Monday, December 20, 2010

Sliding doors

One of the best things about Christmas is watching endless films. Repeats, classics, randoms and films you'd watch at no other time than during the lazy festive period. Tonight I watched Sliding Doors with my family post dinner and it was one of the worst films I've ever seen.

Utterly dated with terrible music, clothes, dialogue and acting, but mostly for some horribly dated shoe-horning in of US references to help sell it to the US market (Seinfeld and Jeopardy were mentioned by two otherwise highly British-afied characters), and then the most incorrect out of date reference to a former pop star Gary Glitter:

I'm on the rebound myself in a way.

Who are you on the rebound from?

A girl called Pamela. My whole life pivots around Pam and I breaking up.

When was that?

We were eight.I bloody loved that woman. No warning. Just up... gone. Left me for somebody else.


Gary Glitter.

Get out.

Gary Glitter, for crying out loud. I mean, all my friends were being left for Donny Osmond or David Cassidy. I could have come to terms with that given time. But Gary. Oh, she wanted to touch him there, yeah.

I mean, surely this bit should have been edited out, seeing as that's sort of what basically happened?

The whole thing was tired, boring and directionless, and a clear example of a clear attempt to cash in on the success of Four Weddings (don't tell me you've never watched Four Weddings - Jeez, Peep Show).

I wonder what's on tomorrow.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Perils of Buying a Sandwich

Everyone says that's better to shop a local, independent stores, rather than faceless conglomerates, and for the most part they're correct, but sometimes I find the personal element of these stores – something that is part of their charm – the thing I enjoy least.

If you go in to Pret to buy a sandwich they act all matey, and it's very friendly but it's a façade, one we are all happy to buy in to. We say hi, smile at the cashier, complete a transaction in 30 seconds maximum and leave again with our food. Yes, we're just in-out numbers to be processed, but I am sort of fine with that.

Head into a local place and the same basic thing happens but because it's small, because it's a 'real' person behind the till, you are thrust in a 'genuine' customer-seller situation, and I seem to struggle with those.

Example: In Soho there is a nice little café that does good, tasty, reasonably priced sandwiches, yet I always approach its door with trepidation. Every time I go in I am treated like a stranger, while everyone else, without fail, gets a big hello, and a "how are you?" and a chat about the weather or football.

Today, I ordered a BLT. This costs £2.80 (40p for the special focaccia bread). Yet when I went to the pay the man behind the counter had to get his own menu to look it up – despite it being on the board behind him. Then I said, helpfully, casually, "It's £2.40." (referring to the sandwich alone of course, assuming he'd know to add the bread price on) and he immediately replied, deadpan, "It costs more than that mate", as if was trying to short change him or something.

The whole thing was almost excruciating. Except it wasn't. Not really. But it was enough social exhaustion to probably send me back to Pret the next nine times out of ten I venture out to buy lunch. Most days I make it myself though. More straightforward for all involved.

Every book I read in 2010 reviewed

This is a list and short review of every book I read this year - mostly on trains, tubes and planes. Each review was mostly written a few days after I read it and has only been touched up slightly here. Some books got reviewed on this blog during the year and I have linked to them as and where relevant. I had hoped to reach 50, after last year managing 52, but fell just short - probably because I read some very long books this year

This list is not meant to be any sort of bragging or anything about 'how many books I read' but more an interesting insight into the books I have read, what I thought of them and possibly as a helpful series of mini-reviews of well-known and lesser known-books out there that a real person has read and had a reaction too (me) that may help other real people decide whether or not to read that book.

1 Focoults Penduleum: Incredibly detailed historical comedy taking the piss (sort of) out of holy grail stories and other such nonsense.

2 Harry, Revised: Disappointingly bland book about a rich doctor who cheats on his wife, causes her to have unnecessary breast surgery that leads to her death that we're supposed to root for. Rubbish.

3 Old Patagonian Express: For many years had I wanted to read Mister Paul's book of travelling south, and I did, and it was worth the wait. Funny, insightful, angry and rude, everything you'd want from a travelogue

4 Ghost: Second of Banville's Frames trilogy, equally as dense and wordy as the first, can't claim to be a fan but for some with wordy aspirations will be a must read.

5 Invisible: Paul Auster's (at the time) newest work ploughs themes he's covered throughout his life. Good read and interesting, but nothing new to rave about.

6 Rites of Passage: Disappointingly labourious read of a ship's crew heading for Oz in the 1800s. Lots of social and religious issues.

7: 39 steps: RUBBISH (read my full review of why the 39 Steps is rubbish here).

8 Never Let Me Go: I re-read this and it's still one of the saddest, most moving and well put together books I have read. Film out early next year.

9 The Great Railway Bazaar: Mr Paul does it again with this his classic, fame finding book of travelling across half the world by train in the 1970s. A must read for anyone with a passing interesting in travel writing

10 Midnight's Children: Finally picked up this tome to see what all the fuss was about and man was it worth it! Read reviews by me here for more...

11 Remember Me: Hugely disappointing Melyvn Bragg effort. Full review here.

12 Artist in the Floating World: A very enjoyable (as all Ishaguro's are) piece detailing post WWII Japan and society coming to terms with the defeat, through the eyes of an artist (hence the title...obviously)

13 Buddha of Suburbia: Fun and different book of life growing up in London with a strange family of misfits and weird friends too, worth the read.

14 Waterland: A very, very good book. sad, profound, moving, touching and all put together with tremendous panache and style. Swift's best that I've read.

15 Born to Run: Very interesting book about running (something I know a bit about) that fuses a fascinating history of a Mexican running tribe with the rise of ultra running races. Recommended to runners

16 Brighton Rock: Disappointed by this book, way too much catholic nonsense towards the end and hard to really believe any of it in 2010.

17 Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: Theroux re-trace's his steps of Great Railway Bazaar some 30 years later and the results are equally as compelling and amusing. Definitely worth reading if you've read the first. Don't let thought of retrace put you off.

18 Orwell Diaries: Full review here.

19 Wolf Hall: A big read! very complex, hard to keep with if mind fliting around, but full of wit, character and style.

20 Ever After: Swift does it again with a sad, moving tale combining history and education (seems to be his style it turns out)

21 The Noughties: A dull book really. lists of things that happened in various segments of the world in the noughties.

22 The English Patient: Set in Tuscany and I read it in Tuscany, which was a nice coincidence, this was a gift from my girlfriend and nice one at that. highly romantic and yet set among the horrors of war (ohhh, such juxtaposition!) it was a moving tale that I gather is a popular film too

23 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Some sci-fi now, a gift from little bro, this was an enjoyable tale, a ripping yarn if you may, about robots and sheep and humans in a future planet where all is not as it seems...worth reading if your a non sci-fi fan but just want to try something a bit different etc.

24 Birdsong: Ohh, so much is said about Birdsong, namely, "You aven't read Birdsong deary? My word, lar de dah and fancy that." I enjoyed it and the first world war is always a moving setting for any dramas of the heart and the head (my god what a stupid war), but I found it to be nothing more than a satisfactory read. I felt Faulks has somehow been overplayed as some literary great when, on this book alone admittedly, he seemed just perfectly ordinary.

25 The Art of Travel: Du Botton gets heavy on a plane. We've all had thoughts sitting in plane window seats staring down at the earth below of, "Argghhh, what the hell am I doing up here". But Du Button applies some philosophical grounding to this and dissects what it is about travel that is so good for the soul, man. He then goes off about art for a bit.

26 The Kingdom by the Sea: Theroux returns with vengeance. He attacks all things British, the seedy seaside camps, the crap B&Bs, the British take on the ongoing Falklands war, popping in to see artists and writers on the way. Miserable and not trying too hard to write all that brilliantly (but still being somewhat brilliant anyway), I really enjoyed this.

27 The Five People you meet in Heaven: Saccharine sentimental schtick that tries to hard to make people feel wonderfully wonderful about everything and everyone, not really worth reading, but it's so short I managed it in a day

28 Persopolis: A comic, sorry, graphic novel here now (Isn't that Stephen King's forte?) this is a fantastic tale of the pathetic Iranian revolution in which a free thinking state of liberalism and mixed schools become a stupid backward country run by men who fear everything for no good reason (I am basing this polemic on the book alone, pretty much). It seemed to lose it's way somewhat in the middle as the girl's story of adolescence and finding herself seemed to get too convoluted, but overall a fantastic read.

29 All my Friends are Superheroes - A short, fun read about a man who's not a superhero but all his friends are. one of the books that's worth reading but if you paid £6.99 for it you'd feel a touch ripped off.

30 Essays in love - Back to Botton and we're in love this time - not me and him, obviously - but he is talking, in great, minutiae, about what it's like to be in love. quite interesting throughout, although with one or two moment that felt a bit silly, this is otherwise a worthwhile read if you're predisposed to overly analytical readings of life.

31 The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner - A short, sharp shock of a read about a kid deciding to defy authority, through the medium of running. yes, it can be done.

32 Stewart Lee -How escaped my certain fate: Mr Lee explains all his jokes from his last three shows in the form of footnotes on transcripts of the shows from the live DVDs. If you're a fan, it's a must read.

33 Light of Day: I like old Swifty and this is my third read of his, but it was undoubtely the least good (Note, still good) of the three. sad, tragic and full of the same themes again as his other works, this one lacked and final push in the final-third/quarter to really raise it up to the same heights as Waterland (which really is stunning).

34 I Believe in Yesterday - I was told Moore was good so got the first (only) book of his I found in the library. I should have waited as while this was perfectly good to read the subject matter is just not me - historical reenactments, bleugh.

35 Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4: I've never read this so got it from the library. Fun, silly, and short, great. Man in the library gave me a funny look when I handed back in. The cheek.

36 The Perfect Fool: Lee's only novel is a fantastically wordy world of weirdos and winos all converging on the Holy Grail - I am sure Lee was challenging the spirit of Dan Brown when he wrote this book, a man he has oft criticised, so perhaps this was why he chose this subject.

37 Flat Earth News: see review.

38 The Mango Orchard: An enjoyable tale of a man setting off to find his lost family in Mexico.

39 Sex and Bowls and Rock and Roll: one of those books of a man being A Bit Useless at Everything in his life, yet somehow having a perfect life and a wife who supports him. Enjoyable enough but not worth the time.

40 Wuthering Heights: I had a an ereader so started reading this Bronte classic and actually really enjoyed it. Longer post here.

41 Superfreakeconomics: I saw the two authors talk on stage about this book and a friend lent it to me about two weeks later. Very interesting, one of those books you read and think "Wow, I'll remember all these facts and impressive people on this hot topic debates like global warming" and then promptly forget everything a day later.

42 All at Sea: A book about a man who rowed acros the English Channel in a bath. Fun and at times a bit funny but also a bit linear narraitve - what did I expect though, eh?

43 Do Not Pass Go: I lost this book after two chapters, but I was enjoying it a lot more already than I Believe in Yesterday, so it gets on the list. I had to pay a fine of £8 from Putney Library for the privilege too. Damn it.

44 Kawlang Tong: Paul Theroux's first fiction work for me and a very enjoyable jaunt through Hong Kong during the run up to the handover back to the Chinese it was too.

45 Washing Dishes in Hotel Paradise: A series of short stories set in Argentina that were nicely evocative but also a bit hard to really get in to in much detail due to their very nature and the slightly dream-like way characters flitted in and out of stories.

46 White Tiger: A sort of poor mans Midnight's Children. A rag to riches tale, showing up the huge dichtomoies that exist in India, and how it's changing as Western influences, namely technology enter the nation, but it was a bit linear and somewhat light on detail of some of the characters, which made it hard to really care or hate anyone. Still, not bad overall.

47 Give Me a Chance: A woman (the author, funnily enough) recounts her eight-day stay with the Lennons in their bed-in in Montreal. Short and sweet and I think purposefully written in a 16-year-old girl tone of voice (Which she was at the time), it gives a brief and quite interesting insight into the people she comes across and of course the Lennons themselves. Perhaps just a bit sparse on vivid descriptions of the room, the people, the Lennons, but for a short jaunt through an amazingly random life experience it was enjoyable.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Disposing of old fashioned photography

I was at a Turkish wedding reception on Friday night – it was a lot of fun – but something interesting happened while we where there that I thought was just a nice snapshot of how technologies we (my generation and above) know never used to exist are already engrained in the minds of youngsters who can imagine nothing else.

My girlfriend took a photo of her sister and a little girl, maybe aged seven, with a disposable camera and immediately after the flash went off the little girl grabbed it (nicely) and peered at the back, clearly expecting their to be a digital image of the photo. Her face when she saw there was nothing to look at was one of complete bewilderment.

"Yes, in the old days you took photos, had no idea what they would look like, then took them to a shop where a stranger developed them, sometimes as quickly as an hour, but often longer - several days maybe - before giving them back to you, and it cost you about a fiver, and you could only get about 24 or 26 photos on each camera. And each camera cost about a tenner, and they were pretty shit. It wasn't good no, digital is so much better. How did we cope? I've no idea. Right kids, on your hoverboards, we're off to the moon !"

Monday, November 08, 2010

Heathcliff, it's me, Cathy, I've come home now, woah oh woah oh

I reviewed an e-reader device for work the other day, and as such started reading Wuthering Heights to test out the functionality of the device and see what it's really like using an electronic book for reading novels and the like.

I actually quite liked the device, as the review gives testament, as I found it quite convenient to have something so small and lightweight on my person that contained an entire novel, and could have held 1,000s more. It wouldn't replace books for me at all, but I can see the value and benefit of having one.

During my intensive testing I actually got quite into Wuthering Heights, at least to the point where I was determined to see it out so I could say I've read it -and what a strange tale it is. I've always known the main thrust of the story, but the ins and out, (see what I did there), are highly peculiar, all fall of cousins marrying one another, inheritance scams and strange walks across moors, essentially telling two stories joined by one complete life span of the central character, Heathcliff (It's me,Cathy, I've come home now, oh woah oh woah...).

Yet, as I was reading I was also struck by how useless the house keeper who retells the story to Mr Lockwood is throughout. She frequently fails in her duties, is passive to the point of being complicit in some of the key scenes, almost aiding and abetting Heathcliff, and fails to work out what is plainly about to occur when agreeing to some fairly daft requests. She also has an amazing ability to miss the bleedin' obvious. Apparently, I read afterwards, critics have commented upon this, and I am pleased to see that they have! Rightly so, this woman should be locked up! Oh yes, she's fictional.

The name in question is Nellie Dean, which will mean something to you if you've worked, or more likely drunk, in and around the streets of Soho.

Overall I think Ms Bush, by writing a truly epic and unique piece of, erm, baroque pop (can I coin that?), has actually made a " good but hardly worlds-best tale" something that is now ingrained in the majority of the popular consciousness through her warblings, which is fantastic. I also very much like the guitar solo on the song, which is often overlooked I think.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Walking the UK

So, he's done it. Nat Severs has walked 7,000 miles around the entire mainland coastline of the UK, including all the wiggly bits of Scotland and island connected by footbridges, the mad bastard.

He set off in January(!) and spent some 2-3 months zigging in and out of the Scottish lands while we all watched England be cut to piece by Germany in the World Cup.

He's raised from £3,000 for charity, and there is of course plenty of time more donation to each of his three charities (one, two, three) so you should certainly give him a little something for what is an amazing achievement.

And I don't think I ever heard anyone ever mention that stupid Proclaimers Song, 500 miles.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Four film reviews

The planes to Vegas and back provided ample film watching opportunity, here are my four reviews.

The Godfather: never seen this before, but found it very enjoyable but watching it on a tiny screen on a plane was not ideal as struggled to keep up with who was getting bumped, who was double crossing and what was happening in quick asides and glances.

Toy Story 3: fast, fun, well paced tale of the toy gang I remember first seeing aged 10(!). Idea for passing the time painlessly on a plane.

Wall Street: 80s excess combined with some great scenes and ludicrous moments, while Daryl Hannah's acting should have seen her accounts frozen it was so wooden. Also, Gecko says, "Greed, for want of a better word, is good", not "Greed is good", which is the quotation I have always seen in text online.

Cemetary Junction: an enjoyable, coming of age film set in 70s backwards Britain, with uncomfortable casual misogyny and racism (of the era etc) mixed in with the more pallid bland aspects of that era, set against a cracking soundtrack and a good cast.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Viva Las Vegas

I am in Las Vegas. I’ve been here for 60 hours and have been married twice, won and then lost £2m and wrestled a tiger. No, not really.

I did go for a walk down the Strip though and that is a strange place indeed. Gaudy, bright, too bright, a custard pie in the face of the desert, in short, , it’s a bizarre place. New York New York and Paris are impressively accurate to the real thing (at least for Paris, never been to NY NY) while some of the other buildings are just massive.

Unless you have enough money to gamble a lot, I can’t see what else you could do here other than sunbathe perhaps – there’s nothing much to do that I saw.

The amount of people trying to offer you little call girl cards was unreal too, about six on each street corner, all brazen, wearing shirts, women too, and offering to everyone, even middle aged couples wandering around – why? Do they ever take one?

Anyway, that’s my indepth, one wander down the Strip review of Las Vegas.

Ill leave you with this Facebook update joke I made (which is true, and got six, yes six, "likes"): I am in Las Vegas. I sat next to a northern couple on the flight over and I hoped the man would say to his wife, "Eey oop lass, Vegas", when we landed. But he didn't."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Wire continues

So season two of The Wire (it's not about wires, I have now worked out) and it's easily already one of the best television shows I have seen (and I've seen lots).

Showing the many and varied links between all sorts of competing forces in Balitmore, and by extension the rest of the world – Greece, Russia, Le Harve in France – it's a fascinating piece of both story-telling and a representation of reality.

Twelve hour long episodes really gives the writers huge amounts of time (essentially four three hour movies) to develop characters, storylines, and setups, so they can fully explore and mine themes throughout the show.

So, while I'm many years behind the curve, it's definitely worth watching if you haven't see it already.

Also I went to see The Social Network t'other day (i.e. Facebook the Movie: Zuckerberg's revenage) and really enjoyed it. The story was excellent and well told while I particularly enjoyed the dark, menancing soundtrack that hovered in the background throughout. More of my thoughts here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Arise, Sir Chicken

I find it both strange and wonderful that coronation chicken was actually invented for the coronation of the queen in 1952. What a British way to celebrate a new monarch – make her a cold chicken dish.

I've also heard that gammon, egg and chips was invented for Henry VIII, but that could have been a lie.

Also, it's cold now – I think my previous claim that those last few days of niceness in London over the weekend were the end of the beginning of winter were correct.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Going to Gauguin

To Tate Modern on Sunday (for the first time (I think) since moving to London, shocking) to see the Gauguin exhibition on there. Here comes the reflective bit...

He's a painter I knew nothing about at all really, despite knowing the name. Lots of famous artists and the like you seem to learn bits about through osmosis but Gauguin I had never really heard anything about. But I learnt he lived in Tahiti, was a bit of a rebel and painted some interesting art.

One thing I did note in the crowded exhibition halls (too many people!) were the few yummy mummies attempting to teach their gaggle of children aged 4-8 about the works of a painter they neither know or care about. As my good friend Severs once blogged, it comes across more as the mother showing off to those in ear shot what shes knows than a genuine desire to teach children about Gauguin (Gauguin!).

If I'm wrong in their intentions, while it's admirable to have such lofty educational ambitions for your children it's surely a bit too much, too young, and certainly too public. The Tate Modern is a great building though, isn't it? I enjoyed going to the seventh floor for the views over the entirety of the immediate north side of the river and beyond – and all for free.

Also, is this weather marking the official end of summer? You always seem to get days like this in October that cast a few final rays of sun and heat across the nation before the plunging despair and black dog of winter draws in night by night, stalking across the land.

It'll be Christmas Day before you know it.

All singing, all dancing

Ok, I'm not ashamed to admit this: I went to a musical on Saturday night…and I enjoyed it.

There, I said it. The musical was Sweet Charity with Tamzin Outhwaite (her off Eastenders) and fair play she can fairly well act and sing and dance, as could the rest of the cast – then again who can’t on the West End?

That's the thing about any of these shows, whether you actively like musicals or not, you'd be hard pressed to actively not enjoy it to some degree as everyone in them is so damn talented. The voices, the dancing, the timing, the choreograph of the dancers, even the musicians, are just fantastic.

Seeing anything in the West End means you should have a right to expect it to be brilliant and maybe if you went week-in, week-out you'd start to spot flaws but for the random theatre-goer (very much me) it means you're almost always guaranteed to have an enjoyable time.

Friday, October 08, 2010


I tried to make an omelette last night and end up with metaphorical egg all over my face. Let me explain.

I had fried some mushrooms and chopped a couple of slices of pepperoni to add in to the dish and everything was ready for the addition of the eggs so I grabbed the egg box and took an egg from the box.

I should clarify that, despite what I am about to tell you, I have made many omelettes in my life, at least 40 I would say, maybe 50, and know how to make them. Yet somehow in the rush and excitement of the frying mushrooms and the egg in my hand my brain let me down.

I cracked the egg on the side of the pan and, at the same moment, said aloud, "Is this how you make an omelette?". The egg splashed and broke across the pan, immediately beginning to fry. "No," I said aloud to no-one, "this is how you make a fried egg".

Man, did I have egg on my…oh wait, I've already made that joke.

For closure nuts out there – I just turned the meal into fried eggs, mushrooms, pepperoni and a handful of chips I had already started making in the oven. Disaster averted!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

River Running in Putney

I've been living in the sumptuous surrounds of Putney for about six weeks now and it's very nice.

Putney Heath is lovely, I saw a heron perched on a sign in a lake that said "No Fishing" – even the herons are witty! – while it's nice having a high street so near that has major shops. Don't get me wrong, Stroud Green Road has its charms, but it also had it's very odd shops.

Mostly, though, I like the vicinity of the river – I like catching glimpses of it from the tube as you rattle over the bridge, I like spying it down the high street, and I love walking and running by it.

With the evenings creeping in I've found myself jogging along the silent river in near darkness, with the lights of the city illuminating and reflecting up against the river into the arcing light in the sky – Putney's east-to-west layout makes for some wonderful colour-changing skies too – and I get a new burst of energy by the sight of all this combined together, finding it both relaxing and yet enthralling, while beside the river just rolls on, rising and falling throughout the day, as we scurry madly above, below and on it, as we have done for millennia, and doubtless will continue to do so.

P.S. back to Double Deckers - it was my girlfriend who introduced me to these delights, the record should show.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Flat Earth News

I have just finished reading Flat Earth News today by Nick Davies, a hugely detailed expose of the way the media and the reporting of news has changed in the last 50 years over time as big business and commercial interests have overtaken the need for quality reporting and truth telling.

It was very interesting to read as a journalist – a news one at that – and touched on many issues I have seen myself: the rise of churnalism, the clearly fabricated story that gets run everywhere becaue it's easy and everyone else is running it, the wealth of PR nonsense that seems to invade the papers every day and so on.

But it also offered a lot more insights into specific newspapers and how they have changed and moved to become stagnant, reactionary rather than investigative, and downright duplicitous in the stories they run.

Davies seems to have save his real anger for the Daily Mail, rightly so, underlining its repeated, seemingly purposeful attempts at destroying people's lives with a lack of clear or any evidence, but instead merely appealing to the whim's and prejudices of its ramshackle readership.

He disguises his contempt well, letting it trickle through behind the sea of facts, stories and quotes the uses to make his points, the whole thing creating a feeling of deep mistrust at any of the stories you'd ever read in the paper, a lesson worth remembering when those always reactionary and scare-mongering headlines are looming up at you from petrol forecourts, WHSmiths and news agents stands.

Microsoft and chocolate

I went to see Steve Ballmer talk this morning at the LSE. He's a funny chap. Quite interesting and not in anyway a wallflower, which made for an on-your-toes kind of talk as his random way of accentuating certain words meant you couldn’t switch off.

This was a Good Thing as it started at 8.30am and all the free food promised before the event had been taken when I got there – only students would ransack free food quicker than journalists.

Ballmer reminds me a touch of the character Rawls from excellent TV show The Wire – of which I am not half way through season two and enjoying very much. I am about five years behind the curve on this show, as noted, but if you're like me I would still reinforce everything you've read about the show and tell you to watch it.

Also, massively off topic, I have really got in to Double Decker chocolate bars now, what's all that about?

Apparently the man who invented it was sacked for breaching company rules by creating it - pah (click on the above link to get this definitely true story from Wikipedia).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Soho alleys

For almost one year now I have been tramping the streets of Soho to and from my offices as part of my daily commute, about as far removed from my original walk out of Pimlico tube station as possible.

I’ve seen celebrities, arty, media idiots dressed like a hurricane in a clothing store, all manner of drunkenness and was once even stunned to be offered “live show darlin?” by a woman behind a glass counter in a Soho alley as I walked back to the office before midday.

This week, three walks to the tube have led to three incidents that sum up this mad collection of side streets in central London. Firstly, I saw three men leaving a side door on a street, where they were immediately approached by two men in plain clothes, who then flashed police ID at them and proceeded to ask them what items they had on their persons. I lingered for as long as I could but didn’t get to find out what happened. It was a surreal moment, though, given how much of just this sort of thing I have been watching on DVD as I finally watch The Wire (see below).

Then, yesterday, two drunk guys were shouting at each other over the cost of some bar / strip joint they’d been in, clearly one was not as prepared as the other to pay “this f**king money” any more.

Today, I saw an elderly gentlemen leave a bar on one side of a road and saunter, a touch wobbly, over toward The Great Windmill Club where he proceed to casually study the menu/information board thing outside, as busy meeja types strolled by, somewhat amused by this.

Great stuff.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Wire

I am finally watching The Wire.

I know, I know, I am only five years behind the curve, but, in my defence your honours, I was always wary of watching such a well received show on the variously poor TVs I have owned. I now live with a good friend who has an excellent TV and together we have made a pact to watch the show, and we are now just embarking on season two.

There isn't much I can say, I think, from what has probably been written about the show already but 100 journalists and more, mostly from The Guardian (har har) but it is one of the most engrossing shows I've ever seen in the way it slowly, subtly, pulls out threads and strands of plotlines over sprawling, hour long episodes.

Also, some of the scenes are so much like a cut-scene in Grand Theft Auto it's uncanny; the music, the camera angles, the dialogue all match up perfectly.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Diary keeping

I read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole recently, something of an oversight from childhood not to have read it, or if I have read it, I don't remember reading it.

It's a funny book, and one that is probably enjoyed equally as an adult or a child due to some of the subtle jokes and throw away lines that exist within in. I particularly liked the line where Moley holds of buying a wedding present for an elderly couple set to get married given their extreme ages.

I also particularly like his poetry in the diary and it's quite a feat by Townsend to be able to write poetry that is bad, yet funny, while sort of good in a perverse way, and yet make it utterly believable as a 13-year-old boys work:

I adore ya.
I implore ye.
Don't ignore me


There are some bits that don't make sense, unless I really missed something along the way, but Mole reads War and Peace in two days and many other complex, long novels in equally short spaces of time. He also seems to be able to update his diary almost in real-time sometimes, which is an impressive feat.

Blogging is a bit like diary keeping, but also, not at all like it.

Worse luck. 

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Stand up comedians

I finished Stewart Lee's new book this week, How I Escaped my Certain Fate, and it was a very interesting, informative read from the 41st best standup comedian ever, 3!

Following his progress from up-and-coming star on TV and stage, to despair with the profession, back to his triumphant return to comedy (said in best Krusty the Clown voice), the book contained the three transcripts from each of Lee's three most recent stand up shows, with footnotes littered throughout explaining the origins of certains jokes, references being made, or asides to other comedians.

This was the most interesting aspect of the book, hearing Lee explain in detail, often over a page in small, footnotey font (why is footnote font so small?), about his time working with Harry Hill and Robin Day, or explaining that he bought a certain joke from another comedian to help lighten the mood of his otherwise often long-winded affairs.

Reading his scripts without knowing the delivery would give you no clue as to how funny Lee can be, the way he repeats jokes over and over again, with changes throughout perhaps, to build laughter from what could be awkward repetition. Or that, as Lee admits, sometimes is just awkwardness and the audience fails to get the delivery and therefore the jokes.

A final point on the book I found interesting, was Lee's choice of introduction music for his shows.
For each one he used piece of jazz to help him identify, or even turnaway, potential troublemakers: "If they can't handle the music, they probably won't like the show" is Lee's (paraphrased) rationale behind this and certainly one that seems to make a lot of sense.

Overall then, if you're a fan of the man and want to know more about the thought processes behind his shows and the world of interesting, clever, thought-provoking comedy, this book is one for you.

I give it 41/100.

Friday, September 03, 2010


This clip of Neville Chamberlain announcing war between Germany and the United Kingdom in 1939, some 71 years ago, is very moving, profound and interesting. Worth a long listen to for such lines as, "Hitler would not have it" "I know you will all play your part with calmness and courage", and of course, "this country is at war with Germany".

Monday, August 23, 2010

Public Squeaking.

I gave a speech at a black tie dinner in March 2009. It was fairly nerve wracking but I memorized the gist of the speech, and had a little mnemonic for each section and got through it unharmed, with a few laughs, and that was that.

This weekend I was at the wedding of two very good friends from university and they kindly asked me to read First Sight by Phillip Larkin at the service. I decided I would learn it by heart in order to give the best performance I could and, thankfully, it went fine: I stood, I poetried, I sat again. Phew.

It was strange, though, having to learn something word perfect, for possibly the first time ever, to deliver as impeccably as possible. The best man, groom and father of the bridge speeches must all be scary and exciting too, but at least you can ad lib, or um and err your way through them. For poetry, you have to get it perfect, everytime (talking widely here now, not about myself).

Anyone else done a poetry reading / recital? I might try The Waste Land next…

'This music crept by me upon the waters
And along the Strand, up Queen Victoria Street.
O City city, I can sometimes hear
Beside a public bar in Lower Thames Street,
The pleasant whining of a mandoline

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Is Billy Joel any good?

Growing up, driving around in a black, weather faded Renault, then a highly economical Passat, my parents subjected me and my brother to many a songsmith, from Bob Dylan to Clapton to, you’ve guessed it from the title, Billy Joel.

Years later and my love of Dylan is strong, Clapton, meh, and Billy Joel…well, I just don’t know. Some of his stuff is overblown tripe, I think, but other songs seem deceptively good, I think.

It doesn't help that songs like Uptown Girl have moulded his reputation in the general consciousness (mostly probably mis attributed as a Westlife song too I would bet) and he seems to have this vague air of “ha, Billy Joel? Don’t make me laugh…” A sentiment my brother and I both developed as we grew up but that now I think we would both admit has passed into grudging respect, even enjoyment.

A song like Piano Man is the very model of a genuinely good pop hit. Melancholic, rousing, reflective, engrossing, uplifting if you wish, downbeat if that’s your mood, it's up to you.

Goodnight Saigon is a damning reminder of the pointless waste of the Vietnam War, complete with dramatic helicopter sound effects and a huge military chorus of “We will all go down together”. It’s actually kind of heartbreaking.

We Didn’t Start the Fire is an incredible piece of showmanship, even if some of the rhymes are a bit forced. Yet again, it’s also sort of laughable when you hear it too many times. It’s certainly ripe for parody too.

Then we come to Scenes from an Italian Restaurant. A seven minute plus pop epic that starts with a slow, almost saccharine love song chorus then randomly shifts into a fast, three-line stanza-ed rock song complete with madly upbeat clarinet work, trumpet solos and jaunty piano fills and trills that all flit around a song about the “popular steadies Brenda and Eddie” realising their love isn’t that strong and falling apart. It’s bizarrely epic and inappropriately upbeat. 

Also, a lot of Joel's lyrics actually make sense. Someone like Elton John is a clear example of a similar type of musician (broadly speaking), yet some of his Bernie Taupin's lyrics are scandalous: "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kid, in fact it's cold as hell...and there's no one there to raise them, if you did". What the hell does that mean? Sheer nonsense.

Yet rarely, if ever, does Joel ever seem to feature in any Top 100 this, or Top 50 that lists. I feel this is an oversight.  Although they did make a stage musical of his songs. Which is something. Also, we share the same birthday. So that’s nice. 

Any response to all these musings? Good, bad, indifferent? Well?!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Around the coast

Britain is a coastal country. This is well known. You can rarely be more than 50 miles from the sea. For some people in some countries the idea of being 50 miles from the sea would be as good as being on the coast.

One man, Nat Severs, is, as I blogged before, currently walking the entire coast of the UK at the moment. That’s 7,000 miles. A long way. He’s now heading south, after many months of northward walking, in and out of the endless inlets of the west coast of Scotland, and eating up the miles as heads back to the starting point of Portsmouth, where he began on January 10. It’s all massively impressive and if you want to know more, then go to his website and read more. Most impressively, have a look at the map of his journey and see each individual days walking he did.

Complementing this blog I am here writing at this very moment, is a book I recently read by another previously blogged topic, Paul Theroux, in which he travels around the UK coast, not as literally as Nat, but close enough, following the same clockwise route through walking, buses and, of course, trains. I read it last week as I rattled home on the First Great Western train to Truro out of Paddington, at one point, always the best bit, passing the sea, mere waters from the sand filled with walkers, dog owners nad fisherman. It seemed very apt to be reading of his trip around this very coast some twenty five years earlier when Britain was at war with Argentina.

Theroux’s trip is marked with heavy sarcasm, almost resentment of the places he sees, not always, but often, and his distain for the UK holiday industry of Butlins and the like, of people in box cabin caravans in fields is clear throughout. He sees no better future for the UK coastal future, predicting a continuation of such drab, bleak holidaying of citizens enjoying cheap, regimented fun.

Yet, he was wrong. The UK coast now is fancy, expensive and much sought after. I’ve seen my home town turn from a sleepy sea side place to a growing tourist trap filling slowly with the same chain stores as anywhere else, Costa, Nero, FatFace, and the like. Yes, some areas are untouched by this gentrification, but many are not, and it’s interesting to think that in the 1980s as Britain was a drab, soulless place (through Theroux’s eyes) that seemed to be falling into further disrepair, it has now become home to the likes of Rick Stein filling towns like Padstow and Falmouth with expensive fish and chip shops, growing numbers of arts festivals based around the water and shoreside apartments used by city workers for two weeks a year, if that.

It's interesting to imagine the various futures that people imagined in store for Britain throughout the 1980s, or before, as we do now. Where we imagine, perhaps, failure, continuation of stagnation, it can offer be quite the opposite.

The enchanted kingdom of McDonalds

Hiding from the rain in a McDonalds on Tuesday night in Putney, a girl, maybe 16 years-old, walked into the golden arched palace I was sheltering in and, to my fascination, looked around agog at her surroundings.

Never before had she seen such splendour, or such ornate decorations and furniture, her face seemed to say.

After she had stopped and taken in the sumptuous surrounding she slowly stepped forward, as if scared of shattering the dream she had wandered in to by stepping to heavily. She craned her neck up in wonder at the ceiling, as if Michelangelo himself had painted them.

Then suddenly it was too much. She went outside again, stared up in disbelief at the giant M outside.

"Could it be," she wondered. "Is this really what a McDonalds is? My parents had told me they were evil, dirty, downtrodden places where the masses come to fritter their finances on fries and milkshakes."

She stood still, wondering what to do next. Then, strangely, she left. Turned tail and removed herself from the scene, and tramped off into the rain. I looked around. No-one else seemed to have noticed this strange creature so enraptured by the place.

I continued chomping, sent a text, received a text, texted back. In this time I never noticed she had returned. She sat this time, wearing dark sunglasses, at the end of the long formica bench I was sat on, as if she was the coolest girl in the world because she had found a McDonalds.

She was an odd one, no doubt about it. I wonder what her reaction would have been if she'd had any food. She may have exploded.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Some film thoughts

A lazy, lazy Sunday (in which my main activity was a walk to the local Oxfam book shop where I bought The Kingdom by the Sea for £2.50), was complemented by a few films watched.

Johnny English. Is this film good? I can't decide. I've seen it before, of course, and only watched the last 45 minutes of this before I headed out (as mentioned, lazy day, hungover and very tired from much sport playing on Saturday). It's sort of funny, and Malkovitch is brilliantly over the top . But then some of it is so over the top and stupid and obvious that it seems quite lazy. I guess it doesn't matter really.

Brighton Rock (original). I thought this was terrible. I know it's from a loonnnggg time ago (maybe 50 years!) but I just didn't get it. There was so much random cackling from characters, often weirdly out of sync with their lips (it seemed to me), the acting was mostly pretty lame and I still don't buy the plot (book or film) of lame thugs and stupid girls. The remake is out later this year, so I look forward to seeing if that makes an improvement. 

Frequently Asked Question about Time Travel: Strange one this. Some of the plot was quite clever and nicely linked together, but then again some of the piece were really stupid ( the future party of people dressed like them / the "editors" who come back and kill people). A pretty cheap film, the kind of film that in 30 years will have the same heavily dated, cheap British film look that 1970s films have to us know.

Also, I finished Birdsong last week. I enjoyed it, but also thought it was a touch overrated. It has such a high standing in literature from the last twenty years, and Faulks is seemingly so revered, but I found the writing pretty average, but in a good way. It wasn't bad, but I had imagined it to be better. Still, it was a strong narrative, but then again anything about WWI is always moving. It really was the most ridiculous war, in which human's really did show their innate stupidity through and through (at least from behind the front lines). I digress.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sher locks Homes

Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Homes, Lock Homes. Most fictional detectives’ names make a play on the ideas of security, or their personalities. Morse (code), Creek (up without a paddle), Frost(y) personality…er…well, it does fit in some cases - an old theory from an university lecturer...

As a big fan of Jeremy Brett’s Holmes (definitive) I was interested to see the new adaptation on Sunday on the Beeb. It was indeed very good. I particularly the rift on “three pipe problem” into “three patch problem”. Modern. 

There was also some nifty smartphone’s interaction, which was, well, even more modern. You can't beat the idea of someone very smart, working everything out very quickly from the facts, like, and brow beating those around him. I think we all like to imagine ourselves as a bit like that, as a slight git who calmly, unshakably brings order to a situation. But we aren't like that, are we?

 The plot was a bit manic, but it was set up well for the next two episodes, (liked the idea of Mycroft as a government stooge). London looked nice too, including the dirrrttttyy streets of Soho, and it'll be interesting to see whether the next two episodes keep up the popularity the show has had so far from critics and twitter people so far (my yardstick anyway).

Obligatory use of the word elementary in a piece about Sherlock. Although he never said "elementary, dear Watson", instead saying, "elementary". 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thoughts on returning from Latitude

There are many mediocre comics in the world: The comedy tent is always a good place to stop by and enjoy some, well, comedy, but this year there seemed to be a blight of utterly mediocre and downright boring comics on the stage. So many just churn out anecdotes “I swear this is true”, that aren’t really that funny, or just endlessly talk about their “embarrassing sex life” that it was quite painful to watch at times.

The winner of the young comic of the show award (name escapes me), did nothing but silly voices, terribly improv and even “I pretend to be French when approached by charity muggers! I’m mad I am!” It was awful.

And another thing, so many of them say, “I’m such a geek!”, as if this is what makes them so uniquely comic, but the thing is, we’re all geeks now. We all like Twitter, Facebook, all discuss mobile contracts, network coverage, our phones capabilities, we all look at random stuff on the internet, and all these other various things they think make them geeks (more or less). Stop saying it to endear us too you.

Also saw Josie Long doing some comedy musings in the literature tent on Saturday night, which was also pretty terrible. Just because someone is cute and whimsical doesn't mean what they say is funny, and the stuff she did was almost cringeworth. (A cartoon picture of Nye Bevan talking in a mad, screechy voice).

Saying all this, David O’Doherty on Friday afternoon was probably one of the funniest live comedy I’ve ever seen.

Musically, some bands I saw I hadn’t heard before but enjoyed were Chief, Schools of Seven Bells, and Midlake and also Temper Trap were surprisingly enjoyable. Saw lots of other bands, but these stuck in the mind most. Flo was good, but a tad over long, Vampire Weekend quite enjoyable, and Belle and Sebastian predictably cute and nice, but also fun and worked well for the festival’s vibe.

Sebastian Faulks is such a cliche of the quiet, well spoken, thoughtful English novelist it's unreal, but he is also interesting, so that saves him.

Although the news of what happened at the event was terrible I saw nothing bad happen anywhere else on the site of any description, and thought the security was as reasonable as necessray, i.e. not heavy handed or over the top, but suitably present at relevant points. But then again, after what happened, I'm probably wrong.

My hatred for festival food (over priced, bland, tasteless, and unfulfilling), got another layer of disgust this time when I got some mild poisoning during Saturday (from a burger or noodles, not sure), and was promptly ill later that night. Joyous.

Overall though, a fun weekend.

Monday, July 12, 2010


When did the Stag Do become a 'thing'. In the old days they were the night before the wedding right? A terrible idea, surely? Many a font must have been graced by unholy water (amongst other things) from green-faced grooms at the altar.

I experienced my first one this weekend. It was fun. It involved some beaching and footballing, and best of all some clay pigeon shooting (men eh?), and copious alcohol in between, as to be expected.

All this took place in the delightful surrounds of Bournemouth, a slightly terrifying seaside town, where an undercurrent of simmering violence and sexual frenzy felt ready to burst at every minute, perhaps explaining the proliferation of sex-chat cards in the town, more than I've ever seen anywhere in my life.

It was, as stated, fun, but the idea that I could potential go on 10 more of these, spending a lot of money each time, and possibly having to go abroad too, fills me with a vague sort of dread and ennui, but then, that's probably true of lots of things.

We stayed in a Premier Inn, it was surprisingly good.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Jim Beglin Phantom Voice Syndrome

Last night, during Holland's 3-2 win over Uruguay in the World Cup (a Football Manager style result if ever there was one) commentator Clive Tyldesley was forced to go without his commentating mate Jim Beglin, who was ill.

Strangely, ITV had no replacements for him, so Clive was alone, a single voice talking to the millions back at home (or possibly no-one at all). Even stranger, though, than this decision, was the fact that despite Beglin not being there to chip in with agreements or further "insights" I could still hear want he would have said.

Example, say a close offside, Tyldesley would say something like, "That's a tight call by the linesman", and there'd be silence. But I'd hear Beglin, in those dusky, back of the throat tones adding, "Oh, you know I think the linesman's got that one wrong Clive". I imagine many other viewers suffered from the Jim Beglin phantomn voice syndrome throughout the game too. Perhaps ITV were banking on this?

It worries me that I have, by only the age of 25, heard so many of Beglin's phrases when he is sat next to Clive for all those Champions League games, that my brain can conjure up his voice and his phrasings itself.

Anyone else get this sensation during the game?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

More books

Three books read over the holiday described below.

Ever After by Graham Swift. Having thoroughly enjoyed Waterland (recommended, highly) I noticed this book in my local Oxfam for £2 and splashed out. It was definitely worth it – a sad, somber, reflective book on life, art, religion and death, it covered the life of a university tutor, knowing he is something of a fraud, ruminating on the death of his wife, his mother, his step-father, and at the same time, researching an ancestor's fall from grace as he came to question the existence of God in the 1850s. Moving, well-written stuff.

The Noughties 2000-2009: A Decade That Changed the World by Tim Footman. A supposed reflection on the 2000s, this book was really little more than a list of different ways a theme of the decade was interpreted among the art world (X wrote book Y, Z produced film A, after event T and so on (can I use other letters like that?)), and the bare facts around the events of the decade – 9/11, global warming, globilisation, war on terror, financial collapse. Only the chapter on shopping, which contained some stomach turning quotations from a chief of Starbucks about why people go to Starbucks (i.e. for the 'experience maan'), was particularly illuminating

The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje: Possibly more famous from the film (that I've not seen, but may seek out now) this was a highly-lyrical and interesting novel set in Tuscany (where I was, how apt), at the end of WWII, detailing four strange individuals thrown together in a crumbling Italian villa, and their interactions with one another from shared pasts, and possible futures. Some very clever and original set pieces, and character back stories made the book very interesting, but the ending felt a tad rushed, a bit too instantly dramatic, when one character suddenly loses his sense of purpose on hearing of the atomic bomb drops in Japan. Still, worth reading.

Any thoughts on any of the above most welcome.

Horsing around in Italy

I was in Italy for the last few days. I saw the Palio in Siena, which was truly spectacular. Three laps of the Campo around which ten horse riders, from 17 of the cities districts or Contrada ride barebacked, in a mad race to be victorious for their people.

The emotions on display where utterly raw, with tears of despair and joy on the faces of all those involved, the winning jockey paraded aloft after the race, and celebrations going on past 3am (when my friend and I gave up for the night…)

For days up to the event there is singing, parades, singing, horse-blessings, singing, and practice Palios, all making for 70 seconds of sheer drama and excitement.

Siena itself, Palio or not, is also a spectacular place, full of narrow cobbled streets and towering walls where shops and houses intermingle with ramshackle brilliance.

From there we went to Florence, where it was 35 degrees without a breath of wind which was almost unbearable, but we still took it all in. A lovely place, no doubt, but a bit more touristy than Sienna and probably mostly doable in two days.

We flew Ryanair, but in truth it was absolutely fine: what'd you'd expect for flights to Europe and back for £60. No service to speak of, but just take off and landing, all you really want from a two hour flight. When we landed in Pisa they played an celebratory trumpet burst (over the speakers, not the captain himself), which was a bit of fun. Because it is worth celebrating a landing, is it not?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Moving lives

I helped my girlfriend move house on Saturday. Man alive it was hot. We had three flights at the other end of the move, from just the one at the place she was leaving. Strange to think you'll never go back to somewhere, never tread those boards, get annoyed at the rubbish shower, stare out of those windows, all the quirks a house, home, can have.

All someone's worldly goods packed and pressed away into the boot of a car, all to only be unpacked and repurposed in a new location. Cavemen must have done the same.

In other news, I finished Wolf Hall on Sunday. Took me five weeks to read it (admittedly with a break to read an Orwell book I was reviewing in between). It was an enjoyable book, but also required absolutely concentration: so detailed, and so full of voices was the book that a moments idle wanderings of the mind and speaker, time, location could all change in an instant, leading to utter confusion for the reader.

Still, it did help remind me what a fascinating bunch of people the Tudors, and the ilk were, all intrigue, rumour and affairs and the desperate desire for male heir (it's almost banally ironic that after Henry VIIIs six wives, all in the attempt to bring him a son, it was his daughter, by Anne B (who was executed for basically not giving him a son) who would become the saviour of England) as well as hideous forms of death they had for people considered traitors, who just a few months before could be receiving the highest praise from all of Christendom.

Would I recommended the book? Well, no, but I wouldn't not recommend it either: it's up to you.

I have moved on to Ever After by Graham Swift now, he of Waterland and Last Orders fame, and it's already very enjoyable.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Catch up

Hello, been too long since something was entered here.

Tennis. 70-68! Where to begin; tennis is sometimes unfairly maligned by people, believing it not to be a hard sport, not tiring, not exhausting, but any sportsman that can play a game, hurling their body around for almost ten hours is clearly some sort of athlete. What's more you have to do it while battling moments of calm, reflection in between points, and then pull of incredible shots, often under immense pressure of 'one mistake and I'm out'.

I've been reading Wolf Hall (still -it's very long...) but it is also very good, in places, which is hard to fully explain, but it's just that in some places the story really picks up and rattles along, and with a little historical knowledge, some of the asides, or hints at the future are very well handled ("You know she's a witch," says one character of Anne Boleyn before she marries Henry, and we all know how that turned out...).

While I am enjoying it I am looking forward to finishing it too, before I go away on holiday next week, as it's a massive book, even in paperback, and quite a tough read, requiring full concentrate; not that I can't concentrate mind you.

I finally got a smartphone too, after months of writing about the things, and it is very nice having a such a sleek piece of tech, that enables me to bring up maps, email and the internet as and when required. That's all really.

The World Cup is coming to life too, although I've not been disappointed with it at all. It always starts a little slow as teams try not to lose, but come the end of the group stages, you often see enthralling end to end games as teams suddenly have to win, as evidenced today with Italy's somewhat surprising loss to Slovakia.

Er...the weather's nice isn't it?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Short words, long words

George Orwell ws good at writing. He wrote some very good things indeed. I read his diaries recently for a review. They were very good. You can read it here. I enjoyed reading it and writing the review.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup memories

Four years ago today I awoke bleary eyed, tired, and robbed. It was the day after my last exam at university. My bank account had been skimmed to the tune of almost £400 from Bulgaria (Have you been to Bulgaria? The woman in the bank asked me...) and I had, in spite of this, gone out to celebrate the end of student life – it was a fraudulent celebration as I was actually on for a post-grad course, but hey ho.

Later that afternoon, I, and about 19 others, went to the pub to watch Germany play out a highly enjoyable 4-2 win against Costa Rica. It was the start of the World Cup 2006. The sun shone, the atmosphere was carnival, with students everyone winding up their final exams, and the massive over expectation that the "Golden Generation" (snigger) would finally deliver.

They didn't of course, and later that month, back in Cornwall, we slumped out of the local bar after England's dismal showing against Portugal.

In 2002 I slumped into Geography half an hour late after England's dismal 2-1 defeat to Brazil in the quarter-finals. The only player who had a shot in the second half was Danny Mills, which shows what a weak team we had. This was the world cup of early morning kick offs, of the tournament being over each day at about 1pm UK time, leaving you free to make the most of the afternoons – if you were a schoolboy who'd completed his exams of course. For workers it must have been terrible.

In 1998 I was at my auntie's 40th when Croatia stuck three past Germany, to much celebration from those assembled, and the next day I can still vividly remember commenting, struck with wonder at the thought of such an age: "At the next World Cup I'll be 17…". I had been at home for the England v Argentina match, and watched as the team swash-buckled their way out of the tournament after an engrossing match.

In 1994, I only really remember watching Brazil v Italy, in the drab, Americanised final in the Pasadena Rose Bowl. It was a limp match, ending on penalty shoot out. Poor.

Interesting though, measuring out your life by major events, notably the World Cup, I can only imagine where I'll be when 2014 in Brazil roles around.

Anyone care to join in?

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Raging against machines

Just got back from seeing Rage Against the Machine in Finsbury Park. I've been running around Finsbury Park for about three years but never thought I would see one of my favourite bands - from my teenager years at least - play there for free. But then it's funny how life works out. 

The set list was full of  well known songs, to any Rage fan at least, and was preceded by a very funny animated version of Simon Cowell bemoaning "the horrible Rage Against the Machine" for denying him the chance to make more money with X Factor. Later on, before the final song, Killing in the Name was played (which was why everyone had ended up in the middle of my local running park) a little montage of the race to Christmas Number one was played, which drew load cheers. This was played over the top of Joe McElderry's The Climb, which was a nice touch.

During the middle of the set, including the songs, Bombtrack, Bullet in the Head, Testify, Bulls on Parade and Freedom, Jon and Tracy Morter, the two people who set up the Facebook group and caused the whole shindig (and who I follow on Twitter), were brought on stage so that a cheque of a significant amount could be handed to the UK homeless organisation Shelter, combined of the sales of the signal donated in full by Rage, and the money donated by all the fans buying the single too. A great mix of music and politics, done without any of the crass showmanship of, say, a Bono or Sting.

Speaking of which, frontman Zach de la Rocha was impassioned as ever, issuing several rallying cries, specifically regarding the recent Gaza blockade issues, and other similar things, and he remains one of the few singers in the world with genuine stage presence and an ability to mix sincerity with a righteous anger. Lines such as "Your anger is a gift", and "All hell, can't stop us now" would never sound as convincing if the man delivering them didn't have a personality to carry of such heavy handed sentiments. 

Throughout, it as funny to think I was watching a band who I used to listen to on shared headphone on the school bus home. Back then Rage were no more, having split up, and my friends and I often lamented what a shame it was we would never see them. Eventually though, with a bit of patience, it turns out they would come to me anyway. Fantastic.

Walking out to the sight, feeling a bit peckish, I thought I'd buy some chips. The wagon promised "chunky, tasty chips" and the pictures looked good. I paid up my cash, a slightly high £2.50, and bit into what were some nasty, dry, tastless, cold chips. "Believing all the lies that they're selling ya..." never seemed so apt.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Train whistles

“Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it.”

What is it about trains? Those railways sing bewitchment…as Paul Theroux wrote, and he's right. They are timeless, yet historical, they swerve and glide, sink and shuffle their way across all manner of landscapes, in a manner that no other form of transport has managed to replicate. They get you to B from A, but through C, D, E and beyond, giving you a true glimpse into a world a plane, or car, can never do.

Theroux may have gone around most of the world's countries by train, but even my four hour journey home to Cornwall is a mix of strange pleasures: the stolen glances into people back room windows, the fisherman, dogs being walked, cows, sheep, rivers arcing, the sun streaming in over wide open land that is so English, the rest.

Drowsy too: no need to worry about directions, or control, just recline, stare, read, engage with others. Theroux so often meets interesting, intriguing people (or has the ability to make them seem so), on his trips, and admittedly he is in far away lands, on 20-hour journeys in shared cabins, so perhaps it comes easy, more naturally, but it is still part of the potential thrill of travel.
My cousin traveled from Beijing in Brighton by train after her travels around Asia and said it was fantastic. Trains inspire in a way that many people identify with, but in ways that are hard to fathom, to exactly pin-point.

I've read three Theroux's now, each one a tome to his love of railways, their uniqueness, grandness, ramshackle-ness, and beyond, and each time I left with a sense of something, I don't know, A sense of falling, like an arrow shower, sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain (Too much? Well, more railways in art at least).

This is a video of Lou Reed reading an abridged version of the open page from The Great Railway Bazaar set to music, it is rather great.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Victorian people

What I like about London, and it's something I sometimes 'forget', is just how many weird and wonderful events there are every single night. Gigs, viewings, cinema showings, sport events and talks.

I love a good talk about interesting, off-the-beaten track things. Last year I went to a great one given by two BBC wildlife camera man, and last night I went to see Daniel Maier, who writes for TV Burp, give a talk about "Ideas Man" Sir Francis Galton.

Galton was a strange chap, a quintessential Victorian who spent his life trying to measure the world, exploring the world, and inventing all manner of weird and wonderful things. He was very much into statistics, and Maier's explanation of how Galton had decided to work out if his new house could hold all the world's gold, was fantastic. Galton also had a terrible track record with animals, usually killing them, to put it blunty.

The final section, on how Galton had devised the perfect way to cut a cake was hysterical, with the Victorian gent landing on the perfect solution to stop the sides of cakes be left exposed in order to prolong its life, but all the time working to measurements of cake that made the need to keep the cake for more than one day irrelevant.

It was a very enjoyable, interesting and quirky way to spend an evening and if Maier does the talk at other times then it could be one to catch.

For the record, one of my favourite Victoria / turn-of-the-century figures is Emily Hobhouse, a Cornish woman who came before many of well known heroines of that age, who helped improve the diabolical conditions for the displaced in the Boer War, mainly women and children, and caused such a stir with her protestations, that she helped advance the peace talks between the British and the Boers.

She helped inspire Ghandi with her form of peaceful protests, so much so he called her "one of the noblest and bravest of women" while Lord Kitchener found her meddling so irritating she was known as "that bloody woman". This was the title of a book written about Hohouse recently, the author of which I interviewed for an article about a year ago in Cornwall Today.

In South Africa she is a well-known figure, with states and submarines named after her, and her story taught in schools. It seems a huge shame she is so unknown in the UK, and even in Cornwall, her county of birth.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Behind the scenes at the museum

Ah, the BBC. A fine, venerable institution, as old as slippers, as warm as a roaring log fire, full of heroes of yesteryear, and new names, keen to make an impact. (That should be read in a Terry Wogan ever-so-slightly patronising tone of voice).

I was inside the BBC on Monday, deep in its cavernous bowels, being ushered into a green room (yes, really) to take part in the first recording of Dave Gorman's show Genius. I was a genius. Or hoped to be, if my idea was to be discussed. Long story short, it wasn't. I got to read it out, but guest Chris Addison (who just does not look old enough to have two children) and Mel from Mel and Sue, didn't think it worthy of more discussion. More's the pity.

For the record it was a pay-per-snooze alarm clock that would deduct money from your bank account each time you hit it. Evil genius. I doubt I will get mention it on TV, but I may make the cut. The jolly farmer next to me did get to discuss his idea at length though so perhaps my grinning mug shall be on TV at some point. I'll let you know.

On the way in they have the Audi Quattro positioned prominently, a Tardis on display, and lots of large posters of grinning stars and people I've never seen before in my life. Everyone was very jolly, and sandwiches and cakes were laid on for us too. That's license fee value right there.

It was a fun show to be part of, due mostly to large amounts of audience interaction. I chatted to a nice girl (who may have been on drugs) who said she imagined portholes in peoples heads into which reality escaped, or could be entered (I forget which). She also explained her idea for telling good and bad actresses apart during rain-crying scenes, by creating eye-umbrellas which would ensure dry under-eye areas at all times, so you could see if an actress was actually crying during a scene in the rain, instead of just using the rain as her tears. Understand?

Minds, they work in funny ways.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Films and books

I like reading books, I like watching films, I like watching films of books I have read.

I watched Remains of the Day on Sunday evening. Perfect film to end a hot British weekend. The book is a fantastic tale, told in sumptuous, almost hypnotic detail, about a repressed butler's all-too consuming devotion to his Lord played out against the world-changing issues of time: the rise of Nazism, British appeasement, and hugely rigid and highly-defined class layers.

The film was an excellent adaptation. Not quite as strong as the book, in ways you'd expect – a characters internal monologue can't be utilised directly, for example – but still full of excellent set pieces and subtle but strong scenes of pathos and anger.

Christopher Reeve was excellent too as a congressman at the hall, and subsequently the new owner. It was the first time I've ever seen him in anything other than Superman and I thought he was excellent.

On a similar note, I finished reading Brighton Rock. I didn't really enjoy it that much, truth be told. They're making a film of that for later this year, which will star Helen Mirren, so it will be interesting to see how that does and how closely it matches the book. I imagine they'll lose a lot of the repetitive religious mutterings that overtook the strong story the book begins with.

They also made a version some years back staring Richard Attenborough, which is meant to be good, so I might try and watch that first too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Panic at the airport

Airports are funny places, I've said it before. Yesterday, flying out of Rome I went through several emotions, mostly fear, frustration and mad running, as I attempted to grab an earlier flight home.

It worked, but only just. You'd think upgrading someone to an earlier flight would be easy, but it comes with surcharges and taxes and incurred costs. Or it would, if the carrier's computers had of been working. They were down though, so they sat there, looking all Italian, shrugging their shoulder nonchalantly, "Waddya want me to do about eh", they seemed to say.

Nevertheless the company who had flown us out there was very accommodating and said they would do it for us (me and another journo), via their booking agency. They did. But, despite the man at the check in desk refreshing his screen like there was no tomorrow, nothing came up on his system. Much confusion all round

So instead I spoke to man at the check-in desk instead: "We're trying to pay, we can't pay over there, and there are seats free, what's the loss?" and he relented, letting us through…at the exact moment they check-in for the flight was closing. We had about 35m before boarding. Could be close…then we saw the passport and security queue. Long…very long.I shouted to everyone, "really late, missing flight, please let us through"…amazing how kind people are when a mad English man is shouting broken sentences at them.

We went through, panic rising all the time as the clock ticked down 20 minutes to go. Then the man from the booking agency rang. "It's sorted, you're on the flight." "Great, we're going through security" I said. "Make sure you make the flight, otherwise you'll have missed the plane and your seats on the other plane will be gone" he replied. Great, just what I wanted to hear. We hurtled through security, no time to put belt back on, went careering on towards the gate to reach…a dead end. What?

A nice Croatian man said, "There's a train, it will be here in a moment". Four or five minutes pass. Getting close now. Throat very dry, nerves rising. Train arrives, pulls in, doors don't open for 30 seconds…it’s a test train (A TEST TRAIN!). One minute later, real one arrives. All fine, zips to gate, we get out, and arrive…boarding delayed by 10 minutes.

A New Zealand man says, "I saw you running, thought we were late or something". He was off to New Zealand. Rome to London to Hong Kong to NZ. That last leg would take 11 hours. Our globes and maps must not give true perspective on distance. You could fly to LA from London in 11 hours. And that's across the globe. I am confused by distance.

Still, made the plane, sat down, arrived home three hours earlier, in daylight, at no extra cost. Exciting. Sort of.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I've never been to Norfolk but it's a place that literature has taken me to, twice. Firstly, in Ishiguro's heartbreaking Never Let Me Go (that's not a flippant assessment, it's one of the saddest books I've ever read (but don't let that put you off, it's stunning)), and recently in Graham Swift's Waterland. Norfolk it seems, is a sad land. Flat, barren, wet, cold and wild, and full of tragedy.

Waterland, set across a span of history from the 1800s, through to the 1980s, is an amazing book that deals with themes covering the family, childhood, work and love, and perhaps most grandly of all, the idea of history itself. Swift tells a tale interlinked by the history of the fens of Norfolk his forebears rise to prominence through land reclamation and ale brewing, his protagonist's childhood spent living with his father and mentally ill brother, and the repercussions the events of this time come to have on his later life, when he teaches history in the fear-of-nuclear-Armageddon obsessed world of the 1980s.

Swift was shorted listed for the Booker for this novel, but lost out to J. M. Coetzee Life & Times of Michael K. He subsequently did win with Last Orders in 1996 though, which was made into a film with Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren and Michael Caine.

There's a film of Waterland too, made in 1992 and set in Pittsburgh (with flashbacks to Norfolk – phew). Reviews don't seem stunning but I would be intrigued to see if the film could in anyway capture the book's crushing sense of despair and futility that creeps along in the background, interspersed by moments of halcyon days of childhood, however fleeting they may be, before its gut-wrenching ending.