Wednesday, December 09, 2009

As I was going along Holburn

As I was going along Holburn,
trying to find a bookshop
I found one Photo & Digital Shop
but no bloody bookshop

As I was going along Holburn,
trying to find a bookshop
I found one Photo & Digital Shop
two bookies
but no bloody bookshop

As I was going along Holburn,
trying to find a bookshop
I found one Photo & Digital Shop
two bookies
three greetings card shops
but no bloody bookshop

As I was going along Holburn,
trying to find a bookshop
I found one Photo & Digital Shop
two bookies
three greetings card shops
four sandwich shops
five restaurants
six public houses
seven off-licences
eight banks
nine building societies
and ten mini-supermarkets

but no bloody bookshop

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bill's demands

Today I came home and found that the local council had sent me ten (10) letters. Recently my girlfriend, somewhat inadvisedly, chose to contact the council entirely of her own free will and tell them that since she was now living with me I was no longer entitled to the 25% discount. I have no problem with paying the extra, by the way, especially since she will be paying it, but contact with bureaucracy is an activity that should be treated more or less the same way as watching Strictly Come Dancing - only when you have absolutely no choice - and the law of unexpected consequences is never more apparent than when you ring up some labyrinthintine public body for nothing more than a quick chat, and find yourself being charged for the outstanding fees for the disposal of the body of someone who died in your house in 1923.

This time the unexpected consequences have not yet amounted to much, but today ten (10) letters arrived on my door, addressed to both me and my girlfriend, which in itself is a slightly worrying development. I took them upstairs to peruse at my leisure. All seemed identical, so I opened one at random. It turned out to be a council tax bill for 2006/07, updated to take account of my girlfriend's arrival, which, for the record, happened in 2009. Fortunately, since the date of the new increased charge was September 2009, as noted on the bill, there was no additional balance due for 2006/07. Nor was there any additional charge for 2007/08, nor did 2008/09 have any outstanding arrears, neither did 2005/06, nor 2004/05, not 2003/04, not even 2002/03, which was after all, as you will remember, autism awareness year, nor 2001/02 - although the breakdown of charges this year did include £134.12 for what is noted as the Greater london council, which attentive readers will remember was abolished in 1986 - and especially not 2000/01, despite the hoo-haa over the millenium bug. Only 2009/10, that is the financial year we are currently in, saw any additional charges. The other 9 (nine) letters are perhaps a council measure in support of the post office workers, in which case I heartily endorse it, or perhaps a surfeit of envelopes that needed to be used up before new ones could be bought, or perhaps the council just felt that I'd like to know exactly how much too much money I've paid them over the last ten years for the privilege of living in a pokey one-bed in a - by official government standards - socially deprived area.

What do i do about this? Apart from, obviously, write a blog entry probably expressing not much more than I am short of things to do today. Do I complain, or perhaps merely point it out to the council that they could probably cut these very council tax bills, admittedly minutely, by the simple expedite of not sending out ten (10) when one (1) would do? Is there any point? Soon the council recycling truck will come and take back these 10 (ten) bills and perhaps some other lucky soul can be the recipient of the council largesse.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My car, ma

I was taking a sunday stroll down a suburban street, nice day, trees rustling their leaves in a summer breeze, when I looked up and saw two cars falling silently out of the blue sky. No-one was about and I watched rapt as the cars fell, one ahead of the other, both rightways up, wobbling as they fell. I looked up in the sky for a plane or somewhere the cars could have come from, but there was nothing to see, just a thin cloud far up in the distance. Only then did it occur to me that if I didn't pay attention I might get crushed by one so I started ducking around trying to judge the trajectory as they closed in.

Where I was standing a small road forked off from the main one, a scratch of grass separating them, and a wooden shelter sat in front of me on the grass. The first car hit the ground on the small road some way away. There was a ferocious noise, heavy and deep and gut-wrenching, but which it seems slightly pointless to use a metaphor to describe - the best I could think of might be the sound of two cars hitting the ground from a great height - followed by a succession of smaller, higher-pitched noises, like cymbals accompanying an orchestral epic. It was metal versus tarmac - a well-matched battle, both left in a bad way - and then bolts ripped from their fixings, glass shattered and sent spinning into the road, a searing smoke and the burning of things that shouldn't be burnt, and then the quiet.

Dust settled, glass stopped tinkling, bits of car came clattering and then to rest, smoke sailed on and up on the breeze. Perhaps, the thought occurred to me, I should check whether there was anybody in either of the cars, and see if they were alright. I looked up the main road and a small car was driving towards me. There was something strange about the way it moved, jerking through the gears and yet never getting up much speed. As I looked inside I saw a huge, fat guy, eyes drenched with medication, hunched over the steering wheel, looking worried. He drove past without acknowledging me.

Now people appeared, out of their houses and who knows where and starting gathering around, ringing other people, and probably the police, on their phones. There was talk but I was suddenly worried that no-one knew about the cars, that it had all been my imagination, and that they had all gathered here for some other reason, so I didn't say anything. Then I asked one woman: "Did you see the cars?" and the pause before she answered was long enough to make my heart flutter. Then she said: "Yes," and put me out of my misery. "We should ring the police and tell them about the plane," I said to the crowd, imagining a plane with its doors hanging open, cargo dropping away like gifts being showered by a benevolent god. Then I said: "Mind you they're probably going to Heathrow anyway."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Arsenal undo Celtic knot

Down to the Emirates for the tie given the unlikely subtitle "The Battle of Britain" by the souvenir floggers. With Arsenal two up from the away leg, it needed a Celtic goal in the first 20 mins, which was in the event never on the cards. Celtic turned up in an away strip of fluorescent green and black hoops, giving them the look more of a swarm of radioactive insects than a Champions League worthy football club. Like radioactive insects, they worked hard but were more or less put to the sword by Arsenal's sharper interplay. Eduardo missed a couple of sitters and got what looked from the other side of the ground like a soft penalty, and which apparently was a blatant dive. When he took the penalty you knew he was going to be cool, but he was so cool the goalie had practically packed up and gone home before he bothered to kick the ball. Crowdwise the Celtic obviously had a lot of life in them, the Emirates roused itself barely a few times; in response to the Scots' "Shall we sing a song for you?" the Londoners couldn't even be bothered to sing much of "Shall we score a goal for you?". There was a song to the old Adebayor hit (Sloop John B) which ended "We've got Arshavin, fuck Adebayor", but I failed to pick up what the first bit was, doth endeth my career as terrace scribe (but where my ears fail me, google shall prevail - it starts: "He's five foot four/He's five foot four"); the best bit of wit was when the Celtic crowd were lustily leaping up and down in their fluorescent tops - reminding me of when I watched a I think Croatian side here and their fans jumped up and down, shirts off to a man, for more or less the whole game - anyway the Celtic were leaping up and down in celebration of I guess not being in Scotland for a few hours and the bemused Arsenal crowd responded by singing: "Jump up/If you're 4-0 down." Which was nice.

A brief mention of last night's "organised hooliganism" down at West Ham - Millwall, but rather than a return to the old days it seems to have been a ruck for old time's sake. I don't think the two teams have played each other in the last ten years, so perhaps their two "legendary firms" were just reacquainting themselves with each other. Certainly there was no hint of knuckle in the bourgeois environs of Ashburton Grove, even with Glasgow in town.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Cassetteboy has a blog

Thats right!!! Cassssetttttebbbboooooyyyyyy - he/they of the spectacular "Harry Potter & the under-AGE blow JOB!" and much much more - now has his/their very own blog

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Progressive Conservatism

David Cameron on the politicians-are-scum revelations

I got as far as: "Our philosophy of progressive Conservatism – the pursuit of progressive goals through Conservative means . . ."

Talk about being all things to all people. We want to change things by keeping them the same. We want radical preservation. A transformative status quo. War is peace. Politics is PR. Satire is redundant.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Unloved, Channel 4

Samantha Morton, the British Oscar-nominated actress famously reticent in interviews about her chaotic Nottingham upbringing, which included spells in a care home and with foster parents - and who is also, incidentally, the mother of my mate's daughter - turns to directing to tell a small part of her story in the semi-autobiographical The Unloved, a script co-written with Tony Grisoni. Eleven-year-old Lucy is taken into care away from her violent father (played by Robert Carlyle), a inadequate bully, who beats her with a belt while asking her "why are you making me do this?". "Can I live with my mummy?" she asks social workers a few times, without receiving much of a reply, although when she skips off and visits her mum she gives her the bus fare back to the home, without much more explanation.

For the most part Lucy is a quiet witness to the normally dimly lit world of kids in care. And while Morton shines a light into it, there is no sense of overdramatic inflammatory or sensationalist; it is a dark world we are near, but Lucy only skirts it, so the film skilfully avoids dropping into ghetto glamourisation. So while Lucy witnesses her room-mate, the mouthy 16-year-old Lauren, going shoplifting, sniffing Butane, getting abused by one of the carehome staff, and then finally going on the game, it is all abstracted, as if only revealed as what a quiet, shy 11-year-old girl can understand. Morton herself has said that the film is a diluted version of her experience.

It is a testament to Morton's film-making discipline that the whole film is underplayed to such good effect. Rather than striving to shock, it almost strives in the opposite direction, to downplay the reality. This helps make the film inherently believable. Nothing is never played for shock value. Instead the film is centred by - as well as centred on - the quiet, calm, withdrawn prescence of Lucy; the camera constantly refers back to her: Lauren is subdued by the police - cut to Lucy - Lauren sniffs on butane - cut to Lucy in her bed - Lauren is abused in her bed by Ben, one of the care home staff - cut to Lucy running away from the home - the other care home staff attack the "nonce", suspicious but without proof of his wrongdoing - cut to Lucy, who we know knows, and who always tells the truth when asked, looking on. This scene is one of the most satisfying of the film and illustrates precisely the disciplined, tight, unexcitable style Morton has gone for. Instead of Ben getting his comeuppance, we only see beginnings of his comeupance, in the same way that we only see the beginning of Lauren's slide into the abyss. Morton has said that one of the early seeds for the film was her realisation that a prostitute murdered in Nottingham had been in a care home with her.

The centring of the film of Lucy gave it a meditative quality that was amply reflected in the superb cinematography. The framing, the choice and the sequences of shots were all fantastic. Perhaps this is because there was little of the quick cutting which has become so ubiquitous, perhaps it was because of the director's choice to underplay the drama in order to get at the heart of the child's experience, perhaps it was just the choice of director and cinematographer. The Telegraph may somewhat disparagingly call it "Baftaland" but it is the first time for a long, long time I can remember being so moved by the pictures on screen, and again becoming aware of the potential for beauty in film. The final shot, with Lucy sitting on a bus on her way back from her mother's, while the sun plays across her face as the bus moves through the streets and a song that maybe Spiritualized's The Ballad Of Richie Lee plays in its entirety, was straight out of the Kubrick canon, and all the better for it.

A lot of comments I've read by people on the internet today have just complained that nothing happened, or it was over-long, or the story didn't move anything on. Which is depressing, but all the more reason to be grateful that Morton stuck to her vision, rather than letting someone else direct it for bangs and whizzes.

Choice caring quote: “Film-makers go into kids’ lives, stay for six months, give them lovely catering every day, make life a dream, it’s all cameras and da-di-da — and then they disappear, leaving a gaping hole. If I was going to make a Ken Loach-style film, maybe I might have needed the raw material, but I’m the raw material here.”

Monday, May 04, 2009

Overheard: the worst date in the world

The 476 bus from Stoke Newington, Sunday afternoon

"Yeah I went to sleep," the girl says

"You always go to sleep. You want to get drunk more."

"Hmmm. You wouldn't like me when I'm drunk. I get annoying."

"Me and my friend were in a pub in West London the other day and the people sitting next to us got up and they both left half-pints behind, so we drank them, and then we went round drinking other people's drinks that they'd left behind, and we got wrecked, oh well not wrecked, but we had a lot of drinks all for free, and then this girl left half her dinner so I was like 'are you going to finish that' and she said no so i got half a cold roast dinner as well, it was brilliant."

"Hmmmm."

"I've got hundreds of CDs, I hope you like CD shopping cos we're going to spend at least an hour in the CD shop."

"I don't really buy CDs anymore, I just download stuff."

"Do you know about Olympic weightlifting, the bar right in the Olympic weightlifting weighs 20 kilos on its own, so you know if you're lifting 20 kilos on each side, thats 60 kilos, thats like a lot more than I thought I was lifting, soon I'll be able to bench press my own bodyweight."

"Hmmmm."

Thursday, April 30, 2009

when it's over, it's over

Is Dalston the coolest place in Britain? Not any more

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cyclism

So the sun arrives and suddenly my cycle to work is innundated with friendly cyclists. As if recently returned from their winter migration, they clutter up the traffic lights like a murder of crows. And murder it is.

Because most other cyclists, especially the unpractised, fair-weather ones who have magically appeared on the road, festooned with fresh-out-of-the-shop luminous cycle accessories, are infinitely more aggravating than cars. Cars have one basic, predicable motivation - to kill you - and you stay out of their way on that basis. But cars can more or less move only in two directions and from a stop have surprisingly slow acceleration. A bike, on the other hand, is quick away, but more to the point can veer in any number of unpredictable directions and has the added bonus of the ability to just topple on top of you at any given moment.

Surely, I hear you cry, I am going too far; surely the parade of cyclists taking back the city from the menace of 4x4 planet wreckers is a good thing; surely a healthier nation is a happier nation; surely there is a camaraderie between the pedalling classes that I, as a thoughtful, concerned person, would wish to celebrate. Well, maybe, if they take some cycle proficiency tests and get out of my bloody way.

It is not as though I am one of the lycra-clad, Italian frame, all-over Campagnola brigade. My bike is often no more zippy than an overweight elephant trailing across the savanna, another overweight elephant atop. I am not a snob, I don't think, I just want to be able to get where I am going. And cycling in the city, at least during the winter, has a certain libertarian bent, a small anarchistic, individualist marker against a world of mass transportation and crowded tube platforms. The arrival of the hoardes upon their bikes, much galvanised by the bombings of 7/7 (for which, thanks Al-Qaeda, a small part of western civilisation you didn't intend to do in, I presume), has curtailed my small rebellion, and now I am in danger of becoming yet another bike in the crowd.

Cycling is still, just, a rebellion, which is why, alongside miserable jealousy, motorists get so irritated by bikes. I am very much of the view that a man on a bike can do no wrong in a inter-traffic scenario. I dimly remember a quote from the House of Lords where one good Lord said words to the effect of: "Whilst being driven around, I constantly observe cyclists on the road who jump red lights [check], ride on the pavement [check], ride without a helmet [check] or lights [check], pay no attention to the highway code [check] and further to this malignant attitude apparently are of the belief that they'll never have to face arrest or punishment [check]." This is the rebellion. The argument about red lights is a particular favourite in the Lords, but is a total red herring. Red lights are for cars because they cannot be trusted to go anywhere of their own accord without crashing into each other and killing small children. Bikes, on the other hand, can weave in and out without recourse to flashing lights and authoritarian strictures. This is not to say that cyclists can't get it wrong, but the ideal is summed up neatly on a sign on the canal path in Hackney: Considerate Cycling Permitted. Because cyclists, unlike motorists, are not cocooned away in what they have come to believe is an extension of their front room; they are out in the elements and face the world directly, not sheltering behind windscreen wipers and the old yell out the window and speed off routine.

Some say, having realised that it is perfectly safe for cyclists to jump red lights, provided they do it safely, that they shouldn't because it annoys drivers so much. Of course it does. Drivers are like the sheep of the hills, while cyclists are like the foxes.

This is the rebellion; you motorists are taxed, your every misdemeanour is filmed and then sent to you with an £80 bill, you're getting fat, you can't help but pay absurd prices for petrol, and then some smug twat on two wheels zings past the lights and zips off down the road, flashing their arse in the air at you - yes he's flashing his arse IN YOUR FACE FATBOY!!!

Drivers are often prone to complain that cyclists are smug. And the truth is, most of them are. Even I, who has never had a driving licence and, mainly through abject laziness, has more of a carbon thumbprint than carbon footprint, even I am prone to the hint of murderous rage when I see someone parading their bike around with a ONE LESS CAR sticker or (especially) flag. So much so that I even considered designing a car bumper sticker than says "One less smug cyclist". Alas I worry that someone even more depraved than me might think to stick them on those ghost bikes, the white monuments to cyclists killed on the road; this I suppose shows the limit of my misanthropy.

So I hate most cyclists, although I make an exception for dead ones. But I really hate cyclists who don't have gears. The trend of the last few years for cyclists to dispense with gears, flashing about on admittedly aesthetically pleasing, if somewhat neutered machines, has engendered much debate amongst cyclists. The form over function debate has got not so much an airing as a long, slow hot air balloon ride; although the single-speed merchants claim utility in that dispensing with gears is cheaper and leaves less to go wrong. Of course not having a bike at all leaves nothing at all to go wrong.

The first time I ever saw a guy riding a single-speed bike I asked him: "How the hell do you get up hills?" "London hasn't got any hills," he sneered at me, proving there and then both the idiocy and the smugness on which the entire single-speed edifice rests. Of course London doesn't have any hills, unless you count all those hills which are in London. It is true that if you limit your ride to the parts of London which are relatively flat you may be get away with it, although whatever money you save in not buying any gears you'll soon pay out in exorbitant rent.

In fact there are two types of one-gear buffoons - the fixed gear and the single-speed. The fixed gear, or fixed wheel, or fixie if you really need your head smacked with a D-lock, dispenses not only with the gear but also the freewheel, which means the crank of the pedal and the turning of the backwheel are inoperably connected. The pedals will go round if the wheel is going round and vice versa, which seems a recipe for disaster but some riders, no doubt spun out on cheap Moroccan hash, claim that it allows them to be one with their bike. It also allows the cyclist to brake using force from his feet, by pressing against the turning of the crank. Thus some fixed-wheel bike riders have dispensed not only with gears but also brakes, which in Darwinian terms is what you call an evolutionary dead end.

The other style of single gear bike is the so-called single-speed, which takes all the aesthetics of the fixed gear but allows the back wheel to freewheel, thus making it precisely a marker of fashion victimhood. It is no coincidence that the epicentre of single-speed bikes in London is Hoxton, aka the London Borough of Fashion Victims; you can safely be extremely wary of any phenomenon which increases in ratio to its vicinity to Shoreditch.

One of the most glaring, literally, elements of the single-speed trend is when the riders "accessorise" their bikes, with wacky colours, matching wheel rims and other self-aggrandising minutae, all in a vain (again, literally) attempt to individualise their bikes, in alas the exact same way as a thousand other inadequates. Disparaging these wheeled art installations, as they irritate their way from Commercial Road to Kingsland High Street, could occupy me all day, but it did give me an insight into my ordinarily fractious relationship with cab drivers. For, at a guess, what I think when I see the single-speed glarecyles, is what cabbies think when they see any of us cyclists.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Poems for my mum

1

My mother said to me son I'm proud for you to be a man
But don't you wait for me, cos I'll be running on
And when the day came she was there and then she was gone
Don't you wait for me, cos I won't be around

We were talking about how you pass your values on
The only thing that you can give your children
Some of hers were crooked, and I left them alone
Some of them were golden, and they shone in the sun

And I now I go out walking in the places where we walked when we were young,
Hoping to find something of the child that's gone
But nothing comes of nothing, so I guess that I am done
Don't you wait for me, cos I'll be running on

2

October
bastard month that it is,
I lost my mother in its raging winds

Leaves wrap the pavement
and the days struggle for breath
and the cold comes, I dont feel the cold
just a bitter edge on the air
a nip, a bite, sneaks in
makes itself at home
and the crooked corridors
and the waiting for the lift
can stop for now

I will spend my time looking at the view

3

She's lying on the bed
She's dead
you know she's gone,
you know she's gone
but still there's the hope

They've got her on a hundred machines,
you know what it means
you know she's gone,
you know she's gone
You felt her go,
You were at your friend's and the call said
Come back to the hospital,
You knew she'd gone

A seizure they said,
and that feeling's called dread
but you knew she'd gone,
you know she's gone
as you rode your bike, you felt her spirit rise
you felt her go,
you felt her leave
you know she's gone

but there's the hope
it keeps you in the ward,
keeps her on the bed
plugged in and made to breathe,
made to beat her heart
you know she's gone,
you know she's gone
but there's the hope

you know she's gone

Then Monday comes
and there's no hope,
they want to turn the machines off
and now she's gone
you knew she'd gone,
you know she's gone
but when they come to turn it off
it rises inside
saying No! lets keep her alive,
lets not let her go
there's the hope
always the hope

but you know she's gone,
you know she's gone
but there's the hope

and now she's gone
and before you leave you go to give her one last kiss
you knew she'd gone,
you knew she'd gone
and now she's gone

4

And now you'll cry in all the oddest places
On a plane, on a boat, in a park
in the oddest places,
but not at the funeral, not at the grave
instead in a restaurant
with the sun streaming in through the windows
the little boy cries for his mum
who always came and now she doesn't come no more
I'm sure it's not for want of trying
that she doesn't hear the crying

she would but for her dying

Everyone Will Leave At Exactly The Same Time

David Byrne, Royal Festival Hall

David Byrne is basically your favourite funky uncle. In a very cool artrock band in his younger days, when you were just a nipper, he now seems to potter around some swish and bohemian part of New York's West Side doing effortlessly interesting things - travelling the world, writing film soundtracks, designing bizarre bike racks. You hardly ever see him, but when you do its always a pleasure and he's always brought some quirky and original present for you.

This year he's brought a band dressed all in white - to match his hair, I suppose - and a setlist culled from his collaborations with Brian Eno; the second to the fourth Talking Heads' albums, 1981's brilliant and groundbreaking My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and their new effort, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today - whatever the hell that means - whose vocal parts and instrumentals pinged across the Atlantic between the two auteur's emails until it was finished. The band - drums, bass, keyboards, Byrne on guitar, a percussionist with practically a village of things to bang and rattle - were accompanied by three dancers, who pirouetted and sashayed across the stage in a dreadfully modern manner, including an expressive episode with some office chairs, a lot of frolicking hither and tither, before at one point the male dancer vaulted over Byrne's head.

Of course you know that Byrne is not bringing the usual rock gig trappings - for a start he's playing the rarefied Royal Festival Hall among other rather well-to-do venues on the UK leg - secondly he chats amiably and unpretentiously to the crowd at several points. "If you want to take photos on your pocket cameras, feel free," he told us joshily, "but you in the balcony, bear in mind that your flash may not reach all the way down to the stage." Some of what he told us was interesting: when introducing MLITBOG's Help Me Somebody he mentioned that the album used a lot of were then known as "found vocals", which later became known as samples.

The setlist leans towards the new material at the beginning, but with I Zimbra as the second tune, Talking Heads material is never far away. For the first half-hour it seems very amiable, although a little restrained; the crowd sit back on their well-holstered seats and enjoy the spectacle, but roundabout when Crosseyed and Painless gets underway, played at a fair clip, the crowd suddenly surges towards the front and the stalls get the party underway, although for us trapped on the balcony, it doesn't work out quite as well. A brief sojourn to try and get into the stalls didn't come off either.

The music is of course given superb treatment and its great to see him in such great voice. However, there seems to be little wavering from the canon. The songs were all played exactly to the letter, and while the band knocks out the edgy-funk with supreme finesse, they never seem to settle into the grooves, preferring to cap the songs at the same length as on record. This seems to me to be a bit of waste, because no matter how funky a rhythm is, if you can't lose yourself in it, it aint funky enough. Most especially, there are no segues; each song stands on its own, the band takes a bit of applause before striking up the next one. This slightly uptight element is definitely in keeping with Byrne's generally slightly uptight demeanour, as is his jerky dance style, the snakelike fits and pounces, preserved from the Talking Heads days, if a bit softened round the edges. And he does wiggle his bum at the audience as well.

But the band, and the tunes, or at least the old ones, are fucking funky. The new material, like most of Byrne's stuff post- more or less Stop Making Sense, is cheerful and bright. A cynic might imagine that in about 1986 Byrne gave up cocaine for religion, but what do I know. Somehow the chirpy stuff, nice as it is, never reaches the heights (or depths) of the old gear. For instance a tune like Heaven, which gets an airing, as slow, beautiful and major chord laden as any of the new stuff, somehow manages to avoid the slightly anodyne, inconsequential, daytime radio feel of his more recent offerings.

The encores, including Take Me To The River and a the non-Eno but seemingly inevitable Burning Down The House (with DB in a tutu), wrapped up a strong and welcome performance by an art-rock legend. But while the RFH acoustics meant the sound was crystal clear, I'd still swap that overcomfortable venue for a shoddier sound in a smaller, sweatier hall. Those in the stalls no doubt got a fair bit more out of it that I did, the lucky conts.

These two have more details and some nice photos, but anyone who says that it was better than the Stop Making Sense gig must be crazy.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Phrases to make your heart sink #253

"It's set in stone . . . at the moment"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Crack House, by Harry Keeble and Kris Hollington

Wrote this off the cuff thinking it had just been published, alas only nine months late . . .

Harry Keeble is the pseudonym of a British police officer who led the Haringey Drug Squad for twelve months in 2000. Det Sgt Keeble's modus operandi was, uncommonly for the time, a direct one: He led his small team, often but not always accompanied by the police heavy mob, the SPG, the TSG, through the reinforced doors and blacked-out windows of 100 crackhouses in Haringey, arresting those that he could, confiscating drugs and closing them down, before as often as not returning weeks later to close them down again. This policy wasn't particularly an attempt to imprison the dealers, those arrested frequently got off, or received short sentences. Instead, the militancy was merely aimed at disrupting the crack cocaine industry, breaking the grip that the villains and addicts had gained over the area's residents. This went against the received wisdom - that rather than bother with street dealers, you need to cut off the big dealers - and it did take an inordinate amount of effort. At times Keeble estimates that he was shutting down three crack houses a week, plus smaller operations, involving planning and briefings, early morning and late evening raids, followed by hours of interviewing, searching and booking those captured. But the drop to zero of black-on-black shootings in Haringey in the wake of his campaign, and the dramatic decline of muggings and shootings in the area, provides him with ample justification for his tactics.

Keeble's descriptions of the raids themselves, the people that he comes across, the response of the top brass and the more general descriptions of the effect of the crack epidemic since the early 1990s make this a gripping read. Keeble is no boneheaded cop; university educated, he provides a reassuringly enlightened view of the world he barges into, and the history of police relations with the community around him. He has a good word to say about Bernie Grant, surely a police first. While he of course sees contentious issues, for instance the death of Roger Sylvester in a police cell, from the police's point of view, he manages to come across as about as reasonable a copper as you could hope to find arresting you at three in the morning in a dingy Tottenham squat. Alongside his story he tells those of some of the addicts: the teenage girls driven to prostitution by an overwhelming desire for crack, the yuppies sucked into the dark world through a combination of exotica and arrogance, the street dealers, whose dream of making big money out of drugs frequently turns out to be yet another pipe dream. The story, co-written with crime writer Kris Hollington, vividly brings to life the slums and slum life lurking only minutes away from leafy suburban London.

The book, and especially the depictions of the depravity to which so many addicts have so quickly fallen, provides a sobering tonic for those advocating legalisation of all drugs, as a leader in the Economist did last week. Faced with this sort of evidence, it would take a frighteningly brave politician to decriminalise cocaine. And Keeble gives no quarter towards that view: he believes that the war on drugs - so often written off even as we spend millions more pounds on it - can be won, that if we raided crack houses with as much vigour as he and his small, underfunded team managed, strangling the supply of crack on the streets, we would save the lives or souls of the junkies, and protect and improve the lives of ordinary residents hugely.

But what appears self-evident from reading the book, that "the drugs war can only be won by constant and forceful vigilance", becomes less so on on further reflection. The vast majority of destruction caused by drugs is hugely aggravated by their criminalisation. Crack itself was created by criminals looking to make their coke sell quicker and for more money. Take the criminals out of the equation and who is going to turn young girls onto crack in order to turn them into prostitutes, as he describes? Who is going to be unleashing wildly inaccurate machine guns in quiet London streets to gain control of a crack house, as he describes? Who else but criminals would cut open the belly of a drug mule who has died after a bag of coke burst in his stomach, retrieve the rest of the drugs and then leave him in an alley, as he describes? Crack is a devastating drug, no doubt, but the argument for criminalisation falls down when taken to its logical conclusion. Alcohol, for all its destruction, for all the madness, illness, violence and depravity that it has engendered, remains legal. Consider the gin craze of the 17th century - the introduction of a new, foreign, powerful concotion, wreaking ruin wherever it took hold. Sound familiar? Yet no policeman, not even Harry Keeble, would suggest that we need to make alcohol illegal. Not because alcohol is incapable of being abused, of destroying lives, but because criminalisation would be entirely counterproductive. The same is true, it is increasingly apparent, about drugs, even cocaine, even crack. Yet this book, as exciting at times perhaps as a lick of the crack pipe, made me think again, if not change my mind.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Amusing jobs

I'd imagine writing the entry for 'world' in the CIA factbook might have been diverting

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Simple mathematics

In a town outside of Neabridge the restaurants were battling for declining custom. Some tried advertising, some tried special offers. As things got worse, many took to attacking their competitors, by badmouthing them, sending threats and attacking delivery drivers. The winner out of the uproar was the supermarket, who were now selling hundreds more microwave meals than previously. Careful investigation discovered that the manager was the root of the problem, by secretly encouraging the restaurants to expand. How did that work, he was asked. He told them: "It's simple mathematics. You have to add take aways to multiply division."

Amnity

When I was younger
I tried to be what I was not
Now older
I try not to be what I am not

Sometimes it is harder

Perhaps I am now what I am not
or am not what I am

Perhaps I have changed
perhaps I have lost
what I am
perhaps not

Would all of the fame
be worth all the cost
of what I am
and what I am not

Monday, March 02, 2009

Encouragement for Lent

Sunday, March 01, 2009

or angel; anon poem

Its not a poem, its some very naughty prose

Today I took my hangover to the shop and I bought some oranges
39p each these oranges were
and 3 for £1
But they were small oranges, the kind that should be 29p each and 4 for £1
The other day when i bought them I was unhappy about the price
But as it is the local shop, & I wanted the oranges, I bought them

Today when I was looking at the oranges I noticed that there were some big ones there as well
The kind that should be 39p each and 3 for £1
The big ones aren't normally as tasty as the little ones, but they are bigger

I dont know how much extra pleasure one gets from a bigger orange
Once you are eating an orange, you are eating it
It is just one orange
It may be academic whether the segments are 10cm or 15cm long
Nobody goes home and says today I ate 45g of orange
I dont think

Anyway today I bought two big ones and one little one
The two big ones in order to get full value for my money
And the little one to enjoy the flavour of
On my way back I reflected on my choice
a careful balancing act between logic and absurdity
I peeled the little one
Its flavour was insipid
And no more restorative than a bunch of damp leaves

Later on I considered if there was such a thing as a non-careful balancing act

Friday, February 27, 2009

Security v Liberty

From Slavoj Zizek's The Plague of Fantasies, preface to the new edition

In the last years of the Communist regime in Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu was asked by a foreign journalist how he justified the constraints on foreign travel imposed on Romanian citizens. Was this not a violation of their human rights? Ceausescu answered that these constraints existed to protect an even higher and more important human right, the right to safety, which would have been threatened by too much free travel.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

All relative

Here is the website of Sam Pablo Kuper, a cousin of mine, who didnt let on of his internet presence, meaning that I only found out about it while partaking in the unbecoming yet irresistible habit of googling myself. I havent read it yet except to note that Sam uses even longer and flasher words than myself, which I shall hopefully be rectifying imminently, after a thorough bathing in the refreshing waters of my thesaurus.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Educative

Its not a joke, but I found this Jerry Seinfeld quote interesting.
"School is not learning, it's exercise. You don't remember anything that you learn but the act of trying to learn is mental exercise and that exercise builds some sort of muscle that you can use."
From

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yes, this casino really is called

Moron go

Monday, January 26, 2009

Victoria observations

Having no cash and no credit cards and therefore no lunch, I stop for a while in the street on the edges of Belgravia and take in the gentle caress of winter sun. Not hungry yet, but no doubt I will be soon.

A couple, the man with a child on his shoulders, approaches their 4x4 parked in front of me. The child demounts, showing off his grey public school socks, pulled up to his knee. I consider how egalitarian I am not to feel any resentment at their obviously inordinate wealth. The man, a substantial chap, speaks to his long, thin, Scandanavian wife. She tells him: "We've had a lovely lunch, please don't spoil it." They threaten to bicker there and then in the street. The wife takes her expensive platform shoes around the car and gets in. He knocks on the window. "Stress," he says to her, although whether it's his or hers isn't clear. He walks off. As she drives away she beeps the horn twice, and waves out of the window. He waves back, his back turned, as he walks down the street.

Past me walk three men. The oldest is also the fattest, a grand specimen of wealth, who walks lamely with a hospital crutch as a walking stick. His fellows seem inadequate beside him, insubstantial and unreal. Only he, with his solidity, seems to have any reality. The other two, although clad in garments of no doubt reputable manufacture, seem cheap and low quality. Doubtless they have indulged in too much exercise in their lives, and not enough eating. I have never before considered that eating to become more real may be a perfectly well-adapted habit, instead of the mark of psychological inadequacy that we are led to believe. Despite, or perhaps because, of its long-term damage - principally gout and other diseases of the rich - it seems to be a perfectly rational response to the winds of the soul that threaten to blow us away at any moment.

Outside the restaurant at which I have inappropriately dumped myself there sits a large M-reg Rolls Royce. As the owner returns to his car he tells a interested passer-by: "1973. She's 36 years old." A year older than me. A beautiful work, no doubt, with a couple of dents in the bodywork for authenticity. She looks a bit clumsy, nowadays, as though the doors don't fit as well as you'd expect. In motion, it is a glorious sight, of course, born to occupy the road, but time has not been kind to the designer's vision. As he drives past, I catch a glimpse of the front wing, which reminds me of nothing so much as a London cab.

Back at the office, I immediately feel hungry.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On the train to Brighton

Mid-morning, not a lot of people about. Each traveller has his own little section of seating. A yout steps on the train and goes through the interlocking doors to the next carriage, leaving the door swinging. I get up to close it, sharing a friendly look of mild exasperation - "the young, eh" - with the old guy across the aisle. The train leaves Blackfriars. As it squeaks its way through London, with the enthusiasm of a teenager sent to write thank-you letters to his delapidated aunt, the door swings open again. My neighbour takes it upon himself to close it, and once again we share a friendly look of mild exasperation - "doors, eh." After East Croydon the train begins to speed up, and the door, suffering from a clearly inadequate latch/keep configuration, starts to swing open sporadically. I close it, and catch my accomplice's eye once more - "latch/keep configurations, eh." He closes it, and catches my eye. He closes it another time, and catches my eye once more. Suddenly, I am concerned. There is no more to share, yet the eyes continue to pass on mild exasperated glances. But there is nothing new. Yes, we are two concerned citizens, yes we are both responsible adults, in a world of malevolent children, yes we are both capable of closing a door, but that's it. The glances have conveyed their intent. They are gently gliding into the realm of the unnecessary, the unusual. I move to close the door again but this time my eyes are suddenly intently fascinated by a dog which cavorts in a field by the tracks. What kind of dog is that, I practically say out loud. Oh, its a border collie, how incredibly unusual. It's his turn to shut the door, the sharing of the glance is restored. As we near Brighton I start to worry: do I have to say goodbye to him? We've shared glances, it is true, a few more than strictly necessary, it is true. Do I bid him adieu? Is a final glance appropriate? What if he doesn't think so? I feel pressured, hemmed in by the twin poles of polite behaviour and innate misanthropy. I feel like an episode of Seinfeld. Perhaps he'll get off before Brighton, I think to myself hopefully. But at Preston Park, the penultimate station, he makes no move to gather his bags, nor to put his coat on. He merely leans over, shuts the swinging door and once again a glance is shared. At Brighton station, I pause, thinking that if I sit here long enough, he'll have to leave first and he can offer the goodbye glance or not. I don't mind, I'll be happy either way. But he takes too long gathering his stuff and the carriage empties and I can no longer justify sitting in my seat, so I leap up, pass him without a glance and follow the arse of the pretty girl with too much slap down the platform and into Brighton.

Friday, January 09, 2009

1010101010

Lights on
Lights off
Lights on
Lights off
Lights on, lights off, lights on, lights off
Lights on
Lights off

Wax on,
wax off
Wax on
Wax off
Wax on, wax off, wax on, whack off
wax on, wax off

Your mum
your dad
your mum
your dad
your mum, your dad
your mum i've had
your mum, your dad

Jack's on, Jack's off
Jack's on, Jack's off
Jackson jacks off, Jackson jacks off
Jack's on, Jack's off

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Off the buses

Some years ago I remember seeing on a billboard outside a church this slogan: “Why pray when you can worry and take drugs?” I like that slogan. It is short and pithy and, more to the point, it offers something. Compare to this weeks’s much heralded atheist advert: “There probably isn’t a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life. And make it sharpish, you weasely inadequate, because the non-God squad will be knocking on doors, making sure that you aren’t worrying, or non-God forbid, praying.” Maybe its just me but “now stop worrying and enjoy your life” seems to be the sort of thing a stern matron says to you, just before she dunks you in a freezing bath.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just that I first heard about this campaign when it was bathed in approval by Polly Toynbee, who strikes me as the classic prescriptivist liberal, going around telling people what they must do to be as self-satisfied as she is. Maybe it’s just that telling people to be stop worrying and be happy, maybe, just maybe, isn’t as helpful, considerate or constructive as it may appear, God or not.