Monthly Archives: July 2009

Top 5 Records

Friday tunes to put you in a good mood!

1. Simian Mobile Disco – Hustler

Especially for everyone that was at Lovebox last weekend as SMD provided the soundtrack to the most amount of fun had on a Sunday evening since Match of the Day 2 finished.  (Possibly.)

2. The Who – Substitute

Sometimes I realise that pretty much everything I listen to is from the 60s.  Then I remember sadly that it was over 40 years ago, I wasn’t even born and wonder if maybe it is time to move on.  Until I hear again how proud Roger Daltrey is that he’s still getting his washing done and decide to start placing ads in science magazines for a genius to build me a time machine.

3. Santogold – L.E.S. Artistes (xxxchange remix)

This is one my good pal Bone Conduction first played for me and I have hardly stop listening to it since that happy day.  You should listen to it too, maybe while reading his marvellous blog here, which is also filled with fun things to listen to.

4. Tiga – Mind Dimension

Another big tune from SMD’s set at Lovebox.  Hands in the air for this one… (oooooh I almost felt like a propah cheesy radio deeeejjjay when I wrote that!)

5. Frank Wilson – Do I Love You?

Because it is my favourite Northern Soul song.  Because it is from that decade that I love so much.  Because when the horns come in just before the two minute mark it is one of the most perfect things ever committed to vinyl.  Because it was the last song I heard before leaving the house this morning and so has been playing in my head all day.  Because if you hear it, it will put you in a good mood too.  Just because.

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You’re gonna need a bigger boat

If only it stays that calm the whole way round...

May it stay that calm for all the journey...

There are days when I feel I should have the words “epic fail” branded onto my forehead because I have never been anywhere that wasn’t Europe or North America, never travelled anywhere where I didn’t speak the language or knew enough words to get by or wasn’t with people who were fluent.  There are other days where I stare at maps of the world and wonder how I would get to there from here, what would it look like when I arrived and then want to shake myself for my complete lack of a sense of adventure.  I’ve read the books, sure, seen the films and surfed the web.  But as yet, never left the comfortable bubble of the first world, never trekked in a hostile environment where I’m not at the top of the food chain and never climbed a mountain that went above the clouds.  What a terrible state of affairs.

So, then I read about this lady and how she is fearlessly heading off to sail around the world, where there are pirates and sharks and waves the size of a building, in a boat that to my inexpert eyes, seems a trifle, well, tiny.  And all she wants me, and by extension, YOU, to do, is bung her a dollar (so less than the value of proper money, heh) and she’ll do all the scary exploration stuff, with the added bonus of sending regular updates on her adventures and even letting you sign the boat.  This is the very definition of a win-win situation, I feel.  It doesn’t get much better than this.  We get to act like members of the Royal Geographic Society or one of Shackleton’s millionaire backers, someone else gets to battle with the elements.

All pledges need to be made by 31 August, so take a look at the website here and get pledging.  Then sit back in your most comfortable armchair, perhaps light a soothing pipe, read your favourite book and glory in the knowledge that you don’t have to go anywhere more threatening than Shoreditch High Street on a Friday night.  Perfect.

I found out about this great adventure via the lovely ladies at No Good for Me, your ultimate fashion mix-tape.  Hopefully this post is grovelly enough to win me a whistle, as I plan to use it to alert my close acquaintances to the presence of suitable candidates  for ridicule on this website.

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Victory Cigarettes for all!

Marine putting health in danger

Marine putting health in danger

US Forces in war zones are not going to be banned from smoking, as the Pentagon is worried that to do so might add to their stress.   Smoking rates are ‘thought to be as high as 50%’ among those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.  I’m amazed they are that low.

There is a telling quote from the photographer who took the Pulitzer Prize-winning picture above, here:

I flashed back to the chaos of combat in Falluja. In the tight spaces, we were scared mindless. Everybody dragged deeply on cigarettes.

Managing to quit the demon weed earlier in the year might allow me to feel a little smug about a ban, however I would imagine that if I were to find myself in either ‘theatre’ of war with a lack of vital equipment and a vague sense of not knowing what the heck I was doing there, my replacement vice of nail-biting might not be enough to keep me from going AWOL or blowing a hole in my own foot to get sent home.

What the IOM are missing is that the logic of protecting a soldier’s health from things that might kill them in later years is redundant if not part of a package of measures designed to protect them from the elements that are trying to kill them on a daily basis.  Most would probably rather play the odds on emphysema and lung cancer while remaining really quite fundamentally against IEDs, snipers and suicide bombers.

Plus, the killjoys are failing to grasp another essential truth: war is hell, but war without cigarettes is a dismal pit of despair.  War and cigarettes go together like strawberries and cream.  Even having your legs blown off is something that a good Woodbine can assist with:

Crippled for life at seventeen,
His great eyes seem to question why:
With both legs smashed it might have been
Better in that grim trench to die
Than drag maimed years out helplessly.

A child – so wasted and so white,
He told a lie to get his way,
To march, a man with men, and fight
While other boys are still at play.
A gallant lie your heart will say.

So broke with pain, he shrinks in dread
To see the ‘dresser’ drawing near;
And winds the clothes about his head
That none may see his heart-sick fear.
His shaking, strangled sobs you hear.

But when the dreaded moment’s there
He’ll face us all, a soldier yet,
Watch his bared wounds with unmoved air,
(Though tell-tale lashes still are wet),
And smoke his woodbine cigarette.

‘Pluck’ by Eva Dobell

Those First World War generals might have been murderous bastards who thought nothing of sending half a generation of men to their deaths before breakfast, but even they would have balked at stopping the tobacco rations.  It is likely that the non-smoking soldiers would also complain, as my Grandad’s tales of bargaining his ration in the Second one for everything from extra days leave to a new pair of boots can attest to.  Stop the smoking and the entire unofficial economy of the army collapses, and with it morale.

A final word, as ever, to Mr Orwell, who in Homage to Catalonia proclaimed tobacco to be one of the five essential needs of a soldier at the front.  (The other four being firewood, food, candles and the enemy).  I hope the IOM take note:

The use of tobacco in field hospitals is to be recommended … on account of its sedative qualities. No one can doubt that it has a soothing effect on men suffering from the pain of wounds, and produces a state of calm which is very beneficial under the circumstances … Perhaps none of the presents from aid societies as in time of war have been so much appreciated in hospitals as the presents of tobacco …

 

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Quote of the day, week, month, year

Well, I have a deep disdain for them [Tony and Cherie]. I couldn’t bear that grinning, money-hungry, beaming, Cliff Richard-loving, Berlusconi-adoring, guitar-playing twat.

There is plenty more where this gem came from over here.

Sometimes it’s easy to write reams and reams about a subject, to set out a case and argue it fully, leaving any readers (if there are any) in no doubt of the writer’s point of view.  And other times it’s more a case of grabbing people by the arm and saying “come here, look at this, it’s really good!”, which is what this one’s all about.

So click on this video, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The reason why I love this clip so much is Dudley Moore’s obvious puzzlement when asked to describe something that he does so well and so innately.  He is initially completely perplexed at having to explain logically a skill which comes naturally to him.

I have been pondering this lately, as sometimes the writing goes easy and all is well, the sun shines, the birds fly down low to talk to me about my day and playful baby rabbits gambol around my feet.  Then, just as quickly, the sun goes behind a cloud, the rain tips down in sheets and the wildlife gets savagely ripped apart by weasels as the flow of words dries up.  When I sit down at my desk to work, I never know which it will be.  I am trying to figure out why the good days happen so I can con my brain into thinking a weasel day is a good one and maybe, I don’t know, get more prolific.

It appears that I’m not the only one struggling with this either.  Some of my favourite writers (such a kissass…) Chris Killen, Charlotte Stein, Neil Robertson, all have posted recently about not being able to write, losing the ability to string sentences together, lacking belief in their ability to write.  A couple of them are published writers too, which almost makes me want to give up and throw my half-written book into the sea.  If finishing a book doesn’t make it any easier, what hope is there for me?

So why does the writing flow, when it flows?  Is it muscle memory: I’m sitting at the keys typing, so not thinking about it too much?  Then I can freely pull words from my brain to describe scenes both from memory and imagination, attempting to make them as real as if I was standing in the middle of them, so that when you read them it’s as if you’re standing next to me.  Just as if I was pulling you by the arm, saying “over here, look at this!”

Except that you can’t be there, because however well I paint it, you will always see the scene with your own eyes, your own memory and your own imagination.  Stephen King in On Writing called it magic, the ability to transmit pictures from your head to the reader using words, but when it works it’s more like alchemy, turning what could be a tedious description on a fairly boring piece of paper into the kind of absorbing read that makes you ignore all household duties, neglect a holiday companion or keeps you reading through the night long past a sensible bed-time.

Like Dudley Moore in the clip, I still have no idea why it happens when it does and is so difficult at other times, however, the chance of one day stringing together something as perfectly beautiful as the poetry of that ‘Cliff Richard-loving, Berlusconi-adoring, guitar-playing twat’ is enough reason not to go chucking manuscripts or laptops seawards just yet…

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Back to the politics

At times, there is an awful lot of chatter about how ’1984 is coming true’ and a blog with the title of ten minutes hate is probably no place to try to argue the opposite.  So I won’t bother.

1984 is here.

You’re a citizen of Oceania and you give the state your full, unquestioning obedience or they will put you in a room and cage hungry rats to your face so they chew off your nose.

Except they won’t actually be so inventive.  That level of creative cruelty is probably beyond their imaginations.  So instead, they will stick to the old, tried and trusted methods.

They will pull out fingernails:

…he was whipped, beaten, deprived of sleep and sexually humiliated. At one point three fingernails were ripped out of his left hand. He says this was done slowly, over a period of days…

They will take away children for spurious reasons and, despite eventual proof of innocence, refuse to give them back:

Despite the finding of the tribunal, the social workers have remained determined to hold on to the children, with a view to their care being determined in a county court on Wednesday.

They will use the smokescreen of war as a distraction from what is really going on:

Millions of farmers will have to give up traditional crops as they experience changes in the seasons that they and their ancestors have depended on. Climate-related hunger [may become] the defining human tragedy of this century.

The sad truth is that I fall for the distractions every time.  Happy spending time going to gigs, watching telly, indulgently writing.  Not lifting one finger of my untortured hand to do anything to stop it happening, just passively drinking the Victory Gin and telling myself nothing will ever change, so what’s the point?

Hat tip to Tom Paine for the social services story and the Bleeding Heart Show for the Oxfam one.

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Manchester views

A couple of pictures I took, when strolling around…
Channel M's Big Wheel

Channel M's Big Wheel

Channel M have a huge ferris wheel in town, by the Arndale centre.  They also used to have a music channel broadcasting local bands, but that unfortunately closed in May.  The story is here, and echoes a conversation we had on Thursday night after Kraftwerk about how Manchester’s musical past too often overshadows its future.  Everyone knows the legends, but who’s creating the new ones?

The Beetham Tower, looking moody

The Beetham Tower, looking moody

There have been a few changes to Manchester since I was last here.  It seems like every spare bit of land has its own block of luxury new build flats, at prices a Londoner could only dream of but alas, mostly empty.  The Beetham Tower is a hotel and apartment building with a bar at the top offering superb views of all the rain clouds (only messing, Mancunians!) and is home to Phil and Gary Neville, among others.  Although I took this picture from some distance away, so it looks like the entrance to Argos is the same size, the Tower dwarfs everything near it.  I like it and would love to see the views from the top, but I can’t help thinking it looks lonely and needs some skyscraper mates to hang out with!

Manchester in July

Manchester in July

This is really unfair, because it has been blazing hot sunshine most of the weekend, but hey, it wouldn’t be Manchester without the odd lashing rain storm, would it?

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We are the Robots

Kraftwerk at the Velodrome, Manchester

Kraftwerk at the Velodrome, Manchester

To Manchester!  The city sweltered in the unaccustomed sunshine, as the Manchester International Festival opened in style with Kraftwerk at the Velodrome.  The ‘living legends and globally revered innovators of techno pop’ (as noted in the programme) are also cyclist enthusiasts, so when we arrived to find the stage and standing section in the centre of the track, speculation mounted as to how they might use this unique space to full effect.  Sadly, they didn’t arrive at the venue on bikes as they have done in the past, but announced their arrival on stage with a boom from the speakers and a backlit projection of the familiar four figures onto the curtains drawn around it.  These then swept back as they launched into ‘Man Machine’.  The crowd, as you might expect, went wild. 

As ‘Tour De France’ began, all eyes began scanning the track, excited shouts going up at the arrival of four cyclists.  Ralf Hutter announced Team GB, with a wry aside to point out that their trainer is German.  The music was perfectly accompanied by black and white film of Tour cyclists toiling towards the crest of a lofty Alp and the gold-medal winners hurtling around the track.  The song ended to a wistful promise ‘next time we will bring our bikes’.

The rest of the set list took in ‘Trans Europe Express’, ‘Model’ and ‘Autobahn’, sounding at the same time retro and yet still fresh.  Then the curtains closed again before reopening for this:

We are the Robots

We are the Robots

Newer songs ‘Radio Activity’ and ‘Vitamin’ heralded the return of the human variants and a 3D extravaganza, all of us sporting the glasses like a 1950s B-movie audience.  As promised, it was a two-hour set, almost to the second but displaying a human and playful side to the men, alongside the ruthless efficiency of the machines.  Kraftwerk have influenced so many acts across all genres that seeing them live gives you the chance to hear the source material of all the music you have ever loved.  And you get to hear it played bloody loud on a great sound system while you dance like a madman.  The best kind of history lesson there is, I’d say.

To declare an interest, as I drank a fair bit of their champagne last night I feel duty bound to mention the utter aceness of the festival programme, which you can find here.  If I had a season ticket on Virgin Trains, I’d be back for the Durruti Column’s Paean to Wilson, Elbow and the Halle, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, perhaps also taking in Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna.  The weather has returned to predictable Mancunian inclemency today, but I’m sure that won’t spoil the party!

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Rampant anti-hipsterism

I have been having a lot of fun in recent weeks taking the mickey out of the hipper inhabitants of my neighbourhood.  Ripping them for their lack of irony, helping a friend to surreptitiously take pictures of overly sincere straw boater-wearing, which may end up on here soon.  And I am not the only one.  It is becoming the last acceptable form of abuse: hipsterism.  Yes, I am unashamedly hipsterist.

There are two universal truths.  1. No one ever thinks they are a hipster.  2. Everyone hates a hipster.

Even the word itself is a bastardisation.  The original Beatniks of San Francisco’s North Beach used ‘hip’ amongst themselves as a badge of cool, to be hip was a good thing, usually involving ready access to a good supply of marijuana and an air of knowing which way the wind blew.  Kerouac himself preferred the team ‘Beat’, reckoning that it had an air of ‘beatific’ about it, seeing a holiness and saintliness in his friends that they probably never realised they displayed:

a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way—a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America—beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction

They used ‘hippie’ as a derogatory term, to mock the younger influx to the west coast in the sixties, feeling they were more about the look and the slang than the way of life, too caught up in tuning in, turning on and dropping out to look beyond the superficial at the mind expansion so beloved of their elders.  Now the word has returned for the noughties, back and ready to be used to deride a new generation.

But why bother hating on them anyway?  Isn’t it a soft target when there are fiddling MPs and evil bankers to concentrate on?  Why bother kicking the so obviously down already?

The attitude that wearing the right shoes is a substitute for personality needs to be challenged at every turn.  If it is true, as Nick Hornby said in High Fidelity, that what you like is more important than what you are like, we are in trouble.  There is some pretty heavy shit coming down the pass at us and, if all we have to throw back at it are some people with exquisite taste in vintage clothing and not much else, then we are fucked.  Doomed, I tell you, by our own shallowness.  It is beautiful to express your own nature in the clothes you wear and the lifestyle you choose, this is freedom in its rawest form (‘I am what I am!’) but when it comes as a substitute for rational thinking, it needs to be questioned.  If the Iranians could see how lightly we take our freedoms and how easily we surrender them, would they still be fighting so hard to win their own?

Huge things are going on in the world but the hipster vision is about limiting horizons, ignoring focus on anything that isn’t the self.  There is a spirited defence of the hipster mind state here, which suggests that many possess ‘creative analytical thinking abilities’.  If so, it must be time to use them.  It is not healthy to be so self-absorbed, nor is it healthy to hang out in tribes with people who think exactly as you do.  It is a tragedy to ignore your capacity to transform the world because you are too occupied in clambering up the greasy pole to uber-hipsterdom.  The style exists, but is useless without the substance.  So achieve something too.  Write the book, make the movie, start that band.  Or have those dreams on one side while you crack on with sorting out corrupt politicians, our screwed economy and world hunger.  Demonstrate that you are made of more than a ‘complicated’ haircut and an ability to follow trends.  Make life about more than being an advertiser’s wet dream.  Then I and all the others will have to find something else to hate.

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drunk blogging

Probably not a good idea.  But here goes anyway…

You think you’ll break my heart
but you’re not capable of it
I’m too strong for you
I’ll outlast you every time.
Good luck to you:
All’s fair in love and war,
but you can not win
if your object is to break me
It can’t be done
I will prevail
Everything I want
I will get with you or without
You can’t damage me
Or drag me off this path.
You can come along for the ride,
and it will be the ride of your life,
that I promise you
nothing but adventure
but if you can’t handle it
and I don’t think you can
then, hard as it is,
I’ll say goodbye
and leave you to regret
letting me slip through your hands.

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