Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I took acid with Groucho Marx


Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Requiem For A Dream

Stunningly shot and crafted film, portraying the shocking decline of three junkies and one pill-popping mum. Consummate film-making slightly let down in the event by a rather melodramatic and un-nuanced ending which casts all four protagonists into separate lonely hells. There is something somehow very American, (and slightly childish) about the ending, which seems to have set upon being an unhappy-ever-after. Certainly there is no trace of irony. Haunting visuals and music linger long, long afterwards.

Friday, December 03, 2004


The favourite building du jour the Swiss Re Gherkin needs a little merchandising. My mind cannot help, unfortunately, turning in the direction of sex. So I propose the Gherkin dildo. And the Gherkin condom, coloured in the manner of the building and also possibly tasting of gherkin. It's Gherkin Great! it could say. Then you could have a little calender with aphorisms on it such as "Drink is the ruin of the Gherkin classes" or something.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

No one is taken


Monday, November 22, 2004

(through the bottom of a glass darkly)

Life - a test to see if you will kill yourself before it kills you

Friday, November 19, 2004

Primo, National Theatre

The set is stark. A plain, cold set with a doorway at the back which frames another smaller doorway behind which is a light. The bare, square, grey look is like that of a prison but has an unworldly, unnerving effect. There is a sense of the cleanliness of German architecture, the lines of Bauhaus and the austerity of Zen. On stage there is a sole plain wooden chair, which somehow implies a Buddhist flower blossom. It is a very beautiful set, and sets the tone precisely.

The lights darken and suddenly come up and Sher is there, framed in the doorway. He quickly takes to the stage and, dressed in a plain suit with glasses and speaking in a unaffected tone, he effectively embodies the scientific, the matter-of-factness of Primo Levi. Yet, there is a certain staginess. Although Sher is Levi telling the story, somehow he remains Sher. The character doesn’t quite absorb him. This is because they have kept a certain distance from the audience. He tells the story but there is little sense that he is telling us personally, in the way of a storyteller. In some way, he doesn’t engage the audience. He remains stiff and calm and the unrelenting nature of the monologue challenges you alone to make the engagement. You feel uncomfortable and don’t forget yourself in the performance, but it is impossible to resent it while he is telling you a story of genuine suffering.

(And what suffering. That, he gets across. When we hear about so much suffering in the world, does Levi’s story not represent the apex? Although others suffer as much, surely no-one has suffered more.)

Presumably the disconnected effect is entirely deliberate, but it is hard to tell. In any case watching Sher there is a sense of watching acting royalty. You settle purely to observe how he chooses to do it, rather than judging critically. Even if one might do it differently, it remains completely acceptable. In acting terms, Sher displays his mastery. Relating the entire story in the Levi’s unadorned manner, he allows himself only one moment of ‘ordinary’ acting, one glimmer of emotion as he tells the story of the man who prayed with thanks for avoiding the selection. The emotions are anger, disgust, sadness and Sher conveys them all with only a hint, barely a touch upon the wheel before immediately returning to the prevailing restraint. You feel he could have brought a hurricane with a switch in the tone of his voice.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Your Bed is Your Enemy

My grandmother once told me, while talking about depression, “your bed is your enemy.” It is true to say that nothing seems as bad as it does when you are lying in the dark on your own. Just the act of getting up seems to alleviate depression, although it may be that you just swap some for wanting to go back to bed. It strikes me that the best thing you can do with depression is to sublimate it, by doing something you don’t want to do. It appears that the brain only has so many receptors for pain and that these fire off more or less whatever is going on; therefore you may as well feel your existential agony related to something tangible instead of it simply torturing you unmitigated as you lie in bed. Perhaps its because you’ve so recently left the happy world of sleep, wherein you prove the truth of ignorant bliss; perhaps it’s the jarring transition. Perhaps its just me. Suddenly I feel terrible.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Rant Begins

Never let it be said that I was hindered by the lack of technological accoutrements – I am able, if not to write as fast as I think, then at least to think as slowly as I write, which amounts to much the same thing. At least it allows me the luxury of being able to fill acres of electronic pixels with my ill-formed ramblings, a skill and pleasure which I little indulged in over the years, fearing that I would be some sort of pretentious weirdo, making up for his lack of social skills by sitting at home battering a typewriter to no good end.

Ah, now I am able, if only I could generate some thoughts with which to relay. I can easily act as conduit, but the lightning is lacklustre, merely scraping the grass instead of carving great craters out of the earth. If I sit here long enough translating electrical impulses into rapid finger movements, surely something will happen. Like the way radio interference is occasionally livened up by the odd alien transmission, similarly, the more words that I concoct from my internal conversation, the more likely I am to hit upon something worth all the jabbering. With this confidence in my mind, I shall attempt to say one thing per paragraph.

Luck is not something that I have close acquaintance with; my brain is apparently too slow to fully appreciate the opportunities that do come along, and luck is mainly, I would say, the ability to appreciate opportunities. That is how you make your own luck. Of course, you could say that you have to be lucky enough to appreciate those opportunities, which would also be true, if a little (here the word escapes me, but I know that its one my mother would use about me).

If I sit here in communion, utterly undisciplined muttering, scattering the blank page, with occasional bursts of poetry falling in accidentally, if I sit here long enough perhaps they will pay me. The thing about luck I have noticed is that its not enough for it to ignore you, it has to kind of shuffle alongside you, look you up and down, make you fully conversant of its locality and only then turn up its nose and scoot off as though to say “Ha! Made you look!” “Its not the despair,” John Cleese says in Clockwise, “it’s the hope.”

I did think, previously, that a good idea would be to extinguish all hope, in the hope (ha!) of finding some kind of peace and happiness, only it didn’t turn out that way. Perhaps I failed to utterly extinguish all hope. In fact, looking back, that is exactly what I failed to do, because I failed to extinguish the hope that I could be happy. This Hindu chap I was reading was criticising the Buddhists with their “extinguish desire” teachings, on the grounds that it was impossible and would only give you a complex. He, on the other hand, suggests that you extinguish all likes and dislikes, which seems to me to be equally as unlikely. Can you extinguish all likes and dislikes? Doesn’t one like being happy, and dislike being unhappy?

Oops, I seem to be slipping, as I used to in the past, into writing about philosophy, as though that was the only thing in the world that is important. How to live a good life, that is probably important. What else should we be thinking about?

Monday, October 04, 2004

Blair's heckler

Richard Ingrams pointed out, in yesterdays Observer, and Rory Bremner also noted on his show, talking about Blair’s heckler at the party conference, that as Blair wisecracked (not for the first time) that the protestor was lucky to live in a democracy where he could protest all he liked, that self-same protestor was being frog-marched out of the hall by goons. It's self-evidently ridiculous, and quite galling, for Blair to speak about the merits of our truncated democracy while smothering it with a huge fat arse. Of course Blair’s point is not that the man is allowed to interrupt his speech, but that at least he will not be murdered for his opinions, which is true, but it doesn’t say much about the level of politics in this country if we pat ourselves on the back for not being a tyranny. Is Saddam Hussein the benchmark now?

Sunday, September 26, 2004


Not having any of it. Or in actual fact, having lots of it, but all of it bad. Firstly, my Ibizan trip was wrenched apart by a spine which made the unilateral decision to lead a battle against the forces of gravity. Instead of enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of hippies and sunshine I hobbled about like a broken weather vane flapping in a gale. Still, if the main purpose of the holiday was crushed under karma's stilleto, the secondary purpose, to drink sangria all day and eat inordinate amounts of seafood, was a runaway success. So it wasn’t in such a bad frame of mind that I inched my way back up my stairs at home. And the puddle of water which I spied in the middle of the floor didn’t instantly make me panic. In fact, in a leisurely manner did I decide to follow the still water back not from the bathroom where I had assumed some water had spilt the week before but towards the washing machine where I could see a lot more water had poured out, soaking the floor boards and (it later transpired) fusing the downstairs neighbour’s lights.

After I’d established that even this was not a terrible situation (at least not for me who didn’t have to cook with a torch) and that there was nothing much we could do except wait for it to dry out I turned on my TV and after a while it did what it had been threatening to do for some months, pop and transform the rich tapestry of modern culture into a momentary white glimmer and then a funereal black nothingness.

Bad luck is hanging over me like my own personal cloud. Luckily, however, with my worldview pitched exactly at this level, I am in my element. Pessimism is a much under-rated characteristic and rarely pays many dividends. Just occasionally, though, when the world does turn around and wipe its arse with you, you can sit back (lie down awkwardly in my case) and allow yourself a small grin for being proved right.

Saturday, September 11, 2004


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Cell Blog H

Jons in Jail

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Groundblog Day

the story of a man who finds that everyday in the blog world is the same. Driven to cut his wrists, he dies. And gets buried. Hence the ground bit.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Circus Oz, Royal Festival Hall

This decent Australian circus troupe have taken over the somewhat incongruous surrounds of the royal festival hall for their summertime stint. Given tickets and overhearing that it was the Jerry Sadowitz of circus, I’d expected some kind of adult circus – perhaps with dominatrix and lewd gymnastics – but the gaggle of noisy kids soon put paid to that theory. What we got was a fairly traditional, even bare-bones circus in an inappropriate theatrical environment. This resulted in a lack of the atmosphere fostered by a big top and a somewhat limited view for those of us stuck high up in the balcony, which was not helped by their propensity for doing much of the act dimly lit for one reason or another.

Led by some rather plain-spoken Australians, who introduced things much as they might have told you which bus to get on, things cavorted on amiably but lacked any sense of menace – the sort of thing Papa Lazarus would bring, for instance. Also missing was any sort of story element to most of the set pieces. Certainly people are getting blasé in this day and age and having just spent a week watching gymnastics at the Olympics probably didn’t help but a bit of human interest would have gone a long way.

The opening scene, with the clown walking about on the ceiling was great and where the circus used its imagination it really excelled. After a first act which slightly dragged the second started with acrobats whose simple expedience of dressing up as cockatoos made the whole thing seem infinitely more worthwhile. The contortionist provided a bit of plot as we followed his attempt to get his doubled-jointed body through two tennis rackets.

Having said that, the human cannonball set was rather spoiled by a rather cack-handed political head-graft, references to the coalition of the willing and the razor wire of oppression a bit pointless. They got the second row up on stage for that one. A couple of them were wearing suits. “Is that the right get-up for the circus” cackled the ring-mistress, but it was the RFH.

Australians appear to slip into two categories, the boorish idiots and the PC loons (I know this isn’t true, but bear with me). These lot were definitely in the PC category, for which I suppose we should be grateful, although the dedication at the last to “diversity, friendship and human kindness” went some way over the top. Not a big top, of course.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Soul Chicken

When I was boy we used to call up the devil at séance type evenings. The theory was that, even though in all likelihood nothing at all would happen, there was a chance that something terrible would. We called it “Chicken for the Soul”

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Meaning of Life

I said to him, “do you think when we die we’ll get to see the meaning of life?”

He asked me, “What answer would satisfy you?”

Friday, April 30, 2004

Jon Gaunt

The phone-in jock has a difficult balancing act to achieve. He needs to accomplish the “provoke and stroke” manoeuvre, by which he irritates his listeners enough to phone in, but not so much that they switch off in disgust. Caesar the Geezer, back in the days of LBC, was a master at this, alternately sympathizing with put upon east enders, before berating them for casual racism or taking some vegan student to task before agreeing on animal testing. Jon "not at all" Gaunt, on the other hand, utterly fails at this complicated endeavour, settling instead for a flurry of right-of-centre opinions dressed up as common sense. Let us remember that common sense, for all its virtues, would have us believe that the world is flat.

None of this puts off Gaunty, as he is known by his loving audience of bitter cabbies. He adds in the irritating feature of claiming to be even handed, all the while sharply cutting off those who he doesn’t agree with and letting those he does ramble away like a whisky-soaked pub bore. Not content with that, Gaunt has dreamt up the brilliant gimmick of gratuitously interrupting people, exclaiming “if you’ll just let me finish!”. The man then complains bitterly if anyone tries to stop him when he’s in mid-flow which is, for a show ostensibly for the public to have their say, more often than you would hope.

Like many people enjoying success nowadays, Gaunt is a overly reconstructed leftie and at the start of the Afghan War he got on his old hero John Pilger to debate the rights and wrongs of the bombing campaign. Pilger, who sounded like he’d rather be in Afghanistan than talking to Gaunt, lasted about a minute before Gaunt, unable to stop himself even for such an illustrious guest, jumped in while Pilger was in mid-sentence and Pilger responded by hanging up. Gaunt’s face was a picture – and this is on the radio - and he spent the rest of the show asking his operator to “keep a line open for John” in case he’d been cut off and wondering if he’d phoned back yet.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Writers are either like reptiles or like mammals. Some nurture their works, returning to them nightly, keeping them warm. Others have their works gestate inside until one day they emerge fully formed, through a short burst of agony, screaming.

Me? I'm a sort of platypus. Funny looking and hate Australians.

Punishments and Rewards

We met in the café. He seemed to look out at me, as though he’d stayed at home. I felt very far away. He took a deep breath.

“Gina visited,” he told me. “She told me that she loves me.”

There are times when a sentence is so at variance with its setting that you doubt firstly that you heard it right, and, if so, that you are going mad. I looked at a bleak, defeated man, and heard the words that I knew he’d spent his entire adult life waiting for. Obviously there was some kind of catch.

“You remember Deborah?” he asked. I did. I met her about a year before. Strictly on-the-side material, a girl he’d barely wanted to introduce to me but who he’d kept on through dry times. “Got her pregnant,” he said, flatter than Kansas.

Grey eyes. He seemed to have built himself one particular facial expression and cemented it in place. A kind of pensive, downcast look, like that of someone who’s still waiting for a bus even though he’s missed the job interview. Not so bad that old ladies would stop him in the street, but the kind of guy to whom you’d say, “might never happen” and he could reply, “already has.”

So Deborah was pregnant. That was a minor disaster, although of course it wasn’t at all, and he knew it. In fact, he went on to say, he was quite happy about it. But then Gina had turned up, the cheetah among the pigeons. “She told me that she loves me.”

Another deep breath. He was moving air the way Sisyphus moves rocks, slowly, without enthusiasm. I was beginning to join in. I could see the problem. If you loved someone and you continued to love them, over years and years and you gave up, you moved on – although moving on implies somewhere to go – and then, when the die has been cast, when the window has shut, they come back, and tap on the glass…

“The worst thing,” he said, as though at a funeral, “is that I can’t even kill myself, because of the kid.”

There was a short pause while we digested that little statement.

Punishment and rewards. If only you were punished immediately for your transgressions, then nobody would ever do any. It’s the waiting around for your karma that does it, you never know which of your doings you’re being punished for.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Rosewater Ketamine

I was told a good story the other day. When ketamine was first becoming popular, in those dark days between the shit Es and the shit coke, it was easy to buy in India. I don’t know if it still is or not, but at that time you could easily buy it in any Indian chemist. Then you’d dissolve it in water (or it came ready dissolved) and send it back off to England. The most popular way was in bottles of rosewater. So this one canny Indian, he looks at all these English people buying rosewater, day after day, buying bottles of rosewater and sending them back to England. So he thinks, “This is very strange. I’ve never heard of a white man’s craze for rosewater, despite my many cousins in Southall and Birmingham. Perhaps they are not aware of it.” So he asks them, “have you heard about a craze for Indian rosewater?” and they think about it and they tell him no, never. So it seems simple. Lets import the rosewater ourselves. The market is there for us, at our mercy. All we have to do is strike.

And so it came about that ten years later, a lot of Indian shops carry a lot of tatty looking rosewater.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The banging

Banging went on about me. The TV was still on, mumbling in the background. The light overwhelmed the shoddy blinds and saturated the sweaty room. I woke up three times before I gave up trying to sleep, each time less and less sleepy and correspondingly more and more tired. The sweat had clung to me and made itself into almost complete suit, a suit stained with shame. I got up. Things couldn’t be this bad.

At first they improved, but gradually my eyes and head felt more and more pressured by their duties, and they began to complain bitterly. My belly called for food while sharply warning that nothing could be guaranteed secure tenancy. My skin crawled with its perspiration, which seemed to have developed an acidic property. I slumped in a chair and waited for things to change.

The TV continued its irritating mutter, like a man whose confidence is not up to the speech he wishes to make. Incapacitated by the light I was forced to leave it, temples pressing now, teeth calling for redeeming.

There is the banging. It comes from above and below me, in concert, around me, beside me. It follows me around as I swivel my head in blind malaise. It stops, mercifully, long enough to remind me of silence then is restored with even greater vigour.

I try to cry, but the effort defeats me. Instead I sink into myself, retracting as much as possible away from the sources of pain – the light, the noise, the shame. Each one prods me in its own manner, one after the other, like bullying cousins gathering for their daily fun. Emboldened by the success, they redouble their effort, seeking any uncharted angle from which to attack. My head vibrates with their symphony. My body hungers and contorts simultaneously. I consider vacating my body altogether, but they are too clever for me, deliberately containing their assault to within ordinary excesses. There will be no spiritual redemption from this, only an eventual withdrawal, once the enemy has plundered all that it desires.

Knowing this, I feel comforted, despite the savage rage that continues about me. This will come to an end, I think. This will finish, it shall not be the end of me. As if by magic a missive arrives from my guardian. ‘Water,’ it says, and no more. I grab the chance. Hauling my corpse from its coffin, I make my way to the kitchen where the light is worst of all. But now, with my chance in front of me, I am not derailed. I grab at the tap, half-blind, and crack my skull on it as I dive for the flushing water. More pain rings my head, yet the banging quietens, and more water dissolves it entirely. Through wretchedness I savour my windfall.