Sunday, 29 March 2009

Musical Recommendation of The Week:
Colors - Amos Lee

He’th A Thquid, He’th A Mutthel, He’th A Clam. He’th A Bithnethman, Not A Fighter.

I’m always trying to plug the gaps in my children’s film and musical back catalogue knowledge. It is a project they strenuously resist, but two weeks ago, I persuaded my sixteen-year old son to sit with me and watch the genius that is ‘When We Were Kings’, the documentary of The Rumble in the Jungle, when Mohammed Ali fought George Foreman in Kinshasa in 1974. I even persuaded him to memorise Ali’s fabulous pre-fight rap
I done wrassled with an alligator, tussled with a whale
Handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail
Murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick
I’m so mean – I make medicine sick.......

I don’t know if there is a direct connection, but I spent many hours of the last week sitting with my son in fracture clinics. He had got into his first fight, lamped a drunk who was roughing up his cousin; breaking a bone in his hand in the process. This is exactly the thing you pray is not happening while your teenager is out and you’re lying in bed with half an ear for the late night key in the door.
The next morning, when I saw his hand, out poured the Mother’s Speech: that although he had acted bravely and nobly, he’d crossed a line and he mustn't now forget that flight is always preferable to fight & what if his cousin – who is older, but smaller – now looks to him as his late night ‘enforcer’? What if the man had hit his head on the pavement & died, or had a knife, or a bigger friend in the shadows? When I was finally done, he put his good hand on my shoulder & said gently, ‘Mama, if it happened over again, I’d help him again, ok?’

After five days in a heavy slab cast we returned to see if the bone needed pinning. I dreaded this. Not only are his AS exams imminent, but operating theatres no longer offer help exclusively; they offer an array of horrible infections. The fearsome bustling matrons who once ruled our wards have been replaced by underpaid contract cleaners, wrongheaded government
‘targets’ and chronic failures in the most basic hygiene.
We were directed to an especially drab waiting room with such astonishingly uncomfortable chairs it’s a wonder we didn’t all develop stress fractures to our coccyxes. Between bouts of existential misery came shafts of gratitude for those
members of our species who opt to spend their lives patching up their fellows.
A new doctor removed my son’s cast & organised further x-rays. When it came to asking how the break had come about, my son looked at the floor, explaining very quietly, it was because he’d socked an attacker in the jaw.
‘Thank goodness for that,’ the doctor said gaily, ‘a person is so much better than a wall – at least they move; walls never do.’
I shot the doctor a mid-voltage look, but he carried on. ‘What you are presenting young man, is a fracture of the metacarpal, behind the right little finger, known as
the “boxer’s break”. Now, don’t be too flattered by that name because no professional ever breaks that particular bone; they break the second and third knuckles.’
‘You’ll never guess what I’ve just seen in the paper.’ I interrupted - hoping to change the subject. ‘Today is the anniversary of the birth of Wilhelm Röntgen, who invented the x-ray in 1895. Isn’t that a coinciden….’
[above, the good doctor R from the west & an early x-ray of Herr Deiter Von Simpson]

No. There were three of us in that consulting room, but for two, this news fell far short of being even marginally fascinating. The coincidence of dates diverted them not one jot. They slung me tired looks and then turned back to each other. ‘No need for a pin, it’s heeling very well’ said the doctor.
My son beamed. ‘Like Wolverine.’ And the doctor nodded in sage agreement.
‘Come back in three weeks, and if you have to defend someone again,’ he said, waving us to the door, ‘you really need to ball your fist quite a bit harder.’

We went home clutching as a memento, the spectral x-ray of his hand. It is a beautiful thing, and something for which the pioneering professor rightly won the 1910 Nobel Prize for medicine [although his living was not secured by this achievement and when he died, was almost bankrupt]. Röntgen performed one of the very first experiments on his wife's hand & when she saw the result she screeched, ‘I have seen my death!’

My son now has Röntgen’s legacy hanging in the window of his bedroom. It joins another family heirloom; also in the form of an x-ray, given to me about twelve years ago. This one was taken by a nurse I knew in Nairobi hospital. It is of a young Turkana herdsman who had got into a skirmish over some inter-tribe cattle rustling.
A long time ago, a candle fell on the photograph & burned it, but luckily did not damage the important elements of the image. Amazingly, he was walking wounded. God knows what they did about the barbs, but no doubt he left the hospital with a doctor's advice to ‘throw your spear faster next time’ ringing in his ears.

If you click on it, you can see more clearly.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Musical Recommendation of The Week:
Bakerman - Laidback

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Hanging Back With The Joneses

On the occasions my mother brought me to London as a child, whether
it was shoes or books or sewing needles we were buying; we always went to Harrods. In those days, payments were processed through
an incomprehensible system of small brass canisters whizzing
along overhead tubes to some distant accounts’ department designed
by a submariner.
When I first moved to town aged 17, I was so green that when I needed milk or baked beans; that is where I went. In the first months of becoming a Londoner, Harrods was the only place that didn’t frighten me.
It's been years since I went there, but this week my friend Ornella persuaded me to go with her to buy a dog collar.
It felt like the right time to make a sentimental journey before it becomes a crackhouse. 
It's well on the way….

Selfridges, Harvey Nicks & Liberty all reinvented themselves years ago. Even Peter Jones, that sturdy-ankled matron of department stores got refurbished.
Foolish Harrods, smug in its reputation as top dog, got left behind.
For years, its wonderful operatic exterior has been the only thing left to enjoy because inside it had solidified into a brassy, overpriced strictly-tourist-only tat trap. It even has white china elephants in the windows.

Walking through the western doors, the first sight is the mawkish bronze statue of Diana & al Fayed Jr wrestling with a seagull.
At the base is the legend ‘Innocent Victims’.
After costing the taxpayer £12.5m to discover what we all knew all along, ie. drunk driver – no seat belts, al Fayed Snr is still using this ‘art’ to peddle his tired allegations that they were killed by MI6, in league with French & American intelligence, on the orders of the 'Nazi racist Frankenstein' Prince Philip.
Far from persuading us that the royal family are to blame, this unfortunate statue only serves to remind that if there is any culpability - beyond the drunken machismo of Henri Paul - it lies at the door of the person who chose Paul over the regular chauffeur to drive that night: his employer, al Fayed Sr.

We decided against spending £3 on a cup of Harrods tea in the empty café, instead we wandered through one Marie Celeste department after another, until we finally reached the lifts. Doors slid back, tumbleweed blew out & we rode up to the fourth floor and the Pet Department.

Here they seemed not to have stocked with the crunch in mind and are still trying to sell three-tiered 'candy canine' wedding cakes & mahogany Napoleonic campaign bed versions of the dog basket. For the pet with an investigative mind, there was a tweed Sherlock Holmes outfit [See Below. Note matching fore & aft tweed hat] that could be tried on in the dog changing rooms. 
I guess if these animals are forced into clothes often enough they eventually get freaked out by their own furry nakedness.

Ornella found an overpriced diamonté collar for The Notorious P.U.G, the gloriously named puppy she is shortly to take delivery of - but whisper it softly – the reason for the new one is that she dropped her last pug out of her car for a run - & ran it over. 
Let's hope no one pops a cap into this one.

We made our escape from Pets through the Toy Department. Again, we were the only visitors & instantly drew the fire of massed ranks of floor-walking demonstrators who swarmed us with helicopters, somersaulting ducklings and giant bubbles in a desperate bid to prise open, if not our hearts, then our purses.

We took cover by a huge table of overpriced E-Z Snow - a bizarre display since everyone is quite relieved spring has arrived after the unusually large amounts of snow this year. If there’s anyone out there pining for more, you can buy it fake for around £350 a drift.

I feinted left and bought a tiny plastic penguin to fend off the ravenous staff, while Ornella barrel-rolled to the right and picked our exit. We fled through the parting hail of yoyos and boomerangs and only managed to calm ourselves after bulk-buying heavenly Prestat violet cremes as we made our escape through the ground floor.

If Harrods is out of step with the times, then what are we to make of the Pope's latest comments?
At the start of his African visit he declares condoms 'are part of the problem' in the AIDS epidemic currently killing 20m people there. His solution? A criminally naive call for 'chastity & fidelity'.
It would have been marginally more helpful to suggest ‘bromide & castration’. Following his line of argument into other areas of life: no Catholic should ever lock their front door, or their car, or anything else they value. Why? Because theft is wrong.
I can't imagine how millions of averagely intelligent Catholics can listen to the old Uncle Fester look-alike without wanting to renounce him. They have as their leader a man who blithely endangers the lives of millions in a place where the majority have precious little other than their health and their faith.
Time for another Anti-pope I think.
The owner of Harrods might be looking for a new occupation soon…and he has some of the required credentials, being already well versed in the dissemination of rubbish.

Games To Play With Teenagers:
The ten-year validity on my children’s passports is about to run out. 
This weekend, we went to update their pictures to send with the renewal forms.
For the most pleasing results, I find it best to stand outside the photo booth & leave them to privately arrange themselves, then just as the camera is about to flash – shriek 'Look normal!' through the curtain.

& One Last Thing....
People discussing the death of Jade Goody keep saying her story is a modern phenomenon, yet her life arc has huge parallels with Zola's Nana, published back in 1880.  The main difference is strikingly more sex in his story than in hers.

[Header Illustration:  Somebody's Watching Me  [Collage]

Monday, 16 March 2009

Musical Recommendation of the Week: Love Doesn't Last Too Long - The Weepies

wabi sabi wall at the studio

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Hey Kafka, Come Take A Look At This

I went to hospital the other day to have blood taken for a project I might be taking part in. I sat in a waiting room dotted with slumped, exhausted looking people, all isolated from one another by their misery; it was like being in a frogspawn of worry.
The nurse described the system they would use for checking tissue type.
If the outcome was positive, this was bad news. If the outcome was neutral it was similar to a bad marriage, but with no divorce on the cards & if it was negative, that was good.

Afterwards I met a probation officer friend for lunch. He was in a state of exasperated despair having just come from a meeting of senior civil servants at the Home Office. They had bemoaned prison overcrowding, but boasted about the PPP Public Protection programme for those serving sentences involving violence. Before being considered for release, attendance of this shiny new programme is mandatory.
My friend was there to confirm that the prison he had visited was indeed overcrowded. Hundreds languishing with no release date in sight because their programme was not available.

Tomorrow is the inaugural gala dinner of our new book club.
The members: Jess, Ornella, Joe , Ned & me. Jess initiated it after she got frustrated with her previous book club because they never discussed the book at hand, getting distracted instead by pre-crunch boastathons about who was next off to Gshtd & Mauritius.

Now, here's the thing: somehow War&Peace was chosen [1224 pages] as our first book.
Jess is in the lead on p250 and has found all the characters of Wisteria Lane in there. Next is me on p185 & then Ornella, who has come to a juddering halt on p15. Joe & Ned have refused to read it at all - in fact Joe dared to say he was leaving us.
I was able to put him straight on that, telling him that this was a Roach Motel book club; you can check in, but you can't check out, unless it's in concrete slumberwear.

We are meeting to celebrate the fact that Jess left a book club that doesn't discuss the work, to form a club that won't do the reading. If only we had chosen Kafka. Then again, who needs to read him when you can create a version of his world and deliver it in 3D to your book club founder. 

Joe & I are so excited by what has happened, we have decided to start up a Film Club.  The point of which will be long list of arcane regulations, unworkable sub-clauses & instant traditions that can be endlessly referred to & overruled,  on condition of the addition of further rules.
Whether we ever reach a cinema is doubtful.

Mid-week update:
It was decided at the gala dinner that War & Peace was not suitable for a monthly book club and after this, we will chose shorter works. After much discussion, about whether we were going to move towards the lyrical, satirical, dystopian or pastoral, we put it to a vote. 
The result was Tintin in Tibet, in a landslide.

To celebrate, we sent texts to a random selection of unwary friends saying, ‘Great news! You’ve been voted into the Roach Motel book club.’
A few querulous ‘Do you mean me?’ texts came back, which got the reply:
‘ Yes.  Now, do as you’re told & prepare a short dissertation on 
‘Snowy. An allegory of the id?' for next month.
If I’d known the limitless possibilities offered by a book club, I would have joined one years ago.

PS. Non-sequential Political Comment:
David Cameron's interview apologising for any Conservative mistakes leading up to this Depression, was so overtly political, you could almost hear the gentle clack of wood on wood as his chess piece put Brown in check.

Lucifer's Little Wings

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Dark Box No. 1

Typical! The Dress Code Said Smart Casual & He Turns Up Looking Like Louis The Bloody XIV [limited edition]

Musical recommendation of the day: Sugartown - Nancy Sinatra

the viewers' burden

Pouring Oil On Troubled Wafers: A Game For the Terminally Work Avoidant

I don't know about you, but I enjoy film trailers quite as much as the main feature, but last night I saw something that caused popcorn-spewing shock: the trail for Steve Martin in Another Pink Panther remake.  The saddest thing is being reluctant witness to the trajectory of Martin's career - from stand-up genius to the poster boy for toe-curling embarrassment. 
In the name of Zeus, what can be passing through the studio executives minds that they can think it's a good idea to dish up such dross. [Why Martin signs up to these things must remain between him & his shrink]. It seems baffling that during all those hundreds of pre-production meetings , that not one brave soul manages to say, 'we must pull the plug on this unholy pile of chod'.        It is therefore in the spirit of pity rather than anger that I am launching the Let's Mess With The Remakes Charitable Trust to assist those atrophied minds in reworking sad old ideas.
[the rule is a single letter change, but rules are bendy]
The Cheery Orchard
Catheter In The Rye
Shakespeare In Hove
Glue Velvet
Brave Newt World
Whose Lift Is It Anyway?
Silence Of The Lamps
Crouching Dragon, Hidden Draylon
2001, A Spade Odysey
Schindler's Lisp
Brie Encounter
The Italic Job
Apocalypse Nob

 I am also launching a companion project: The Ever Expanding List of Box Office Poison:
In no particular order, except for the first because he is top:
Matthew McConnaghy - ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod, keep that man away from us
Drew Barrymore [can't act]
Renne Zellweger [who told her acting centres only round the mouth]
Whoopi Goldberg [disturbing lack of eyebrow]
Ted Danson [disturbing lack of eyebrow - only Paul Bettany gets away with this]
Sir Ian McKellan aka Serena McKellan [overacts, appalling voice & smug about it]
Jeremy Irons [appalling voice & smug about it]
Ewen MacGregor [perfectly cast in Trainspotting, but can't really act]
Richard E. Grant  [perfectly cast in Withnail & I, but really can't act]
Robin Williams [hard to know where to begin]
Sean Bean [horrible]
Daniel Day Lewis  [ponderously self-important & There Will Be Blood: dear, oh dear, oh dear. As for the gypsy earrings, waxed string hair & faux Irish brogue he's adopted for civilian life....]
Robert De Niro  [disasterous comic actor]
Jennifer Anniston   [sorry love]
Brian Blessed  [ham]
James Woods [can only watch through fingers]
Tilda Swinton [can only watch through fingers]
Mackenzie Crook [can only watch through fingers]
Joan Cusack [can only watch through fingers - if at all]
Special Mention:
Judi Dench [national treasure maybe,  but ghastly as M]

All the above will shortly be called before the House of Unactorly Activities chaired by Joseph 'the hoofer' MacCarthy.

Prompted by one of the comments left: 
Forest Whittacker - terminal disdain for the absurdity of staying in character for the duration of filming when he played Idi Amin... it's acting not Madame Arcarti spirit channeling 
Further suggestions welcome.

Silence of The Lamps

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Musical recommendation of the day: Loving In My Baby's Eyes - Taj Mahal

Oath of office

To the west is a charming notice spotted in Crackney.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Musical recommendation of the day: I'll Never Find Another - The Manhattans

this Spring we shall be wearing stair carpet

I went to meet teachers today, many of whom have comedy names... the school not only has a Peter Jones, but his matching pair, John Lewis. 
 I spent a happy ten minutes with a charming man called Mr Grocock.
 It baffles me why he would want to keep such a name.  

When I lived in Africa I was friendly with a charming, drunken Japanese diplomat who was Second Secretary at his embassy.  I asked him what his job entailed and he said.....'my whole life is a Sisyphean task of trying to control peoples' sniggering.  I go ahead, meet delegates and dignitaries and then I say the Ambassadors name a lot in advance of his arrival to try and desensitize them; it never works.'  The ambassador, Mr Kumamoto had a perfectly normal name in Japanese, but in Swahili, it means
Mr Hot Cunt.  
The Japanese now have a Kumamoto stadium so during certain games in the World Cup the whole of East Africa is convulsed. 
At least Mr Kumamoto could go home and be Mr Normalname

A surname is not a legality, it is merely a convention.

The myths and taboos around a 'family' name have a great deal to do with the centuries of bullshit that perpetuates the misogynist convention of primogeniture. 
'It can't go to a girl, because if she marries she no longer carries the family name'. 
Wrong.  Her name never automatically or legally becomes her husband's.  The convention can just as easily be reversed: her husband can change his name to hers.
 If both parties keep their own names, their children can still bear her name, rather than his. 
As for titles, there is no law banning them from passing through the female line.
Henceforth, I would like to be known as an Archduchess.

 Traditionally, the only way families have controlled the dissipation of possessions: land, houses, bling, goats etc is through an inherent unfairness: 0ne child is necessarily favoured over the others.  
The introduction of a chronological prejudice, rather than a sexist one is way, way, way over due.
 The Queen, as top hereditary dog - and woman - is in the perfect position to advocate a change toward the eldest child, rather than the eldest son becoming the heir. 
Dull old trout that she is, it would be by far and away most interesting decision of her reign. 
It wouldn't even have to ruffle her leaden conventionality because the next two generations are blokes anyway. 

I don't understand why this debate never makes it onto the political agenda...
well I do understand, obviously.... 

In the meantime girls, remember remember: the most powerful form of oppression is when the oppressed enforce it themselves.
 [ Exhibit 1. the genitally mutilated women perform the act on the younger generation...& they in turn....  Exhibit 2. The disappointment women feel at having a daughter & their determination to doggedly carry on giving birth until a son appears.    
 Exhibits 3-35,000 lie on file  ] 
We are so used to it, we don't even think about it.  
Awake!  Rise up and use whatever name you like. 
In fact, ask, no, demand your husband changes his to yours - see how big an ask he thinks that is. 

After that - I think our next move is just going to have to be a worldwide mass withholding of sex until action over recycling, climate change, troop withdrawals  bonus capping - whatever actually gets done because this government is inert. 
 They bang on about climate change -  but they pour money into the car industry & why don't they hand out swingeing fines to all those thousands of companies who leave whole tower blocks with lights blazing all night?
 Our recycling accumulates in warehouses because, it is no longer being shipped to China.  
& yet they fail to come up with some local solution,  [crematoriums for the emergency backlog & lightweight coffins anyone?] which is what they should've done in the first place.

  The congestion charge extension is going to be removed?
  Why do we have to wait until 2010?

Take bankers' barmy bonus away? So, much talk so little action.  Why not just get on and do it - & I don't mean singling out  Fred Goodwin [a name quite as richly ironic as Bernard Madoff's is apt] as a scapegoat, but remove the bonuses, the entire top executive & middle management too.  Get retrospective on their motherfucking asses.
What can anyone do with $100m for Chrissake?
Anyway, Fred Goodwin has already made a fortune touring with Riverdance.

Ok, and one last thing - why has Ken Livingstone's hideous building programme of something like 30 tower blocks across London not been shelved?  He only championed it because he has a baby toe-sized penis and twenty-five floors of concrete are the mayoral version of the penis extension.  

Which  brings me back to Mr Grocock.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Musical recommendation of the day: Just Go - Boz Scaggs

thank God for vitamin C

Hello Universe, It's me.
They say a problem shared is a problem halved so if I share a complaint with say, a thousand, that's a problem grated.
How many times a day is it normal to feel suicidal I wonder.
My daily average is probably between two & three. Seven on a bad day (with little breaks when I listen to the radio - except for Gardeners' Question Time, which always endanger my will to live).
Nights are bad. I lie in bed gripped by unnamed fears, & worse, named ones.
The rest of the time I'm happy as a flaming lamb. Yessiree.
Joyeux comme un mouton flambe as they say in The Wirral.