis and Data Reconfiguration', where he chewed over issues like the WENUS (Weekly Estimated Net Usage Systems), as well as the ANUS (Annual Net Usage Statistics). My world can be pretty similar, for music usage. What are the scores on the doors? Well, contrary to Chris Anderson’s 2006 "The Long Tail: The Future Of Business Is Selling Less Of More" the 'long tail' of sales is growing but not fattening. The internet is still not democratizing. Major blockbuster products by major companies still dominate - a spin-off of mainstream marketing. If the pop charts were created today, even factoring downloads, you’d talk Top 14, not Top 40.
A recent Harvard Business Review tried to find out why. Niche consumers certainly exist, but the vast majority are also mainstream consumers. Social animals, with social tastes. Overall, part-obscurists actually purchase more obscures than bloody-obscurists. Far from a switch to 'hidden gems' on the 'infinite shelf-space', they poke a bit, fearing infinite irrelevance. 'New tastemakers' remain elusive, and most automated introduction tools don't replace them. In the absence of a set of cohesive internet 'scenes', niche-only consumers are contributing 'onesies and twosies' to the tail's rear end. Mix in the possibility that only a certain kind of person wants to pay for digital content, add a twist of lemon peel, stir until bankrupt.
Anyway, the Harvard review feels now-ist, short-term thinking. No capacity for imagination. Data tells a very blind kind of truth, data is neurotic. What we measure we cut off. And this is a high-falutin' way to introduce a UO YouTube channel. Just a mixtape of favourites, but maybe I could make some shorts. I'm not sure what themes connect this music. Getting an elusive pitch just right? Something in the topline, the naked attitude? A patchwork of personal lines-of-flight? Colleagues abscond to Scaledown to debate Can and Faust out-takes and the line-up for All Tomorrow's Parties. I'm there too, but fascinated by the Song, too restless for the avant or 'jazz years'. Anyway, maybe you'll find something to tirelessly democratize that tail (but not too much! Every revolution begins by converting the majority, as Marx had it).
Time: 2008 Nov 15 22:30:00 1. Should you ever imagine your life is remotely interesting, talk to Lucio Urtubia. Acquaintance of Camus and Breton, there is a photo of the young Spanish anarchist causing Che Guevara visible distress. An uncomfy bank robber (“Every time I stuck a gun in somebody’s face I pissed my pants”), he forged ID cards and passports. Eventually paid off by a near-crippled Citibank, to stop flooding Europe with dicky traveller’s cheques, he claims the lolly walked to South America, or helped the Black Panthers, the Red Army Faction. Et cetera. Who can say? He lives in a room above Espace Louise Michel in Belleville where, in the anarchist tradition, his door is unlocked, anyone welcome. 2. “In went the Goldberg brothers. Hackney boys. Judo champions. Bosh. Down went Jeffrey Hamm.” Morris Beckman founded the 43 Group, Jewish ex-paras who rid the streets of Mosley's blackshirts. 3. Both were interviewed at the Anarchist Bookfair, the only anti-Frieze you need. 4. Plotting fiction on the back of a Mortgage Strike poster, Brighton. 5. Crass art, some exhibitions, mostly dance and movies. 6. Let Me Sing a Love Song. The last concert concert I attended was Sleater-Kinney, with Matt Morgan. Two million pounds worth of punter in a vertigo-inducing spaceship, like intergalactic judgement for a man I still see as leftfield, a Montreal nighthawk. A chilly klezmer version of 'The Partisan' and ad-hoc poetry subverted the hits package. Long on goodbyes, although L. Cohen's kinda been saying goodbye since he arrived. 7. You'll Never Forget a Haringey Hug. Wandering Wood Green, and the scene of my first ever visit to London. My cousin explained that the girl next door had a famous boyfriend. A cohort insisted on vigilance. Warm summer nights on pot-smoky maisonette steps, chatting with black kids. Presently a noired-out car seemed to park itself. Disappointingly gnome-like, Bill Wyman avoided us, darting upstairs to Mandy's gaff. My mate fancied her, but I preferred her sister. The next day we stalked the pair, from the cornershop to the pharmacy. Quasi surf goth, I bought a can of Elnett for my Rough Trade shopping bag. Rock aristocracy on child action, very Dickensian. "My mate fancies you." I readied myself to actually say it. The pharmacy radio played 'War Baby' by Tom Robinson. Sloppy seconds to a Stone? At least they'd both be underage. I'd be rescuing her, I decided. But.. no joy. Years later I leave the same pharmacy, wondering what I thought I'd find here.
Subject: Blogs D'Amour: Tarot will teach you how to create a soul
Time: 2008 Oct 10 14:00:00
The Ten of Cups! The sunniest card in the deck.
Some time back, MissX and I went our separates. She seems to have blossomed (ah, the joy of lurking a blog). I'm not new to London, not 27, and she has a lot of buzzy things to discover and do, and I miss her, but I was a lead weight in many ways. She has a new girlfriend, whose journal would make the Marquis de Sade’s eyeballs pop out of his face, bounce off the screen and sluice around in an ice bucket. A veritable Bonnie and Clyde. In truth, I wasn’t keen enough on the scene. I’m sure teenage boys think “Must. stop. kinky thoughts. if I’m gonna get. a. girlfriend.” The concept of women demanding the sexually ill isn’t something society primes you for. The most liberal culture in history, and we trot out stuff like “Society calls women sluts if they sleep around.” Unless you come from an ultra-orthodox family, or live in a playground, with a caveman, society suggests nothing of the sort. A phantom status quo we secretly prefer, perhaps. Anyway I was partly waiting for it to end, and it did. Selective perception wins again.
Christelle asked if I wanted to have a baby. There’d be shared responsibility, although living with her. This is the opposite of what most people I know are doing. They tend to couple up, childfree. The idea is radical enough to excite me, though. Sweeping into a new position, life-wise. The thought of doing the same things in a year’s time, never mind ten, disturbs me. Questions flood in, but few adhere. Financially it’ll be very Shelagh Delaney, but that also doesn’t seem important. With the right mental attitude, it can be a joy from beginning to end, from the lentil hotpot, to holding up the Securicor vans. The child would be loved, and of the love of friends. I wonder how many people are alive today due to a town planning decision - not romance, or even lust - one that moved their parents from two-up terraces to a new town and an extra bedroom? Yesterday the papers were full of ‘Afghan immigrant family receives £170k benefits’. How do people do that? “Yeah, I’ve got this illegitimate whale. Needs a loch. In Putney.”
I really enjoy talking hoopla to Aden Esler. Talking unbridled la-la, to a fascinated face, is a wonderful thing. I saw Jonathan Miller recently, gazing at 300 tonnes of Richard Serra steel. Hey, Jonathan, you’re an academic and an atheist, a 20th century rationalist who made a kooky version of ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Why don’t we reverse the cards? Make rational art, and live a life of total hoopla? Already I feel an inner snob come out. No sweets. Only films by Carl Theodor Dreyer and Gregorian chant until you’re fifteen. Determined not to transfer my own missed chances onto a child. Lead from the front. It’s the only way to parent. What am I talking about? Some people say parenthood turns your outlook conservative. Personally I’d lock those people up and throw away the key.
Alejandro Jodorowsky, who restored the Tarot of Marseilles to how they looked in 1400, says “The future is a con. Tarot is deep psychological research. An encyclopedia of symbols. A great optic language. When you enter into the dimension I call ‘the dance of reality’ the world gives you what you seek. When you send your spirit into something, that phenomenon will happen. Tarot will teach you how to create a soul.”
Who's to argue? The arcana roams the aligning stars, shifting planets where a soul knits itself out of dark matter. A soul that has, perhaps, been waiting all along. I’d like to say Willkommen, but it’s very early days.
1. Don’s agent is finally breathalysed. 2. Sound Of The Ladies play songs inspired by HP Lovecraft, at a literary evening under a Bangladeshi tea room on Redchurch Street. Doug read from the latest draft of his new novel, retitled as ‘When Will I Be Blown Up?’ a quote from William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. 3. Tim Holehouse plays the DPS bassomatic, a 1980s Hohner, which cost £45 but has a very rich sound. 4. The Man With Lightning On His Neck. I studied art with Ivor Lavery, and recently Googled his name. I recall him a ‘most likely to succeed’, and I wondered if he had. He died in 2002, of a burst cyst in the lung, I presume after years of part-achievement, self-depreciation, drink. From the squatter and underground comics (‘comix’) background, he was more The Foundry than Cork Street, but had an impressive knowledge of art history. His primitive paintings took a leap, I think, when he began woodcuts. Already possessive of the expression and freedom, suddenly the paradox was there, the inner hum of life. Pastoral cities, Gutenberg text, a donkey with a beaten, existential expression on its face, easily achieved, beautifully wrought. Biblical. The best pupils teach back, and the tutors gave him As and let him get on with it, for he was a man who clearly sensed what he wanted. Shine on you crazy donkey.
5. Holes In London: the former MiddlesexHospital. So many luxury flats faced with so much big crunch. Privatise the profit, socialise the debt. They say gamblers gamble to lose, why make it impossible? It’s warming to know our taxes are going where they're needed, into the Cern swirl of the City. 6. Nowt wrong wi' gala luncheons. Still a vegetarian who occasionally eats sealife, embracing longer periods of veganism. The best scallop risotto in London is at Chez Georges, Delancey Street. Georges won't divulge the secret. Something from the marketplaces of Yaoundé. 7. Matt and Sam’s clifftop ceremony. 8. Poncho bounces for Vic Godard at the Arts Theatre, Soho. Godard works as a postman, and is known to perform in his uniform, after or before a shift. 9. Saturday morning children embrace Japanese ultraviolence. 10. Lotte Reiniger's 'Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed' at the 7digital party, Shoreditch. One girl asked me "Got a line, mate? One line? I phoned my dealer, but he's in bed." I dunno, in my day, dealers didn't have beds..
A side aspect of my job is an assignment to work at a music festival, and this year it was Argyllshire’s Hydro Connect. Although working a full day, I did get time to view bands, both on stage and backstage (and on stage via backstage - loping across the main one prior to Franz Ferdinand I resisted delivering some DPS). Although exhausting, I guess it qualifies as a home nations ‘staycation’ (abroad is trop).
Hydro Connect is held in the grounds of Inveraray Castle, on the banks of Loch Fyne. Clan-wise this is Campbell country. Low clouds ring the peaks. Dripping mizzle that only neat whiskey will rid from your bones. Mud becomes deep soup in corners. But there are oysters and cullen skink, stovies with beets and oatcakes, plump scallops on barley risotto, with green beans and elephant garlic. Sponsored by Scottish Hydro, it sneaks towards eco-festival, but the obligatory landslide of burger cartons begs to differ (let's face it - eco-festival is probably staying in bed with the lights off). Several ales in and more than one fan hits the shit.
Performance is what people pay for. I catch some of The Faint and Conor Oberst. James Holden. The Breeders. Stephen Malkmus (who was singing ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ in his dressing room). Late Of The Pier. The Gutter Twins. A roomful of thundering, pitch-bending bagpipes. Glasvegas. A burlesque revue from Glasgow’s Club Noir (highlight: the Absinthe Fairy). Sigur Ros. Mercury Rev. Grinderman and Bloc Party. Godheads meet new meat. Bands becoming acts, at the point of submitting to a machine bigger than they are. “Headlining is a way to stress ‘We’re Back’.” “The album has to be a statement of where we are." Marketing jostle and politics begone, what about writing twelve decent songs? The rest takes care of itself, surely. Keen new bands. The third album fresh ground breakers - when the same sound that found you loved threatens to render you a kicked around one-trick-turtle.
I hung in a gazebo with unsigned bands at the King Tut's stage, then went down the production-only roads. It’s useful to see performers from the vantage of staff. Who’ll treat me like an untouchable? Will Greg Dulli throw his arms around me? "Jeez, man, thanks for buying all the Whigs albums." Or will he shriek at his Pilates instructor? "Trish, I said no people." I felt unseen, like sales assistants and waiters often are, or high-vis vest security (the scale of which is a paradox - nullifying, or at least boxing up the freeing aspects of music. No tents advertising ‘Heroin’, no clusterfucks of mud love). I tried not to stare, be professional. Rise above like Wilde’s Happy Prince, or a billionaire dressed as a nobody to seek out one good soul in a crummy world (but with nothing to offer in the narrative twist).
Beyond a moving curtain of buggies and tour buses, the main dressing rooms feel spectral. Left alone. A deserted square of cabins cast yellow boxes of buzz and prep to the inky blue and the blackened birch, the ominous mouth of a mountain after sunset. In the catering tent, Ron Mael tests a coffee, cool and mafia-like. (Later, ‘Dick Around’ is relevant, a refreshingly complicated song). Unhurried and alone, James Dean Bradfield paces the path, like a general preparing for battle. Finding his ‘zone’ amid distant dementia, perhaps, the rumbling close of some penultimate. Gomez are feet-up, unconcerned as you like. Beth Ditto is surrounded by excited handmaiden mates. I get what I need and do a lot of waiting, watching someone carry Grinderman’s hangered suits into the back of a van. Ghostlike, Alison Goldfrapp shields her costume and skips to a waiting shuttle bus. I imagined celebrities mingling, swapping tips on the perils of infamy, a kind of mutual congratulation, but they seem to keep their distance. Grinderman were a highlight. Nick Cave was in the first NME I ever bought and still puts his all into it. Up close, performances are exaggerated, gestures held. Shuddering, raving, ego-lead. Acts, real acts, perform to the sky, the back row and the castle.
Shuddering, raving, ego-lead. There was a brief fashion in the Sixties for stage drama about the ‘everyman’. Perhaps he worked in a grey office, doing a repetitive process, and was even called something like Joe Nobody. Sometimes he was going nuts, or betrayed by capitalism, or realising that all this anthill builds is Dick Around. But something felt unreal in a muddled Maoist realism, because no man or woman on the street actually sees themselves as ‘everyman’. We relate to a Shakespearean monarch, or the existential ravings of a vagrant, more than Joe Nobody. We have ego, even in our darkest hour, and we almost expect it from our acts, to consolidate our times and us.
The darkest hour approaches. It’s a closed stage, I clock off. The rain has cleared, it is a summer night. I discover Glenmorangie Astar and some peaty Kilchoman New Spirit (whisky under three years old). Inside my wellies, my socks are knocked off (I’m going to need it, for a man plays the bugle outside my tent all night). In the wings, I watch the crowd watch the singer. Watch the security watch the crowd. Watch the singer watch the stars. None of us are 'everyman' - let's catch as much of that as possible.
I catch half-dreams in the eco-festival of my tent, where the Absinthe Fairy flutters down to visit me. I find it difficult to watch strippers in silence. It's just rude. I shout "Go baby go! Shake it. Shake it." Dreams - now there is a place we lose professionalism. But in the morning, the bugle player has gone.
On the Ormond Quay, in the rain. Visiting my family, but via Dublin, where I take a room at Trinity College overlooking 'Pearse & Sons ~ Ecclesiastical Sculptors'. Having my surname, in Ireland, assures some connection to the Earldom of Ormond, Cambro-Normans granted half of Kilkenny, and the land around Trinity, by Henry II. Is it a subtle déjà visité, or do past lives swim in the Guinness? Circling high on the patrynomic twig of the tree you’ll find such notables as Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father and grandfather of Elizabeth I, and Hubert Walter, a hugely influential Lord Chancellor and the Third Crusade’s chief negotiator with Saladin for the peace treaty of Jerusalem. Direct links to Longshanks, Edward I, via one Eleanor de Bohun. Longshanks expelled the Jews from England, and confiscated their wealth, to pay off debts of £100,000, which wouldn’t buy a coal shed today, but represented four times his annual salary. Interestingly, his issue negotiates a similar pay band over seven hundred years later, which at least demonstrates an exciting sense of consistency in the family.
I mention this to highlight how, if such information can be traced via one twig-name in a vast uncultivated bush, anyone not a recent immigrant to these isles can expect to be the 18th pale descendent of royal blood. I say this to trash lineage. Underdogs were overlords and become them again. There is as much Celtic DNA in Catford as here. “Dad, why is that hunger striker called Robert Sands? He should be called Ruaidhrí Ó Beaglaioch or somesuch.” The pack is too shuffled. We are, ultimately, the product of today.
The Holyhead ferry is a floating Burger King. Any suicidal would have to climb over ‘George’, a seven-foot fun monkey who exists to be pummelled in the face by lifted children, to reach the passing tide. Sporty territorialism is everywhere. Sports lads tuck sports pints away at the sports bar. Still-kitted teens are returning from tournaments. The captain announces a football score and everyone yahoos across sports grills. And, although we can condemn the cult of individualism, the alternative appears to be teams. Passions, reverences and righteousness: forces wholly separate from their object. The war machine blows its wreckage in the wind, it shores up in far corners. It needs self-recognition, self-defeat but seeks its own continuity. It does not desire change. It chases grass roots revision away. It is a weed for change, but likes the sort of place that war creates. Without war, there is a missing wall and the world can see in.
On Dawson Street I pass a drunken man mumbling about the IRA to al fresco diners at Carluccios. Linguine unwinds and flops off forks. Something about this not being what all that was about. Stuff about stuff. Equality and stuff. Loose, limitless metaphors feeding on his ill health and booziness. He guides me to Trinity - languid home to the Book of Kells, where tourists queue to scrutinise two pages (the clue is the word ‘book’). For all the literary heave-ho here it is hard to find a pub to curl up in, with a pint of plain and a notebook. The place should be perfect for that, but writers tend to flee. The Dublin Writers Museum maps the exodus, when Home Rule meant the freedom to live under censorious Catholicism, economic estrangement. (On Westmoreland Street I pass a man so beer-battered he is a living statue, spying at the ground with the self-effacing twitch of one eye. Brain and body so far out of sync one strains for the other from a separate realm, like a scrambled egg attempting to drive a truck.)
Where Temple Bar meets the river, beyond the noxious home of stag and hen don’ts, the mullered awake, or fail to, on pavements. One alley glistens in blood. They’ll try to sit up and swear, where it’s still Gin Lane, Tom Waits but a fifty year old woman, with realistic facial scrapes. Feral kids beg and cuss. As a kid, Dublin and the south felt a foreign country, and usually meant horseracing, and warm milk straight from the moo-cow. We had sectarianism, a religious face-off three hundred years past its slay-by date, they had pregnant women begging where an EU flag now flies. We were sure that even the discriminated against had it better up north. No Vatican imperialism, family sizes relevant to a modern market economy, Royalist wrongdoing such as divorce. Under the EU flag, a boy waves a Pringles tube at me, which hints at ambition, but if anything there are more beggars these days.
First reaction: what would clear up the unruly? Jesuit, problem-solver, Councillor, Zen friend, Mennonite - busybodies begone! So, secondly, then, you say it’s an amazing landscape that turns the ravages of poverty into a kind of beatnik modus vivendi. An artform, or at least a USP that really makes the place. Thank God the whole world is not an airport lounge. Thank Christ for Dublin. “This is Ireland, not Hong Kong!” On O’Connell Street, an auld fella stands his ground against a Pakistani shopkeeper who won't let folk rob things. On Nassau Street a man pushes in front of me with a rudeness that makes me laugh in his ear. On College Green I pass a man licking the innards of a forsaken Starbucks cup, while cagoule and bran tourists (so many, and only a finite number of clumpy statues) hurry past. Your ancestors split for many reasons, and none was ‘It was too magical’.
Swear words sound brilliant in a Dublin accent. Guttural, raving and sinful. “Y’effin b, eff y’all to hell.” It bounces around a doorway and grabs me on Kildare Street. Our eyes meet and he spasms under a duvet of newspapers “I’m a Roman Catholic.” You can’t decide if the tone is boast or akin to “I’m a cripple.” I used to debate this kind of stuff - you can’t be Celtic and Catholic - you don’t need a first from Trinity to work that out - but I can’t be bothered any more. Just words: charged boxes to transport the truly inert.
The train north is full of affluent farmer types. Super-shaven faces, well ironed M&S, disproportionate spacehopper waists. Squeaky cheeks, super furry arteries - they discuss the merits of one golf course over another. House prices. He went for the million. Got it. Fair play to him. The Irish called Normans 'Old English', which serves to distinguish them from the later Anglo-Scottish settlers, and they assimilated quickly. Sure the lads are building castles.
My town is regenerating, remodeled for the car. Edge of town superstores and retail parks leave the Main Street deserted. There’s little need for main streets any more, but they provide the consolatory focus of a fireplace. You only get nostalgic once, walking past the scene of first kisses. Been there before, and now the place is merely here. Son, you are untied. Some things improve. Municipal trees remain rooted, graffiti does a big ‘why bother?’ Even the unemployed get a cute-looking house in a new close via benefits. The Polish came and went, with skills and down payments. The kind of immigration we like. Lithuanians drink and fight the bit with Russians, it has to be said. It would all be pastoral, even monotonous, if it wasn’t for teen suicides.
There’s nothing like a mothers’ scrutiny to shake the soul. No fitter but no dafter. London. Working. Living like a king, in fact. Passing time, if honest. I can’t see a Ford Focus, a three bed starter any time soon, a wife and wee’uns I never have time for. Not invested in, but won’t do a Dunblane either. No winner but there's worse losers. If I was a wick-dipping dickhead, a light-fingered cracknut crying on the step it might be easier. Have friends, occasional craziness. Mutual look to the window. Maybe it's hiding over there. Hiding in the smoke, getting it's head showered. It showers endlessly, and we visit the cemetery and discuss grandchildren and local politics. So many friends are dead, there’ll be no golfing years, and no fireside malt reunion. A motorcycle crash, some kind of leukaemia. Suicide. One was just arrested for embezzlement.
So many cups of tea. I meet a peer I actually recognise. Remember the night Galey's da tried to exorcise him? Then to Belfast where there’s a new Fender Jaguar for a friend's ‘mod life crisis’. Sure, ‘Hand In Glove’ is the middle eighth of ‘My Mind Goes Round In Circles’. Explore the new wheel, new shopping. If Catholicism is a garden of remembrance, Prods are curious about sales potential. ‘For Cod and Ulster’ paraphrases the UVF to offer Maze Burgers, Drumcree Meals and King Billy Family Feasts (£16.90). An open top bus tour takes me to Stormont via the Falls and Shankill, where the beeps and chirps of digital cameras must sound like R2D2 rolling up the road to the bookies. The Falls murals are heavy with internationalism - Palestine and Catalan solidarity, Frederick Douglass; the Shankill stresses war lineage, the 36th (Ulster) Division at the Battle of the Somme.
An article in the New Yorker describes CS Lewis as “a bright and sensitive British boy turned by public school sadism into a warped, morbid, stammering sexual pervert”. A new statue under Holywood Arches has him entering a wardrobe, bold as brass. Catalyst Arts on College Court provides urban gardening lessons – from Moss Graffiti Masterclass to seed bombs, while the Ormeau Baths Gallery plays the slick and sado-sexual film ‘Last Riot’, with accompanying digital collages and sculpture, by Russian group AES+F, and hailing from last year’s Venice Biennale. An eerie, fruitless three-channel thing – clinical disasters, golf clubs raised in vengeance, Wagner and a tang of Versace ad spread, or a Kays Catalogue of death.
To a club night called Animal Disco, where Ricki (ex-Killing Spree and Gaju) blends Afrobeat and Nintendocore, Ariel Pink, Wolf Parade, Steve Reich allegedly. A dance floor where The Slits was the easiest thing to move to at times. Peach plaid, low fringe and zebra skirts for tiller girls, I looked around for anyone I might know, then realised that those people are these people’s parents. In the words of four banshees - C'est la vie.
I have often sensed that my life would have been happier if I had been more foolish, never to notice things; or wiser, to fully and safely comprehend them. As it is, like all of us, I say things like "I am leaving tomorrow." I looked at her, and then I finally said it aloud.
The lip of her martini glass slowed somewhere between the table and her mouth, as if instinctively feeling itself at irreversible junctions, the excitement and hope that transform a journey. As it neared rest, its cherry red destination appeared to smile in accord with her fingers' preference to wait. Eyes, quietly lowered, brightened by the pull of optimism, spinning like the picks and shafts from a table-lamp, loosed by this experiment. As her brow furrowed, she drew her fingers around the stem, curling into a grip that rocked a fine floe of ice to and fro.
"I've been getting a loose tongue." She raised her eyes. "One more of these and I'll crack. Give a thousand games away."
My flight was at 7.30am. Ideally, I'd get up in six hours. Here in the lobby, the bar was heavy with voices. "Give one away." I wanted to get something over with, but remained entranced, perhaps to discover exactly what it might be. "Even with everything we know on the table.. questions never end. We don't have to.. manufacture anything. Mystery. Don't you agree?"
Eventually, the fifth Black Bison sank onto her lip. She swallowed one mouthful without savouring the apple, eyes hunting centre distance for an irreversible junction she found without trying, only a few seconds ago. She was a pretty woman, my liaison, but she didn't have an air of knowing what she was doing. One wouldn't instinctively call her an authority. This, too, she seemed to know. Her infuriating place in the scheme of things seemed to weigh her a little, despite the perkiness of her words. I found myself wanting to help.
"We need your help." She had said. I know that. Spies, real spies, haven't done a days work in their lives. Post-grad students with a motorbike licence. Anything beyond note-taker and shutterbug proves a task for them.
I am going tomorrow. I have a big, efficient place in the sun. When a contract is done, when the lessons learned are filed, I go there. Work takes my life, you see. I get in before anyone else, and work until bedtime. When I disappear to my place in the sun, I become something else entirely. I refuse more contracts than I accept. I refuse more lovers than I bed. And it was a dropped name, someone I couldn’t sleep with, that persuaded me to remain here with Ivy Kahn. It was her bubbly, open-ended doodle, entwining such half-mystery, very much the opposite of my business, which kept me drinking.
"Where is this.. special help needed?" Portraiture of air marshals, Fellows of Royal Society, French cuffs and fine yokes from Jermyn Street. Very Special Old Pale. It looks like a quintessential gentleman's club, and we are not far from Pall Mall, at the lower end of St James’s Street. But there are women passing through the men, angular women, waitresses, chummy matrons of middle government, warm eyes reach out from fortified faces, but, somehow, we instinctively took a seat in the lobby, where I let her half-mystery ravel. I'd arrived by taxi, direct from a school friend, where I handed over my keys. There is the kind of acquaintance who returns perspective, stuff about life's brevity. How it's meant to be fun. As a teenager, we wanted to be them. For, although not born of eminent attainments in life, they seemed destined to acquire them. Blinder than we might be to ranks and stations, they pass presence to things, an illumination. Their problems seem glamorous. Splits and rifts enchantment. They end up penniless with nowhere to stay and not a duvet to their name, and we still might want to be them.
So, drink by drink, I have found myself adopting something of this role for the sake of an elfin, part-American terrier. Ivy Kahn has one great accent. For sure. An English girl at Columbia, she smuggled Brooklyn jargon back through customs. She waved at me, which is rarely femme fatale, and the way she hopped up and down below an umbrella hardly spoke of hard government. She looked the pawn, from her pale tweed trouser suit to a gushing two-handed handshake, postures conjured from a makeover show. Between set pieces, the real woman nearly came out.
Ivy Kahn doodled. "You have skills we lack." Everything so sub-contracted now. Soldiers and spies. Her world was still a place of friends and enemies. Our mutual acquaintance, she began coyly, a turn on one side of her mouth. Well, a bird told her I was the best at what I did. Deconstruct. Strip to build. Corporate Modeller. We help people to look outwards, I offered. The Bank of Ghana was very constrained. By what? By 'Bank'. And by 'Ghana'. Everything else I didn't touch. "It won't show up on your résumé, but you'll be well rewarded." A contract for the Crown? Oddly, money is less important now. I like prestige. I like the awareness that no-one can say no to me. I like the fact those dealing with me don't appreciate what they're dealing with. And I need someone to show my success to, since my parents left.
"I'm so sorry." She half-elaborated a recompense suggesting my children's children would be protected by angels forevermore. She was testing how easily I'd be bribed. Irritated, she defended her role with Special Operations. I told her I'd peel the political map off the globe. Theoretically bankrupt, it just gets in the way. She looked shocked and I blanked her to the end of the lobby, the face of Nelson, shipping. Dead reckoning. Wasn't I at all..? She was about to say 'patriotic' but stopped and brought a finger to her temple. Prove and keep proving, Ivy Kahn.
Welcome to the shit and piss party, sweetheart. What we all live for. A drink with the living dead girl. Thinking, Ivy Kahn half-thinking. A smart girl never leaves her family. Like she was chewing through her homework, looking out at snow. Just as she had her idea, and began to lift her drink - "I am leaving tomorrow." To put her out of her mystery.
"I can only tell you what won't be used for personal gain." Naturally. "Two banks. One merger. A car full of shot auditors."
"Somewhere a man can buy solvency."
"These people don't read the rulebook." You can't run a world like that. Finance, a fool's whistle in the dark. But what can one soul do?
"And it will be dangerous." Ivy studies her Black Bison. She was being honest. When I am thinking, thinking instinctively, I have a tendency to take things out on my lower lip, and tonight I have been kneading it between my thumb and forefinger. I sense that I'll be part of a team, that the operation is deemed vital, stabilising for a region.
But I also sense that I won't get anything else out of her, tonight.
Time: 2008 Jul 13 21:21:00 “All people talk about is the pizza delivery guy. Nobody talks about the pizza.” This frustrated comment at a recent new media seminar is something to empathise with. In a way the pizza deliverance side of the music industry is my job, but when I clock off I think inside the box. From digital fingerprinting and ISP responsibility, torrents to Kangaroo - even the legit aspects of online can tend towards a minorisation of content. Things can't get more atomised: a small number of corporate media artists talk street, while a ‘long tail’ of fantasists live and love unnoticed on Planet MySpace. Art and entertainment as the saucepot Jungian mandala at the heart of everything, and the dough can go spin. The average age of an American television viewer is now 50, while the internet's dog-bowl reality draws us in deeper. Digital can deliver, but is that all it can do? Are we in a Méliès, pre-Hollywood. Will Web 3.0 knead new worlds of entertainment? Can it coalesce towards a glamour age, sprinkle us with stars?
MissX spends a lot of time at *a major mobile network operator*s creative suite in Berlin. Whiteboard walls, toys, coded Post-its, Inspiring Insights placed on the desks. Highly educated, cream-of-crop creatives barnstorm the fresh and innovative. Consumer needs, product design and marketing strategy crystallize into one succulent and evolving CRM trifle. I’d love to visit, as a ‘creative consumer’ or something. Perhaps I’m too contrary. My ideas would bubble with the perverse. Even today’s inspiring insight ‘Understand via objects’ I’d counter with McLuhan’s point about objects not being visible, only relationships. I’d pitch myself as a good thing. A room full of Yes people gets circular and stale, I’d claim. Over-education is often about being dutiful - never fresh! In a way, they’re moulding the gearbox, chiselling baroque angles into the fringes of delivery. New emulation for post-people people. “Consumers say they want to shout words, like ‘treacle’, then the handset pipes a bundle of treacle-related songs.” "Pipe Your Bundle. I like." “What about festival-goers funnelling images live onto the big screens?” “Nein nein. Boys would flash their bits. You can’t have a sixty foot scrotum waving at The Fratellis. With our logo on it and everything.” “Ja. T-Bagging.”
I brainstorm: concert prices follow sports events as premium items. Pre-post-people stuff gets more and more interesting, because no-one gets nostalgic for a simulcast they once ripped to a USB. As collector's item or investment, digital is worth diddly. *We need more pre-post-people events. Smelly here and now things.* (a UO Post-it). The medium may be the message but surely Paint Along With Nancy wasn’t content?! Far bigger than the box talking, the Tardis was the television itself. Innervation doesn’t happen from the outside in. People hate ideas. Structure they love. Every football game or Pac-man level is identical, bar minor details. Every porno is minutiae, we lose ourselves in just-deviating deviation. Even harsh critics need plot and characterisation boxes ticked by robots. *Death to ideas. Escape them* Reality - television, blogs - never as true as fantasy, arriving inside-out. Turn phones into laptops, but *where will the unreal come from here, the real real real unreal*
“Ja. Now, UO. Care to share a Post-it with the team? ‘Death to ideas.’ Interesting. Interesting concept. At an ideas workshop.”
*Innovation is about withholding the new* Today, we notice what the latest gizmo lacks. Calls could be Skyped and free by now = anti-money for the mobile network operators. Social networking and P2P could have married = normal delivery collapses. A business-to-business semantic web should have integrated databases = data exchange unnecessary, but all this requires an end to companies and competition. If the internet was invented today and by businesses, we’d have access to certain bits of it and a colourful range of ‘options’. Options = No crossdressing as Yes. *Everything progressive is post-options*
“Ok, guys. Time's up. Post-its in. Let me see. Smelly things! Smellular phones. We'll pass over that one. Petra, you'd like to see sponsored blimps in war zones. Cool. *Thinking is the box* Sounds like we've got Charles Manson with us today. Freaky deaky. Very 'Movement of the Free Spirit'. Ja, I did that in second year and frankly that's where it belongs. Back to the real world, guys. Then we break for lunch, ja?"
Time: 2008 Jul 08 23:23:00 Prof. Miles Parish Lake Balaton
How does the spring find you, dear? Yesterday we arrived at Lake Balaton, to clear minds and rekindle war-torn spirits. There really is nothing like the water. A lake listens as much as it speaks, under pale and early rays. Seated on one of the piers, when the swimmers have all gone home, one senses rhythm in the Lord's work. The lake stretches out like his palm, to accept our thanks. Anyway, a week at the lake seems to send me pecking through daily doings that much keener. I think Smith is worried about me. In no uncertain terms, he insisted on leave.
But, the news is this - Type K was more than schnapps talking. Two weeks ago we were given the keys to what proved to be a well-fitted lab and test area, approved as stable by the Russians, somewhat hastily, quarantined since VE Day.
Type K is an insolent bugger, a variant of Type HN7. (Last autumn, we threw our hands up in the air and swore that HN7 had us snookered).You know how much I detest inactivity. Even at the lake I find myself digesting the Type K cook book, and ploughing through a sheaf of testing documents. There is no escape, Val. Here is a moving extract from a test scenario:
"October 1944. Conclusions in the Case Study on the chimpanzee No. 107, Chaim.
Chaim is a happy, thoughtful chimp. His deportment is towards generosity and caring for the other chimps. In the summer intelligence exercises he scored a B-, and seems open to training.
3rd October. Notes on Primary Conditioning.
At 11:32 am, Chaim was exposed by inhalation. Type K, using a standard mask. Dosage: 1% per pint of natural air. Elapsed term: ten minutes
We observed twitching above standard levels during conditioning. Minute four: openly fighting his conditioning. General passivity post conditioning.
Heavy blinking caused by eye dryness, eyes roving left and right, trembling in the hind quarters. We observed licking of lips and excessive thirst. Post conditioning: a new appreciation for teas and coffees. No skin or observable organ changes.
Nil change pre/post conditioning.
Blood toxicity reading
Rapid sugar level decrease, extending into post conditioning.
Mental faculties reading
Chaim's painting style has altered. He now seems eager to sketch straighter lines, and to depict logical shapes. This seems to result in some amount of frustration and self-criticism. He will quickly abandon a line and is keen to start afresh.
Immediate loss of interest in other chimps. Lack of reaction to minor or acute stress situations directly applied to fellows. Three days post conditioning: a greater sense of human mimicry. Five days post conditioning: disengaging totally from group activities.
10th October. Notes on Secondary Conditioning.
At 11:15 am, Chaim was exposed by inhalation to a second dose of Type K. Dosage: 1% per pint of natural air. Elapsed term: ten minutes
Observed strong thirst. Chaim smashed a four piece coffee set with his fist after a few mouthfuls of coffee. Other dietary changes: general appetite decrease or wild fluctuation.
Chaim has abandoned all interest in painting but relates to the construction bricks. Unguided, he will lay them into rows, and at times seems to be making them consecutive, beginning with the biggest brick and decreasing in size.
Two days post conditioning: Chaim was caught fighting with other chimps. Staff remove him from the garden after thumping a younger chimp. Sexual touching of staff.
17th October. Notes on Third Conditioning. Double dosage.
At 11:23 am, Chaim was exposed by inhalation to a third dose of Type K. Dosage: 2% per pint of air. Elapsed term: ten minutes
During conditioning: none noted. Three days post conditioning: Nightly self-flagellation and howling.
None noted, generally accepting of the increased dosage. Playfulness and sense of contentment.
Four days post conditioning: Death.
Mental faculties reading
One day post conditioning: We observed that Chaim had a new interest in curves, forming the construction bricks in the shape of a face, with discernable eyes and mouth, and of sitting within its outline. Two days post conditioning: aggressive to staff, Chaim is no longer engaging in creative activity. Behavioural vigilance. Food supplied beyond his reach, beyond the facial boundary.
One day post conditioning: aggressive towards any staff and chimps that approach the facial boundary. Two days post conditioning: refusal to sleep, refusing food. Average head banging. Three days post conditioning: flagellation. We observed high stress symptoms and general madness. Four days post conditioning: Catatonia, recline. Prolonged observation of the sky.
22nd October. Blood Analysis on Post Mortem, the chimpanzee No. 107, Chaim.
Cause of death: cardiac arrest, 21st October, 1944. 5:28 pm.
Prolonged observation of the sky, Val. I can relate to him, tucked under this rug, here at the lake's edge. I envy you the bright lights of Piccadilly.
As ever, the more time I spend correcting the mess mankind leaves in his wake, the more I appreciate your hanging on there in London, and the more I realise what you both mean to me.I love you more than words express.
If Type K had been taken forward, the search for supermen could have left a blackened Eden where the wind breeds evil, and no witnesses.
Time: 2008 Jun 29 22:02:00 I went to a Quaker meeting today. Quakers are liberal, non-hierarchical, pacifists, political activists, and have testimonies toward simplicity of lifestyle and honesty. Most see their service as a framework for a more personal, universalist kind of faith and they also worship in silence.
About fifty people sit in a circle. At the centre, a plain table with flowers. As the service begins, a veil of pure silence descends, something which will last for an hour. Some people do hold a bible. One woman prefers to lie on a mat. Most close their eyes; some stare at the flowers or through the window. Communal contemplation can be broken, if an attendee feels compelled to stand and ‘minister’ what the silence is telling them to.
You go through an hour of pure silence in stages. Sweeping away the peripherals - the journey here, watching others, self-consciousness. Thoughts about your own faithlessness. Wondering why you came. Teen stabbings. Time. The Participatory Anthropic Principal.
Then you are thinking about the past week. Projects. Friends and colleagues. Problems and triumphs. Words that won’t leave your head. You drift off and you wake up, although you have not been asleep. Like the pause of semi-consciousness before sleep, but more spread out. Look at the trees. The Participatory Anthropic Principal. ‘Observers are necessary to bring the universe into being’. An aspiration to verify this using cosmology and quantum. The complexity of conscious life is just too improbable to even have been a happy accident. Conscious observation is that which collapses the universe’s waves and probabilities from superposition into the function we call reality. The great soup of the universe had to bring humanity, or other information-gathering systems, into being. 500 years after Copernicus told us we weren’t the centre of the universe, pure probability is suggesting - sure, but we are something.
You’ve drifted again. Breathing. A bird circles past the window. Honesty versus memory. The next stage feels like the polar opposite of paranoia. Pure acceptance of the assembled others. A kind of Buddhist detachment, they disappear from your needs, from any validation of self. The pleasure of mutual solitude, where we exist in spectral pods of worship, and only the pods touch and never the desires, never the self-image, the investment, the insult, never the knife.
Again you wake up, although you have not been asleep. The future fills your thoughts, pulling you into the communal meta-slumber. You ask the great soup for strength, or failing that a great week. The hour passes quickly.
Someone stands. They feel that Quakers are more relevant today than any time in their history. Presently, you shake hands with those around you, and the service is through. The meditative woman on the floor rolls up her mat. A friendly clerk, beard and Hush Puppies, thanks everyone. He introduces a Quaker all the way from Canberra, and a gay couple are also visiting. There is a collection to assist the collapsed legal system in Rwanda, meaning war victims still fail to find any justice. Amnesty International, Greenpeace, OXFAM, Peace Action and WILPF all had Quaker origins. You can stay for coffee and biscuits, but some just choose to go.
Broody after meeting the beautiful Aden Esler, who is seventeen weeks, pure-smelling and a kind of calm but bonny Hiberno-Brazilian. There’s nothing worse than fifty bibs and no rattle so, as gift, mum asked me to stock up the library. Obviously not for now, the child can barely tell a circle from a square, but for the future. Yesterday was a Granny Magnet book gather, which was not as easy as I imagined. First instinct was to purchase things I enjoyed myself but I recall no Alice, Narnia, Potter or Seuss, more the weighty Children’s Illustrated Bible, Br’er Rabbit, Aesop’s Fables, and of being read ‘Treasure Island’ thinking that Ben Gunn, marooned so long he was half insane, should have his own story.
On Charing Cross Road I found some nauseating things, ‘Bob Says Poop Is Cool’, cuddly snot trolls, probably fine-tuned by Freudians to ensure children don’t feel shame about their functions. ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ proved a hard find in hardback, as did books in Portuguese. A disappointment that so many central characters are male. I don’t need subliminals designed to breed the ballsiest broad in the boardroom, some kind of personality spannering, just being female and explorative would be enough. Even ‘Mother Goose’ began to feel a bit gender-specific after a while. Why not ‘Parent Goose’? And so it was, so far I have:
Miffy Touch and Feel (Dick Bruna) Miffy gets textural. Rubbable accoutrements, plot and character dev-free.
Calm Down, Boris (Sam Lloyd) Not a ribald lampoon of London local government, Boris is a worrying furball and a hand puppet, who pops through a bookhole shouting ‘Kissy kissy’ (maybe there is some element of satire). The other monsters don’t like his hairy kisses (hirsutism) but he kisses a horrible dog and it runs away. Cool dénouement, if a little gross.
Elmer and the Lost Teddy (David McKee) Plot-wise very much the Quest, as Elmer the Patchwork Elephant tries to locate Baby Elephant’s teddy, deep in the jungle. Set over the course of one day, this is Elmer’s ‘Ulysses’, and what he really finds is himself. “You don’t have to be different to be special,” he concludes. Warning: contains mild peril.
My First Oxford Book Of Poems Everything post-nursery rhyme, so long as it's short, fresh and simple. Spike Milligan to Shakespeare, Belloc to Christina Rossetti. Nice.
The Lonesome Puppy (Yoshimoto Nara) Like Boris, a book where the central character feels too big to be loved, and longs to be smaller and cuter. A first book from cult painter Nara, whose work always has a look of subverted innocence.
Starting to wonder if it's too 'dark'. As in: you get flowers and someone always comments, "But they're funeral flowers" or "You can't bring hospital flowers to a christening. You're weird." or "Lupins? What, is your girlfriend a Victorian
or something?" implying there's a floral rulebook everyone follows but you're doomed to screw up on.
Who Will Comfort Toffle? (Tove Jansson) Wikipedia tells me that, as a child, Jansson lost a philosophical quarrel about Immanuel Kant with one of her brothers (don’t we all) then drew the ugliest creature imaginable, calling it ‘Kant’. This was the prototype Moomin, and ‘Vem ska trösta Knyttet?’ was the second Moominland picture book. The illustrations are lovingly wrought, like muted psychedelic woodcuts. Another dark classic, as Pete-Doherty-fingerpuppet Toffle tries to fit in, and loses himself deep in the imaginationscape. Wonderous.
The Old Bailey recently sent down MissX’s sister’s boyf. Eight years. Jumped on a sleeping homeless. As you do. Went for a snooze at a bus stop, came to blind and paralysed for life, with a metal plate to support a fist-sized fissure in his skull. Examined by police, the skunk-happy gang's mobile phones weighed heavy with downloaded decapitation, and a woman being shot in the head, just for contrast. It's important to have a range of interests. After watching the Fishbourne assault, one member of the jury was physically sick. MissY loves him and wants a baby as soon as he’s out. Two sisters, chalk/cheese. MissX - teetotal, academic, into knitting and a high-flying career. MissY - teenage pregnancy (not a bad thing in any good world), other unmentionables. Her previous boyf (met him once, taking his electronic tag for a walk) has been released from a stint, and already has an assault warrant out for his arrest. Their two toddlers are now safely living with the grandparents. The ADHD has improved and troublesome behaviour abated.
When MissX tells me the latest about MissY, my mind starts rocking with things about .. how anyone vaguely northern imagines the southeast is posh. Then you visit Portsmouth. How wickedness isn't pigeonholed by questions of class, race, location, Omega-3 intake or lactose intolerance. How, within two decades, the humble cellular telephone shifted from saying “I’m a young professional with a hectic but rewarding lifestyle” towards “I’m walking, talking human trash.” How children brought up with the same care can grow so differently. What a wasteland of hormones youth can be and is it just me or is the wasteland becoming too touchy? How 'vicious circle' is just another name for drugs. How there is a schizophrenic disgust of outsiders amongst outsiders keen to prove insiderdom. How getting tough with losers who get tough with losers is at best cementing loserdom, in the guise of a solution. But also how good popular culture can help diffuse the human bomb, and how popular culture is mostly about getting tough with losers.
The men themselves pleaded 'Skunk' as their defence but, much as the strongest can be vile, the jury saw weed as a metaphor for the common schizophrenic reflex. The main attacker was living in supported housing himself. In a way, he was trashing his own fate. Surely there are safer ways of going about this.. trashing one's own fate..
Subject: Blogs de Blog: Procrastination and Comment
Time: 2008 May 28 00:10:00
Not tired of the written word, a post-blog ponders its five year plan. Fiction is the goal but the problem is not procrastination. It’s not work I’m shirking. Process modelling. Impact analysis. All I do is work, and sleep. Writing happens. I comment. News sites. Sturdier blogs. I have been commenting on .. the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill re: NI. “Can I just dismiss the quantitative analysis of 'majorities'? A fraction of the public votes, a fraction of the voters honestly believe in who and what they are voting for, and (especially in a place in NI) this subdivision of a subdivision vote based on a single dividing issue, leaving abortion as some randomly prescribed assumption by four or five aged, male party heads. Even if that wasn't the case, if a tiny minority of women wanted a service that is perfectly legal in the rest of the UK, why shouldn't they have it? This is about geography (and about cock-eyed moral relativism - "Oo things are different over there." No. They. Aren't.)” This led to petitioning emails. Lady Sylvia Hermon realised that there is a debate to be had. Jeremy Corbyn agreed wholeheartedly, while Kate Hoey was OOO. Politics feels low impact, a maze of compromised tiers. Like an arcade penny waterfall, you can thrust your tuppence in with passion, only to be another limp click on the lowest deck. Sometimes I feel like a marginal, an outsider worthy of hate and seeking it. A scourge, a provocateur. The Lee Harvey Oswald type. A no-goodnik. But that is not politics. Perhaps little exists to connect my heart to our ideology, the direction the world is taking. In a few years the UK will almost certainly have a conservative government glorying in 'getting tough' and closing possibilities, while America could have a progressive, black anti-war president. I know where I’d rather be. I comment.. “Sir Keith Park - fascinating figure but a move as progressive as - I dunno - Vienna? London on par with Vienna. Dutiful. Honouring. But that is it.” Would Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park approve of Boris’s move for Trafalgar Square to house his Battle of Britain memorial, instead of a succession of new art? Were yesterday’s heroes twenty-eight going on sixty? "Take that, Nazi! But dogfights aren't what they used to be. Not on your Nellie Duff. Bring back the Sopwith! Ah, the Sopwith, now there was a pla-- aaarrgh.." I think I’ll gum up totally. I won’t need a mouth any more. My parents were big talkers. I started a series of pen and ink drawings called “Things That Made My Mother Swear” and #1 was ‘Dirty Protesters’. The series kind of ended there. If you examined what might make her swear the barks of hairy bombers in a room caked with stools must come close to ticking every box. Twice. Artistically, I shot my bolt with that one. But two sides to every politic. No, more. "Scotland is closer to independence than Ireland is to unification. What does this tell us about militarising a disagreement? No British Army on the streets of Edinburgh. No H-Blocks in Aberdeen. No body searches in Dundee bakeries. Just the courting the popular consensus." I comment.. on war. "Jemima?" My late grandmother’s first memory was of a tall, bearded man wearing a kilt, coming down the garden path towards her. “I’m your brother. I’m back from the Boer war.” She became a Wren, while her husband helped smuggle Irishmen over the border and into the British Army (not everyone was neutral). My dad was in the Security Forces. Maybe I’m the first generation with no war, secretly guilty. A Lee Harvey Masquerade. I comment on.. atheism. Once you admit to atheism it suddenly becomes hard to comment on many other things. Religious and pseudo-religious terror, religious involvement in politics, the Middle East - your view is handed to you - these people are misguided, and need to stop putting lineage above faith, and faith above anything at all. The end. “Atheism/agnosticism is the oldest tradition .. stretches back to the playful plankton, before self-fascination, before roles and hierarchies, before we were sold to the war machine..” I have commented on the online music industry and the Eurovision Song Contest, an event I would like to enter. I have commented after drinking too often, and sought provocation, I believe through a sense of isolation. Is this at an end? No comment.
A poignant finale to Graffiti Month on UO was returning home from the internationalist ‘Cans Festival’, in a tunnel under Waterloo station, only to find some unholy cack sprayed at my front door. Formless, gormless. Man, I’d give them an Islington Scold they’d never forget. “And how do you think your limp, lacklustre blip makes people feel? What was that? I didn’t catch. Do you think it makes people all happy.. or sad? Sad! I think you're right. Sad.” This is Bozzer's London.
5.30 am. The early Eurostar. Striding übermensch bully concerns into BlackBerrys along the platform. Women with more testosterone in their belly button than my extended male ancestry since 1448. Early starters. Battleships. The new route takes us into a wormhole around York Way, emerging at Purfleet, bypassing London altogether. A better bullet to Brussels, where you can five star via a late deal. Audry, at Le Méridien, overhearing that it's my birthday, upgrades us to Junior Suite (normally €800 per night). The Junior Suite is daft. The size, the desk, the dressing gowns. The cathedral bells peal and the sun comes out and stays out. I emerge from a blind of self-pity, feeling rootless and meaningless. It’s pleasant here, for a soulless hotel. Outside, the Manneken is a pisant Tibetan. A search for Cold Wave albums on Rue Antoine Dansaert. Lively psychedelic goodness at the AliceGallery. Basque pintxos served kaiten-style in Comocomo (tiger mussels baked in béchamel, Arroz con Leche, manchego cheesecake with licorice). The Bozar's monographic expo on Paul Klee and theatre, where his Bauhaus teaching has him face the pure language of music. Marvellous stuff, with hand puppets. Les Belges. Halved, co-invading but one. A functioning schizophrenia. But life is a journey, no? A line is a dot going for a walk.
Over le plat pays to Ghent (in the style of 2 Many DJ’s). Working nine to five I’m a human fly There are nine million bicycles in Ghent. They are often filling the streets, which are web-like and random enough as it is. “Pardon, monsieur, j’ai besoin du Smak. Ou est le Smak?” Direction-seeking, aided by the international hand signal for ‘contemporary art sans boundaries’ (you know the one). In Flanders the kids get taller and blonder, Walloon is dropped in favour of Stateside English, super-relaxed. “Shure thing, guysh.” In the enormous StedelijkMuseum voor Actuele Kunst, Guillaume Bijl does a disconcerting thing. He moves our real world into the gallery, letting us wander around a deserted tourist information office, a marriage bureau, an army recruitment centre, and so on. You read the (real) billboards, sit in the cinema (‘Deep Impact’), and in the judge's chair for the ‘Miss Flanders Beauty Contest’ (an empty stage - as commentary on his countrywomen this is harsh), before dancing on your tod at the VIP disco. Upstairs the ‘real world’ just gets weirder, with a series of invented museums: the Museum of Lederhosen, the Museum of Bidets (“Oh wow, Maria Callas.”) and a Museum of Polling Booths (examples from around the globe). There is faked footage of James Ensor looking lost in Ostend, and some Flemish plays to hand-shadow across. Finally, Cuban artist Wilfredo Pieto’s ‘Mountain’ is a room-sized bar chart sculpting the rise in Opec oil prices, sharp as a skate park ramp, over the past generation. Kickflippin'.
Downtown Ghent is a maze of mixed gothic houses and shipping offices rising over sparkling canals, beneath three handsome spires (Saint Bavo’s boasts the ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by Van Eyck as altarpiece) while 100,000 students demand bars, record shops, electro-indie mash-ups and snacks. The Heuvelpoort area comes up a likeable trumps. The city is spiritual home of Waterzooi, a refreshing cream stew with mixed fishes, and to Gravensteen (even the name is a choke from the gutter), built in 1180 by the crusading Philip of Alsace and incorporating a soul-shitting spookshack of hardcore torture hardware. Nice one, Phil. Speculoos ice cream comes with waffles.
Back in Brussels, Audry has left a Happy Birthday fruit bowl in the Junior Suite. Touched, I buy her a bottle of Black Bush, and leave it with the concierge. Feeling spoiled but quietened at times, by things we avoid splicing into words. Mortality, finitude, the spiritual. Sad stuff we keep for the potting shed, for we know that expression is No Good. Sparkle and the sun and something to taste is all. What else? In other news, MissX has moved to London and a glowing international research job. In the first three months, she’ll have been to Moscow, Barcelona, Berlin, Moscow again, Hamburg, Saint Petersburg and Novosibirsk. Emerging markets, a far cry from Donetsk orphanages (who'd probably au contraire definitions of soullessness). It's all the pure language of music, if we could but listen.
Time: 2008 Apr 19 15:10:00 Corn riots in Mexico. Pasta strikes in Italy. Demos in Egypt, Yemen, Cameroon, Senegal. The food wars are hard to digest. Massive demand for meat and dairy in emergent economies; subsidised grain as biofuels; shipping, oil and fertiliser prices; post-mortgage turbocapitalism groping its sicko gambler’s hands around the scran ladder. ("Me and Colin saw a lovely box of Alpen on Tuesday, didn't we, Col?" "Yeah." "Just right." "I said 'It's something to aim for.'") Don't see myself as a foodie, but, living in London, you end up a de facto foodie. While I can, allow me to salute some recent highlights.
Hibiscus Macaroons The bakery section at the £4.5 million Yauatcha dim sum teahouse in Soho does take away macaroons. Kumquat, fig violet, sesame vanilla, blue tea, coconut saffron. The restaurant itself hasn’t grasped the relaxed nature of dim sum, and replaces an afternoon’s natter with glacial blue luxury. Macaroons aren’t an easy bake at the best of times, but I’m tempted by a macaroon crawl of Paris. The colour scheme for Sofia Coppola's ‘Marie Antoinette’ was based on the Ladurée counter, they say. Roll me home, sir, for I am a blimp.
Georgian Khachapuri Khachapuri is a flat bread with a combination of fresh and aged cheeses baked in its core. Smaller than calzone, it is served dusted and fresh from the oven, with Georgian salads, or to lap up the walnut and pomegranate sauce surviving your main course. The staff in Hackney’s Little Georgia look related, acerbic, and on the verge of warning you about the wolf boy who lives in the forest (all pluses in anyone’s book).
Spelt “Spelt is a hexaploid species of wheat. Spelt was an important staple in parts of Europe from the Bronze Age to medieval times. It now survives as a relict crop in central Europe and has found a new market as a health food.” Lathering crackers with tapenade, collective unconsciousness gathered on my tongue, rekindling ancestral banquets. Excitedly cracking into the surely-delicious spelt, I wondered if it might awaken medieval past lives. Would I be jousting the Earl of Buckingham, there in the kitchen? Doing a wild Danse Macabre as the Vandals sack Rome? It tasted like a Ryvita. Oh spelt! You are a one.
Penang Laksa Think ramen, with the tart paradox of tamarind and coconut milk and, should it give you pleasure, flaked mackerel, shredded mint and basil and galangal and torch ginger. Laksa dates from Peranakan Chinese immigrants who moved to Penang, Malacca and Singapore and married local Malays. Unique, sour and nourishing. Ask for it by name, at the soon-to-be-a-B&Q Oriental City. Up the laksa! Yes.
Silver Birch Silver Birch wine, made from rising sap tapped in early spring, has been drunk since 1240. The sap tastes of mellow molasses. Regarded as an overlooked folk recipe, this boreal plonk was Victoria and Albert’s tipple when they summered on Speyside, perhaps with a smoky hawthorn jelly to accompany game birds and pork. If you get a chance to savour this elusive British classic, grab it with both hands!
Time: 2008 Apr 19 15:05:00 There's a brand new Banksy near my office, notable mainly for its scale, and being so textual. It suggests ‘war zone’ more than Blek Le Rat and Ernest Pignon-Ernest. In a way, a masterpiece of consensus politics. America, Disneyland, cops, CCTV - all things we can get behind. Lunch hour posties might not be so keen on ‘One Nation Under Abortion’. Mixed results when artists turn to text, as opposed to letterforms. As graffiti it’s rootsy, I guess, vacant, not sensual.
Time: 2008 Mar 25 21:21:00 Sweet, sweet kinky people. Now I'm all for informed consent and sexual praxis (‘knavery's plain face is never seen till used’) but we kinda know what'll ring our bell. You need need or greed, a niggling and unforgiving fetish, a sheer love of fantasia to be a scenester. I had mere curiosity. That said, this Easter I was invited to the 50th birthday party of a lovely dominatrix whom everyone is fond of. She hired an <anything goes members club> found at the end of a night-scented country lane. Le Vice Anglais came from every shire. Sights I witnessed there: a man in Gestapo uniform spinning Roxy Music, marching solemnly around the room during each song; a roaring girl cuffed to a Saint Andrews Cross for flogging; needle play, wax play; a man dressed as a tiger pacing a cage; a man smeared in jam and breakfast cereal, being zipped inside white overalls and marched to a shower room; an old man waiting at the bar, appendage lolling wilfully from his flies, perma-squeezed by a Perspex cock trap; a woman leaping and crying ‘That bastard!’ every time her husband triggered a text-controlled vibrator worn under a business outfit; a man dressed as a schoolgirl being drawn on with markers by bullies, and having his lip pulled by forceps; acres of latex, ceiling-high stilettos. Sounds unnerving but it was matey, giggly and diffused (birthday cake helped). I talked to one young man there by himself, whose girlfriend refuses to put him in a straightjacket. Drops hints till he's blue. Later I found him struggling away, happy as Larry, in a corner. What happened to kinksters? Some trauma robs you of control - behaviour an attempt to simulate the absent power or accept your helplessness, somewhere as deep as the ravine itself - you end up reciting the gap, moulding the wrench, redreaming the original bad dream. Maybe that’s BDSM, maybe it’s life. Either way, fascinating beasties.
Hospitals. Best avoided like the plague. A survey of fifteen countries showed that Britain had just 1.7 consultant physicians per thousand population compared with 3.4 in Germany, 2.9 in France and 2.4 in Poland. Only Mexico, Korea and Turkey had a lower ratio. Many turn away women in labour while maternity wards are full. With abuse of old folks and ever-lengthening waiting lists, only the murderous C-diff and MRSA can take minds off the macabre suspicion that beehive Britain smokes its sub prime drones using not-so-accidental underfunding.
Part of my mayoral thrust must be to decentralise medical care into the community. Smart, agile, fluid virtual ‘Streetspitals’ will see an end to slow, lumbering, red-tape monoliths hanging over from a laughable Victorian nightmare. As mayor, I will personally ensure that every Streetspital is equipped the following features:
Scalpel Glass. All bus shelters and telephone kiosks to be fitted with ‘scalpel glass’, which, upon a modest punching or kicking, provides a mobile medic with laser-sharp scalpel shapes perfect for day surgery.
Midwifery bins. I'd like to see all kitemarked wheelies suitable and ready to convert into water birth pools in under thirty minutes. That's my pledge to you.
Gestalt CCTV. Mental health is a big issue and the streets are full of our most vulnerable. But, up to now, the closed circuit sentinels watching the ill have been silent. I envisage existential phenomenology and field psychoanalysis as representing a new phase in neighbourhood vigilance. “That cardboard box is your step-father's crippling double standards. Show it how you feel.” A nightclub camera might counter problems more directly. “What are you experiencing as you finger that trigger? Bring the tightness in your chest down to your feet. Feel it leaving through your big toe, like a butterfly.”
Shoe Shop Podiatry. Couldn't Schuh make fixing fallen arches fun? I also want to ensure that every London urinal provides accurate real time renal dialysis results between the curry condoms and 'No Means No' written on a really sexy pair of knickers.
Taser Delivery Boys. We all know that these stunning weapons can kill, but research into their heart-starting capabilities is still in its infancy. And with ambulance times being what they are, the bed bound or remote might as well phone for a pizza when a coronary comes knocking. Well - why not? TDBs will be trained shots, even through letterboxes or cat flaps. Kick-starting their customer with 5,000 peak loaded volts, all safe in the knowledge that post-operative care comes in the shape of a Godfather with a side order of stuffed jalapenos.
A time pod arrived this week. A thousand 45s, in storage for a decade. Odd to rifle through. The new wave and punk came from older kids at school, “I’m taking Deirdre to the Silver Lounge. Want my Fast Product singles for a fiver?”) so the timespan is narrow. Meanwhile I bought albums. Recording the Dog and Pony Show, I thought “Forget copyright and royalties, downloading is never going to be as exciting as records .” BitTorrents, a full sea change in the energy supply. “Yeah, I swiped the Sub Pop catalogue last Monday.” “Anything good?” “Haven’t listened.” For thrills, the currents turn, direct to alternating. Opening the creative process seemed close. Something someone mentions in an email influences a song scored and popped up the tube that weekend. Minorisation, narrowcasting, why muck around? Snags in the bunker included poor technology and few emails, but the thought was there. Here is a patchwork of some sleeves, and the box is on offer to a loving home.
Subject: A morning at Highbury Corner Magistrate's Court
Time: 2008 Feb 04 20:16:00
I found a window in my diary this morning, and, in the mood for something different, I sat in a random public gallery at my local magistrate’s court. This is permitted, although I was alone back there. Magistrate's courts are the carthorses in the legal system, where 95% of all cases get resolved.
After a scrupulous metal detection, I am joined in the lifts by an urgent-looking youth - cap, pink jumper, gold chain and mobile. “Where am I, Bill?” He cries out to the guard, as if bowling through while the barrels are being changed at the Lord Nelson. “Try number 4.” The court rooms are located off a high, panelled lobby, arranged here and there with the whispering postures of solicitors, and witnesses in fresh suits; a lone police constable bites his nail and observes a pacing usher; the lad in pink pokes at a snacks machine; six notice boards flank six doors and list any personages required at the next session.
Court 3 is called. A total of six individuals are motionless inside a pentagonal space between twin plasma screens facing inwards. A young and ever-smiling usher, defence and prosecution solicitors, a shaky looking clerk with a shock of ginger hair, and a solitary female magistrate whose arrival requires us all to rise.
The accused, 35, wears a neat blue jacket, jeans and cravat. He is passed a Koran and swears to tell the truth under Allah. Mister L is a British citizen, who came from Algeria in 1995, and had been working, at the time of the incident, as head concierge for a 5-star London hotel. He had never faced charge prior to this, nor been in a police station, either in Algeria or the UK. He came here ‘for peace’.
What happened? The plaintiff was head porter, an ‘unhelpful’ man, and a ‘difficult personality’, who was both lazy and bullying towards Mister L. “What sort of things did he say? Don’t be worried about using swear words.” “He said ‘I’ll smash you in the face, you motherfucker.’ Excuse my French.” Go on. “He said ‘I’ll sort you out. Fucking smash your face, you fucking chicken.’” At times, he accused Mister L of being a ‘terrorist’ and involved with ‘Tiger Tiger’. Mister L repeated that he ‘came here for peace’. And the hotel did nothing when you told them of his persistent bulling? “Nothing.”
The usher finds the remote and plays a DVD of the exchange itself, as captured on the hotel security camera. Mister L is seen helping a family of guests with their cases, then returning. “He rushes up behind me and we clash.” Clash? “I turn around and we clash.” And what was the result of this clash, asks the prosecution. “I damage the top of my head. He hurts his mouth.” You headbutted him. “We clashed.” Tensions being what they were, the catalysing blow is followed by punches, and a kick to the upper body takes place, off camera, while the lobby quickly clears of guests.
Slowly, the prosecution stands, suggesting that Mister L was not acting in self-defence. The victim clearly had his arms behind his back. “He rushed up to me, and we clashed.” You punched, then kicked him. Left him with a bloody nose. Unprovoked. “That’s not true.” You lashed out because the hotel wouldn’t take your claims seriously. “I am not an animal.”
The prosecution allows the judge to call a defence witness, a fellow doorman who reminds us that the victim was a bad hat, who sat around ‘staring’ and ‘brought McDonald’s to work’. “This is not an industrial tribunal.” The magistrate intervenes, impatiently. The prosecution asks if the witness was actually present at the incident. “No.” She has no further questions. Personalities: relevant in a losing battle, it would seem. Softening stings that possibly can't be avoided.
There is a lengthy defence summary, illuminating how the prosecution must prove the absence of self-defence, which irks the JP - ‘..explaining things I knew.. twenty years ago..’ I wonder if my presence and note-taking is troubling her, for she keeps glancing at the public gallery.
After five minutes recess to complete a means form, she returns to find Mister L proved of a serious assault, but, bearing in mind his character and circumstances, she will forgo any community programme to fine him a total of £750, £50 being payable each month. “How much does he earn in his new job?” Eleven thousand pounds per annum. (We can assume that his days of working 5-star are over). “And will he be paying by cash?” The shock-headed clerk searches for the paperwork, while a door swings behind the departing magistrate. “Card.”
I notice a dedicated machine for this, almost a kind of anti-ATM, as I make my way outside to the bus stop.
Subject: Bad Lord Brockley / Sock Drawer Mon Amour
Time: 2008 Jan 14 21:27:00 A bunch of us drummed up a one-take paean or two, roughly, quickly, for Don Tempi's birthday. They're loaded with in-jokes that you won't get, and duff notes that you will. But, anyway -Bad Lord Brockley / Sock Drawer Mon Amour
The kids have been ringing my door again. I'm not going to ignore it. The day I ignore my own front door is the day I turn into.. I don't know what. What would that be? A recluse. A mad woman. Pale as icing, buckled fingernails to her knees and Kleenex boxes on her feet. I'm not that. Not nearly. I'll open my goddamn door when the bell rings. There is never anyone there. I don't always step out these days. Sometimes I open the door from the stairs, and slowly (nicely, slowly) close it over again. I open, though. Why? Why go outside when I know what I will see? An empty street, left to right. Mountain bikes, you see. They have technology, otherwise they wouldn't do it. I watch them drifting past, from the kitchen. Clicking their fingers in the air. Spinning on one wheel. A growing number, they know me now, and know that I'm a soft target. They'll get bored. They will get bored, Jemima, long before they get bolder. Somedays I imagine that I open up, and they'll be a bit older, with an attitude, unchained by hormones, waiting there. Or a country cousin will push his way past. Maybe I open the door just to say "Look, I have nothing. Old folks are the poorest there is." We only think of bad kids. The good kid stays away, and a person can start to think that the street is all bad kids. The good kid is studying, painting a fence or waxing his father's car. Come away, Jemima. Come to the kitchen. "Hi, Jemima." It's the good kid, making himself at home. "Would you like to bake some cookies with me?" Sure. "Cranberry? White chocolate on top!" It would be a pleasure. Now, could you reach me that flour? "Don't you have a family, Jemima?" I have one son. Used to be in the navy, now has an electrics business. Lighting. For churches. Leisure premises. Very creative in its own way. Never took to his wife, I must say. He earns and she spends. Spend, spend, spend. Simply shocking. How are we for sugar? "Got it." Good kid. A good kid. What would you do if you only had one day left, youngster? Twenty-four hours. If you knew your day would fade with the sun? Sorry, I didn't mean to.. "Aw. Roll on the grass. Stay here baking cookies. Is all. And give them out to bad kids." Well, now, you and I will always have a reason to open that goddamn door.