Tag Archives: London

Inspiration is everywhere

If there is one thing I have learnt from the last couple of weeks of reactions to the London Olympics on the social media sites, it is that you can look at event of this nature and see whatever takes your fancy. All manner of commentators from an array of political standpoints have been able to use the Games to support their previously held views. As pal and mortal bath-dweller, Mark Woff so eloquently puts it:

There seem to be thousands of humans spending hundreds of hours commenting on threads with such earnestness, glibness, vitriol, lack of self-awareness… one wonders what drives it. More crassness in people hissing comments over the Twitterfeeds at athletes, people seeing and sustaining the dark side everywhere…

And yes, there was plenty to hate, especially the grasping behaviour of some of the companies involved, the empty seats a slap in the face for everyone who had tried to get tickets in the ballot and failedincluding athletes’ familiesthe Tory MP who deemed the celebration of British accomplishments in the opening ceremony to be ‘leftie multicultural crap’. All buzz-killers.

But also, yes, plenty to celebrate, even for those of us in parts of the world who had to experience serious sleep deprivation to follow our heroes. I don’t know if I have failed or passed the Norman Tebbit ‘cricket test’, but I have been keeping an eye on the Japanese victories as much as the TeamGB ones, if only because national broadcaster NHK seemed to have a policy of only showing events Japan was doing well at.

Japan’s women footballers – nicknamed the ‘Nadeshiko’ after the name of a flower – may have been disappointed not to stun the US again following their victory in last year’s World Cup, but showed a lot of heart to take the silver. The game could have gone their way if they had taken all their chances, but they still surpassed the men’s team and – perhaps – earned a seat in business class on the way home.

Seen from here, where gender equality lags far behind that of comparable countries, the most inspirational outcome has been the pleasure Japan has taken in the success of its female athletes, especially in wrestling, table tennis and judo. It is too soon to tell if that will be enough to overcome the workplace inequalities, lack of affordable childcare and adherence to traditional gender roles common to most of Japan. Hopefully it is a start.

In addition to this celebration of the kids at school who were really good at running and suchlike, there was good news for the ones who prefer to be nose-deep in a book too. NASA managed to land a robot the size of a small car on Mars, following a journey of eight months and a landing by way of a sky crane and parachute. Sending back pictures, communicating via Twitter – both on 100% real and verified, as well as the predictable but still funny spoof feeds – the Curiosity should be enough to get us dreaming of space again.

And so, just as every other commentator has used these events to reinforce whatever it was they already believed about something, so I choose to see them as a light in the dark, proof that so long as there are people prepared to risk it all, work harder than the self-confessed lazies like myself ever could to push their minds and bodies to achieve more than was thought possible, we might not be quite as doomed a species as previously suspected. Who knows what our future could hold?

If we can sparkle he may land tonight

- David Bowie, Starman

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Moonraker by Ian Fleming

I am writing about James Bond and I can almost hear your groans from here. What is there that can possibly be left to be written about Britain’s favourite secret agent that hasn’t already been said a million times before, by feminists, by film reviewers, even by distinguished literary gents? I thought it had all been covered so completely that it could be taken as a given until, screening Goldfinger at Christmas with friends, someone confessed to only then understanding what the Austin Powers films were poking (ooh, baby!) fun at.

My suggestion of a Bond film after Christmas dinner was testament to how far I have travelled since my teenage days. Back then, the festive Bond would usually see me with head buried in a book, occasionally glancing up to sneer disdain at another cheesy line from Roger Moore as my family groaned and chuckled around me. I thought Bond was dreadful, so hackneyed in its clichés – the women only sassy up to a point to make the inevitable surrender greater sport for the hero, the gadgets, the comedy characters – that it was better off ignored. I thought I knew it backwards but didn’t enjoy the knowledge.

Until Casino Royale, that is.

The vow to never watch another Bond film was taken after witnessing the Brosnan incarnation waterskiing down the side of a glacier in Die Another Day. Despite the absence of anything with teeth in the scene, that was my ‘jumping the shark‘ moment. After all the incredulity I had thrilled over as a child – the human Jaws biting through a cable car’s wires, death wielded by bowler hat, spiked shoe or gold paint – I could bear no more.

But Casino Royale was intriguing. A good story well told, unlike some of the others, needing no gimmicks to distract attraction from plot holes you could drive an invisible car through. Daniel Craig’s Bond a vulnerable, often wrong, sometimes out-of-control human being rather than a wise-cracking caricature. Talk was of how this was as the author had intended, the producers returning to the source material having receiving a Jason Bourne-inspired scare. Post 9/11, it was felt, we needed more humility from our secret agents and the Broccoli family – always astute readers of an audience’s moods – delivered.

Softened up by that cinematic experience, it was perhaps inevitable that when a copy of the book came into my hands via a secondhand store in Tokyo, I would fall for Bond faster than a mini-skirted SMERSH agent sent to kill him. As ever, the rogue’s charms proved difficult to resist. So when I was offered a windfall in the shape of an almost complete set about to be thrown out, I grabbed at them. With that pleasing old book aroma and cover art calculated to have any teenage boy’s blood racing – girls! guns! rockets! – this was my chance to see if the rest of the series could live up to Casino Royale’s promise of a more appealing, albeit less charming, Bond.


What you know are to become key elements of the films already exist in the book. Bond’s love of gadgetry and the high life are evident, whether that is fine tailoring, his Ronson lighter for use on his own blend of cigarettes, or the little flat off the King’s Road. He drives a Bentley, rather than an Aston Martin, an older, classic model he takes pride in racing against foreign engineering, at least until he totals it.

Yet while aiming for effortlessness in all this acquisition, Bond is only one loss at cards away from ruin. We see him chafing at the daily routine and ploughing half-heartedly through the paperwork just like any other office worker, although in the privileged position afforded to a senior civil servant, he is no idle playboy. When away from London on operations, he has a Leica camera in one pocket and a Beretta in the other but perhaps more telling are the gadgets he lacks: having to drive to the next town to telephone allies in Scotland Yard or waiting for essential information to arrive by telegram.

Also lacking is any contact with anyone he isn’t working with or for. Perhaps this lack of companionship is compensated for by being surrounded by women, of course possessed of a beauty that mere mortals can only dream of. Whether it is the carefully selected waitresses of the gambling club M frequents, the steely Secret Service secretaries, or a ‘severely competent’ police woman, the lucky fellow rarely encounters a plain woman. Yet central female characters Gala Brand and Loelia Posonby – though crazily named – are also blessed with a quiet strength, essential to keeping the battered and broken Bond on his feet throughout the action.

Though Fleming laments that Posonby is approaching an age where:

Unless she married soon, Bond thought for the hundredth time, or had a lover, her cool air of authority might easily become spinsterish and she would join the army of women who had married a career.

Perhaps this is not the terrible fate he makes it out to be, and it is arguable if a quick tumble with 007 would be a better one, especially as he is facing a similar destiny. His own prospects for a long and happy retirement seem slim, after all. Although contemplating certain death with hopelessness after torture and near defeat, he never questions the rights and wrongs of the power the Service wields over his life. He is good at the essentials of his job, his boss is decent, that is enough. Bond is far more of a bastard than you remember, quite a lot rougher around the edges and unafraid to fight dirty if circumstances dictate. Able to pass with the Lord Basildons of this world, but not quite of them:

Bond knew that there was something alien and un-English about himself. He knew that he was a difficult man to cover up. Particularly in England.

Perhaps it is his misfortune that the exotic locations so fundamental to the films are passed over for this tale, which largely happens within sight of the White Cliffs of Dover in the usually sleepy South of England. Moonraker’s plot delivers such atomic age fears as a rogue scientists, cities laid waste by the most powerful rocket ever built and an unsettling yet impolitic mistrust of those who have gone from enemies to allies in the blink of an eye.

It is a cracking read, belting along at a great pace and lending a warmth and a human side to its characters that you would perhaps not believe existed if you had only watched the films. You may think you know all there is to know about James Bond, but you won’t until you experience him on the page.

ten minutes hate and the mortal bath are reviewing all of the James Bond novels, (sort of) in order. Track down the others here:

Casino Royale (tmb)

Live and Let Die (tmb)

Moonraker (tmh)

Diamonds Are Forever (tmb)

From Russia With Love – COMING SOON!

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Characterised by repetitive beats

One of the less fun things about clocking up another birthday is the dawning realisation that each visit to a club could be the last.  As people slow down, the sofa or bar becomes more appealing, especially when weighed against the demands of an all-nighter.

Suddenly it is less certain that the weekend will be spent dancing to great music anywhere outside the confines of your own room.  Another downer is the wry observation that, if – like me – your first experience of the nightlife was back in the mid-nineties, you are maybe sharing a dance floor with people who weren’t even born then.  Close behind comes the realisation that dearly loved tunes are approaching their 20-year anniversary.   Sobering isn’t the word.

But before I got this jaded, the first music I lost my heart to in a darkened club was probably drum ‘n’ bass, except that it wasn’t called that yet.  Lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, I headed out each weekend with friends from my town and others we had barely heard of.

Although the jungle raves and clubs we frequented were usually located in unglamorous warehouses a million miles from the nearest tube station, hearing sounds like this made all the adventures in getting there and back worthwhile.  That said, I advise fast-forwarding to 01:34 for the good stuff, as the intro is a little over-epic:

Again luckily, just as me and my clubbing associates were tiring of the grunginess of drum ‘n’ bass, which might have caused a premature end to the fun, along came UK garage with the perfect excuse to get glammed up and give it another go.

The soul and joy of tunes like this made it impossible to think of settling for Saturday nights in front of the TV just yet:

Later, as the age at which mortgages and nappies take many away from the joys of dancing all night approached, I instead got another ‘second’ wind.

Spend any length of time clubbing and you begin to see how the influences refresh themselves.  Those earlier beats meld into something else, sounding at once familiar and brand new.  Journalists like to name genres, crown scene leaders and herald yet another bold dawn for UK dance music, but for the enthusiasts all that matters is that the music delivers.  When it is this good, there is little else to compete:

So instead of going gentle into that good night, I prefer to take my chances.  Planning to get in as much club-time as I can before the knees give out and a glance at my ID from the bouncers declares me too old to enter, rather than the opposite.

That I resolved to do this at about 4.30 am on Saturday in the main room of Womb in Tokyo, whilst listening to this fella spin should not cause you to doubt my commitment:

Here’s to a few more years of journeys home in the dawn with ringing ears.

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‘No pasaran': Cable Street 1936-2011

Anniversaries always offer good opportunities for the reinterpretation of past events according to modern sensibilities.  With each passing year the memories get polished, the myths build and the truth becomes that little less easy to establish.  75 years have gone by since a diverse population of East Enders – among them dockers, Jews, trade unionists and assorted left-wing groups – gathered to stop Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts goose-stepping through the neighbourhood and ended up fighting the police sent in to clear a way for the fascists.

That is more than enough time for the stories of what happened in a now fairly anonymous street in E1 to get lost in a fog.  Enough time for historians to look at the events of 4 October 1936 and question if the Battle even made things worse for the local Jewish population:

Far from signalling the demise of fascism in the East End, or bringing respite to its Jewish victims, Cable Street had quite the opposite effect. Over the following months the British Union of Fascists was able to convert defeat on the day into longer-term success and to justify a further radicalisation of its anti-Jewish campaign.

This is a dangerous argument, if seen through to its logical conclusion, that fascists are best not resisted.  With the world mired in economic crisis and racists targetting areas with concentrated immigrant populations once again, it is tempting to wonder what, if anything, we have learned since the Thirties.  Even this writer has indulged.  And as Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti commented:

No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges.

The truly fatal myth is the one that tries to encourage us to ignore fascism in the hope it will go away, when even a brief look at history shows this is not an effective strategy.  As this excellent article argues,

it was not “objective conditions” that stopped the police forcing a way for the British Hitlerites into Jewish East London: it was a quarter of a million workers massing on the streets to tell them that they would not pass, and making good the pledge by erecting barricades and fighting the BUF-shepherding police. A year after Cable Street, it was the working class and the socialist movement which again put up barricades in Bermondsey to stop the fascists marching.

Remembering that may be the best way of marking today’s anniversary.

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The end of the beginning

It feels as if it has been a long time coming, following the many steps that have brought me from there to here.  Finally, barring a few administrative hurdles still to be negotiated, I will be a Tokyo resident.

The lure of the big, bad city on my doorstep has been a siren call since my plane landed.  Like London Heathrow, they call it Tokyo Narita even though it is a couple of hours outside the city centre.  Fitting in weekend trips to the clubs, parks and shops around work, planning sightseeing adventures and taking time for people-watching from the cafes.  All enjoyable escapades ruined too soon by the intrusion of the long train ride back to the ‘burbs.

After 11 March, we all had our own decisions to make.  You might have thought that 24 hours stranded in Tokyo would have soured me on it somewhat.  Instead, even as I was traipsing through the freezing, crowded streets, I was reasoning that if I lived in a more central location I would have been safely home.  That night I resolved, before falling into a hazy, aftershock-interrupted sleep, to make sure I did something about it.

Before I could, there was a sea of goodbyes to navigate.  I believe I understand the thoughts of those who have chosen to bring their Japanese adventures to an end, even as I know there is nowhere else I would rather be at present.  I am lucky to have met some incredible people before they departed and fortunate enough to have been shown their favourite corners of the city so that I can now adopt them as my own.

I have other plans for this new start.  Including the locating of the perfect writing cafe, maybe to get a bike or to walk around more, not because the trains are stopped this time, but for the fun of it.  There are bars to find, friends to meet and streets to explore.  I can’t wait to see what Tokyo has to show me once I am a resident and no longer a visitor.

So this isn’t an end, or the beginning of the end.  It is perhaps the end of the beginning.

Sayonara Kashiwa.  Konnichiwa Tokyo.

And remember…

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As Nasty As They Wanna Be

Well, they managed it.  Cameron’s Conservatives – no doubt already wearying of the compassionate bit – have their ‘stealing the milk‘ moment.

Since Maggie snatched the white stuff from millions of schoolchildren way back when, condemning them to easily snapped arms and legs when they fell onto the rock-hard concrete in their playgrounds (youth of today, don’t know yer born!) her disciples have been on the lookout for their own really nasty moment.

Closing libraries, flogging forests and cutting benefits will only give you so much of a kick, after all, these are the kinds of things that most of us expect the Conservatives to do.  Where’s the buzz when you do something everyone has been anticipating since the election last May?  Nowhere, that’s where.  So you have to raise your game a little.

This should do it.  Removing benefits from cancer survivors after one year.  Simply put, if you are not on the mend after 12 months, the government thinks we can probably do without you and your weak-assed immune system malingering around.  Although perhaps, following this story, they are betting that the number of people reaching that milestone is going to be dramatically reduced anyway.  I wonder what the cancer survival rates were in the 1930s?  And isn’t it just as well TB isn’t on the rise, eh?  Oh.

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The art of surprise

The only surprise is that people seem to be surprised.

This is probably the third time in living memory, after all, that the Conservative Party has effectively told the poorer parts of the UK to fuck off and die, preferably quietly and out of sight, yet still some of you seem to be holding on to a belief that it wasn’t meant to be this way and that so-called ‘compassionate Conservatism’ can be brought to bear instead.

Unfortunately not.  Because you may think that you are nicely middle class, with your Ocado deliveries and eco-friendly holidays in Cornwall sans 4×4, but to our Tory overlords, you are as much of a dirt-eating peasant as the be-tracksuited hordes.  The battle-lines are being drawn and if your sole source of income is selling your labour, to them that makes you working class, regardless of whether you swing a hammer or pound a keyboard all day.

And anyone, yes Guardian lead writers I am looking at you, who thinks that the “Labour” Party has an opposing world view to offer clearly can’t have been paying very close attention for the last thirteen years.

Yet the problem doesn’t lie with the political parties, since they are just doing what they have to do in order to suck up to the people who really matter in a democracy: the people with the cash.  The problem is ours, for once again falling for the sweet nothings that they pour into our ears in order to get the necessary (or thereabouts) number of ‘X’s in the box.  When the Tories spoke of tax cuts for hard-working families, you might have thought they meant you, but actually they were referring to their poorer old school pals struggling by on just a few million.

If you re-read or read ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’, you will see that there is a reason why ordinary people like us got together to fight for our rights against the party of the bosses: not to create some idle dinner party chit-chat, but as an essential means of survival. So here we go again, as if reading from the script of the Thirties and the Eighties, they attack the weakest and we fight back, having also read that script and knowing that together we cannot be defeated.

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All that scratchin’ is makin’ me itch

I get a continued kick out of the fact that one of the most popular posts on this here ten minutes hate of mine continues to be the one called ‘stop being a sap!’  which features Joe Strummer’s words about taking control of your life and creating something for yourself.

Malcolm McLaren, whose funeral took place today, was another of that ilk.  As one of the better obituaries, written by McLaren collaborator Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, tells it:

When I remember Malcolm, I think that he taught me the idea that if you don’t like something, you’re the only one that can change it. That’s the mentality people need to make things happen. It takes a spark to build a fire, and Malcolm was definitely that spark

I worry for us though, because we are losing them.  The towers of controlled rage and puncturers of excess and stupidity who saw the year of my birth as less of an excuse to pat the Queen on the back for a job well done but more of an opportunity to create merry hell and up the blood pressure of the clueless as they railed against England’s lack of promise.

And here we are again, up to our necks in it… except all we have to throw at the problem are Scouting for Girls and a million poor Kate Bush knock-offs.

So if you are tired of sitting in the pub wondering what it all means, it’s time to start making it happen.  Stop chasing the dreams they sell you and make your own, let them come to you, just as McLaren did.  In his own words:

I was taught that to create anything you had to believe in failure, simply because you had to be prepared to go through an idea without any fear. Failure, you learned, as I did in art school, to be a wonderful thing. It allowed you to get up in the morning and take the pillow off your head

He’s right of course.  Make some noise, piss people off, do it your own way.  Don’t follow anyone else’s idea of a well-defined career path.  Your life’s worth much more than eat, shit, work, consume, sleep.  Make it count.

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Julia fixes Parliament!

You guys, I just thought of something!

There’s MILLIONS of us right? Must be at least a few that are hacked off with all this corruption. So why don’t we all throw a quid in the pot until we’ve got a couple of grand and then we can buy our VERY OWN MP. They’ll have to listen to us then!

And after we’ve paid up, we can force them to bring in lots of really cool stuff, like Lords reform, making sure our banking system can’t bankrupt our country, not degrading refugees (especially kids!) and not making it illegal to take photos in the street. (Those are mine, when you chuck in your quid you can add others…)

Then we’ll REALLY have someone in Parliament who listens – because WE’RE paying them. Great, no? Makes you wonder why no one else thought of it in all the years we’ve had a Parliament.

Brilliant!

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Sorry, fashionistas…

…but I couldn’t resist.  When I saw this juxtaposition:

pizza

… all I could think was how much the skinny MySpace boy needed the free pizza!  I confess, I sniggered.

I’m going to fashion hell!

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