Wednesday 17 December 2008

The Power of Comedy Lost and Found

Yesterday was a nightmare waiting to happen and happen it did. I left the office early and on time at 1.15pm to travel back to East Ham to see my eldest daughter in her Xmas performance of Hansel and Gretel. I had my work bag (a Dell computer bag without a computer in it) and my video camera. (I intended to video the show, or at least key moments with my daughter in, so that my wife, at home with a sickly youngest daughter, could see the recording). I took the Central Line from Bethnal Green to Mile End and changed at Mile End to pick up the District Line to Upton Park. The District Line was, however, not happening. Someone had "fallen under a train" at Whitechapel and trains weren't moving. Sad, but how was I going to get to the Xmas show on time? I waited for 5 minutes and realised that the announcements advising passengers to take alternative routes applied to me. I hopped on the next Central Line train to Stratford and caught the only black cab in the rank to the school in E13. As I pulled up outside the school with 2 minutes to spare (and £10 lighter), I saw my daughters' former childminder (P) with one of her charges (C) strolling along and on her way to see the show. I said thanks to the driver and said hello to P and C as we walked into the school playground. I got through the reception door and then my small, fragile world fell apart...

...I had committed a Mr Magoo like atrocity on myself - the video camera was still in the back of the cab... cut a very long and tiresome shaggy dog story short; the video camera has not been retrieved. I saw my daughter's show and very good it was too. (Although strangely I never saw my daughter, as she had decided, I think partly in protest of not being given a major role, to hide her face behind the back row of the choir. I could hear her recorder playing but not see her. A video camera would not have altered this odd situation. Ironic, you might say as I had no camera anyway). I managed to track down my taxi driver by some deft detective work. All right, I went back to the Stratford taxi rank and chatted to some drivers who recognised my description of the driver and said I must have been a customer of "Big John". I got Big John's mobile; texted him; he called me back and he said he would try and help but he had picked up 2 customers after me and the camera wasn't on the back seat any more.

THE PAIN, THE PAIN. Sure insurance may cover it (I haven't checked the policy yet). But the camera was pristine - a 3 year old, low tech memory machine. The tape inside it had my youngest daughter's Xmas show, as recorded by my wife which I still hadn't seen. Now do you understand? How could someone pick up that camera and not make an effort to return it? If they played the tape they would see immediately that someone's sentimental, personal family stuff was going to be sorely missed. The new "owners" of my camera could even work out which school my daughter went to, because, as my wife informed me, the headteacher's traditional welcoming speech to parents before "Whoops-a-Daisy Angel" kicked off the nursery kids' Xmas show, mentioned the school's name a number of times.

RETURN THE CAMERA TO THE SCHOOL, WHY DON'T CHA? Are you on the same page? Acute pain. I am a very careful chap. I guard my gear. A suicide, a delay, a freak diversion, a taxi ride and some recognisable faces could all be added into the mix of distractions but at the end of the day I just magooed. Plain Mr Magooed it. Magooed it big time!

Rectifying a situation like this isn't easy. You fight with yourself, you retrace steps and you make strange phone calls to lost and found warehouse operators. The line is a bit echoey...

...but then COMEDY COMES TO THE RESCUE. I didn't feel like drinking. COMEDY, that's what I needed. I believe great comedy can be truly cathartic.

I've been working through the first series (2000) of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm. My wife and I love it. Last week we did 2 nights, 2 episodes a night. But last night we did 5 x half hour episodes. We split our sides. We hardly moved from our seats. Larry David just walked from one catastrophe to the next. Most of his scrapes are generated by him speaking his mind combined with an uncouth and unreasonable attitude but he also gets more than his fair share of simple pure bad luck. Genius, absolute genius. I sat there shaking off a bad day just enjoying someone else's misfortune. Larry was having a worse time than me and I was so much happier because of it.

He made Series 6 last year and 2-5 are also out on DVD. Santa now knows what I want for Xmas. How I missed this the first time round is a mystery to me but this is one thing that is being retrieved from my cultural lost and found.

...Deep inside I know that I'm him...

...I need to get myself a HD camera anyway...

Monday 15 December 2008

Nev's send off

Nev got a moving send off on Friday (12/12/08). Bethnal Green was brought to a standstill as hundreds of well-wishers gathered outside Pellicci's cafe to pay their respects. BBC London caught the mood of the day whilst The Times had written a fitting tribute the day before.

Thursday 11 December 2008

A sad loss: Nevio Pellicci 1925-2008

A warm tribute to a much loved East Londoner and a video interview about the caff.

My take on Channel 4's 'The Devil's Whore'

I hope everyone has enjoyed Channel 4's 'The Devil's Whore' - I certainly did (with a few qualifications). The last of this big budget 4-parter was broadcast last night (10/12/08) and I'm missing it already. At one stage it could have been a 10 hour series on BBC and if you read about the production's long gestation, it may never have been made at all.

I've written a review for the The Culture Wars website which you can read by clicking on this link: Passionate people at w…w…w…war!

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Whore watch

The Devil's Whore has been watched and appreciated (with some caveats). I'm not sure about the devil, or the whore come to think of it, but I won't go into too much detail here as I intend to write a longer piece on the series. If you need to catch up on the first episode from last week, click here.

If you need to quickly swot up on the English Revolution why not read Christopher Hill's seminal 1940 essay, The English Revolution 1640. [All complaints about the poor standard of transcription should be made to the CPGB (do they still exist?) and/or Andy Blunden at - it's enough to give Marxists who care about accuracy a nad mame!].

The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution was written by Hill in 1972 and is regarded as one of the classic academic texts on the Civil War and a major contribution to twentieth century historical analysis. I'm plodding through it now and am getting to know my Levellers from Diggers. The Devil's Whore would not have been written without Hill's contribution to our understanding of this period and the worm's eye view of history that he took.

See you after episode 2.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

'Tis Pity She's a Devil's Whore

My expectations are being ramped up to the max before tomorrow's screening of The Devil's Whore on Channel 4. Co-writer and co-executive producer, Peter Flannery, was on Radio 4's Start the Week and actor John Simm was interviewed in today's Times. I am sure you blogged-out, newshounds have tracked down other stuff.

Anyway, the 4-parter has a time and that'll be 9pm. So, I would advise you to get the kids to bed on time (isn't government advice 7:30pm?), open a bottle of red and hopefully (I'm praying), sit back and enjoy an insightful journey into our revolutionary past.

The Devil's Whore is on tomorrow (that's Wednesday 19th November) night at 09:00. Live in the here and now by enjoying a bit of BIG TV now and then. (Of course I'm going to Skyplus it. All precatuionary steps are being taken).


OMG, I've just earwigged someone in the pub recruit a new believer to the Socialist - Degenerated Workers' State variety - cause. The English Revolution must be in the air tonight...

Friday 14 November 2008

Going up

We all know what's going down, but what's going up?

1. Fawlty Towers DVD sales soar

2. Egg Sales up by 22 Per Cent

3. Sales of The Communist Manifesto have risen by more than 700%

Did someone say "Diana moment"?

"I too rooted for Obama and I too was moved by his victory speech. I expect him to be far more liberal and successful than his predecessor. But he was swept to power on a wave of emotion - it was, albeit in happier circumstances, another "Diana moment" - from which almost nobody dared to dissent. As hard times approach, I do not think that augurs well for democracy and newspapers in either country."
Peter Wilby with some sensible words.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Dreaming about Obama

"I had a dream about Angelina Jolie, Barack and Michelle Obama last
night," said my wife (R) over breakfast today.

"Was I in it?" I asked.

"Don't be stupid!" R said.

I had already started to lose interest but I thought I would play along.

"Oh. What was Barack doing there?" I inquired.

"He wasn't actually there. He was somewhere else. Me and Angelina were bodyguards protecting the Obamas," R explained.


"There were a pair of leather gloves outside the White House. I told Angelina that she should leave them but she didn't listen to me and she went and brought them into the White House kitchen," R described.

"Whose gloves were they?" I asked.

"That doesn't matter. They exploded in the kitchen!"

"Oh dear. Was anyone hurt?" I asked whilst debating in my head whether I should have a third piece of peanut butter on toast.

"No. It was only a small explosion. I went ballistic. I was fuming. I told her not to bring the stupid gloves into the building," R recounted.

"What did Michelle say?" I probed.

"She was fine - very relaxed considering. Made us both a cup of tea," R explained as some kind of closure on the dream was achieved.


I am convinced dreams like this are happening across the world. What can we make of them? Are there any Freudian, or non-Freudian, dream analysts that could give me the lowdown on this one? Comments encouraged and welcomed.

My own personal take? Well, there is no dream or metaphor to interpret here, as such. R feels good about the election result and wants to protect the Obamas from any threats. Simple. There have already been at least two widely reported far-right plots to take out Obama, if we are to believe the stories...

...but the gloves, the gloves, why the gloves and why does Angelina get it so wrong? And why does Mrs Pitt take such a telling off from my wife...


I'm Angelina!

Monday 10 November 2008

Bring on the English Revolution!

The Devil's Whore is coming to Channel 4. It is difficult to contain my excitement. In a preview in The Sunday Times a whole list of treats are placed before us. First and foremost, this new television drama is written by Peter Flannery the writer of Our Friends in the North. All right, a very close second is that The Devil's Whore is about the Cromwell and English Revolution. Here's a list of other things to get excited about:

- the cast includes Dominic West (The Wire) as Cromwell
- there hasn't been a prime time civil war drama since 1983
- it was filmed in South Africa
- it has a big budget - £7m for a four-parter
- Flannery read the King James version of the Bible (1604) to research dialogue and the use of "muscular metaphor and simile" (it might not rock your boat but it's rocking mine)

Flannery unashamedly engages his audiences with big ideas, his characters are complex and he wants to take you on an unforgettable journey. What more could we want?
"I'm not selling this as a way of passing your GCSE in 17th-century history... I'm trying to write a thrilling story about those times and what the issues were..."

[England's civil war in The Devil’s Whore, The Sunday Times]
Bring on the English Revolution! See you at the Channel 4 barricades on November 19th. [I'm guessing 9pm but the online listings aren't giving up crucial information like that just yet].

My changing reading habits: from A(nalogue) to E(lectronic)

The credit crunch has brought home to me how my reading habits have started to change, especially in respect to hard news. I buy The Guardian or The Times every day but my hunger for news from the blogosphere, from BBC correspondents to obscure US libertarians (read unhappy Republicans), is unsated. Get out more! Yes, I know I should but while I am not, I am going to carry on hunting and reading. Discovering a blog, maybe a gem that only a small number of people are reading, has a tragic equivalence with the under-the-bedclothes listening of the late John Peel Radio 1 show (10pm-midnight, Monday-Thursday in the late 1970s). I listened through hours of experimental dross just to catch that edgey, indie band that none of my mates might have heard of. Cassette tape in my Bush cassette tape radio recorder at the ready, great tracks would get recorded for later consumption and distribution. Today, Google Reader and Delicious are the modern equivalents of my cassette recorder for my news reading habits.

I am not sure I am ready to start reading novels electronically, but it will happen*. 2008, and the global banking/financial crisis in particular, mark a turning point; I am almost reading equally from analogue and electronic ones. UK newspapers have got up to speed on the web in such a comprehensive and efficient manner that I don't even have to buy their paper versions anymore. Even I would have thought this as sacrilegious a year ago, but it now seems like a saving worth making. Someone might be able to explain how they are monetising (as the business lingo goes) this web access but that is not something I have to worry about; I'm just enjoying the benefits. One immediate benefit is the slowing down of my annoying (to my wife) newspaper clipping habit.

*I've just looked at and caressed a Sony PRS-505 in a John Lewis store. This is one of the market leaders in eReaders. An eReader is a small, book-like computer that can store (e)books and all other kinds electronic reading matter. The pages have this disarmingly dead white un-screen like feel to them. I had to touch them just see it wasn't actually paper! There are still loads of questions about their functional purpose that remain unanswered, like for instance, if you are not an academic why would you need to store 160 books on one device? But that's probably just early techno-philistinism creeping in on my part. I loved it and it will fit down my chimney, Santa.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Bursting the Obama bubble

There is at least one Guardian journalist who has been prepared to swim against the Obama tide (of near hysteria) and his name is Simon Jenkins. In an article entitled: All the cliches about colour obscure the real challenges awaiting Obama, Jenkins lays down a gaunlet of liberal common sense. I think we should take up the gaunlet and start to get a grip.
"The most overheard media cliche is that "America will never be the same again". Yes it will, as it was when it last elected a Democratic president. Only if we break from the crypto-racist mindset that sees Obama as a black man first and all else far behind can the odds on a successful presidency be assessed."

Thursday 6 November 2008


John was woken at 2.30am on Wednesday 5th November by a telephone call from Mary.

"John! He's done it!" said a merrily drunk Mary.

"Who's that? Who's done what?" groaned John.

"Obama is president! It's Mary... it's amazing isn't it?" Mary carried on.

"It's 2.30am in the morning. I was asleep. You've got to be joking." John complained.

"Now don't try and get angry with me, John. This is history. Isn't it great?" Mary enthused.

"I'm going back to sleep Mary."

John put the phone down. Helen, John's wife, has woken up.

"Who was that, John?" asked a crotchety Helen.

"Mary. Obama's won."

"I'll kill her..."

[The names have been changed to protect my friends identities].

I imagine this script may have played out across the UK, if not the world, in the early hours of Tuesday morning [GMT]. My friends John and Helen have not been caught up in the Obamarama thing but Mary clearly has and at the moment the Obamaphiles seem to be everywhere. The hope that has been pinned onto Barack Obama's campaign, and now imminent presidency, is BIG HOPE for BIG CHANGE. I'm afraid some of us our suffering from extreme self-delusion and others are just going to be plain disappointed.

When I woke up on Tuesday morning [6.45am GMT] and turned on the television, there was the news: America elects its first black/mixed race/biracial - [delete as you feel appropriate] president. My wife was happy - emotional even. My 3rd daughter is 'planning to be born' 9 days after Obama's inauguration on 20th January 2009. My mixed race daughter will be born into a world with a mixed race leader of the free world. It would have been churlish not to reflect on this moment and recognise a sense of achievement, but now we need to move on.

Yes, move on. Snap out of it! Wake up! I've always believed in the human potential of all races to achieve at the highest level because I believe in racial equality. A non-white man has reached the highest political office proves in one simple sense what anti-racists have known along: that anything and everything is possible.

Unfortunately Obama's election promises don't fill me with hope: withdrawl from Iraq but puruse the war in Afghanistan with more vigour, being one of them. The hope invested in Obama has a lot to do with America's internalised self-loathing generated during George W. Bush's two terms in office. So, if Americans now feel freer to engage with the world about the best ways forward during these difficult times then we will all be enriched. However, the narrow, illiberal political agenda of the political class prevalent in the West from Barack Obama to Gordon Brown, fills me full of dread. Without any real economic solutions politicians tend to ramp up the control agenda and want to tell us 'how we all have a responsibility to tighten our belts for the good of the economy and the environment'. Ughh!

Reading across the blogosphere, I find libertarian fears described by American Republicans palpable (and entertaining).

"I want all these willing volunteers who are so eager to help Obama achieve his vision to leave me strictly alone. I prefer that they sink into apathy, or go off and get drunk or do drugs. I don't want to be part of Obama's corps of concerned citizens."

Obama's worker bees [Blog: Miriam's Ideas]

"I don’t need a cult leader and I have no interest in worshipping. Obama represents mob rule and I want no part of his cult of personality. I’m interested in human freedom. I’m interested in less government. I’m interested in choices, rational discussion and education. Where are my people? Where is my party?"

The cult of Obama [Blog: The will to exist]
'Miriam' goes on to describe a less liberal society where Big Brother drones (read former Obama supporters) police her eating habits and gasoline usage. Truly a nightmare. I think we might already be living in it in the UK!

For more in depth analysis, I regularly read spiked. Frank Furedi's article Obama and the fall of ‘the silent majority’, Brendan O'Neill's Voting for Obama: a badge of superiority? and The morning after History was made by Sean Collins raise serious questions about the real trends underlying Barack Obama's victory.

For a humorous take on what the young, and unemployed, Obamaphiles are going to do now the campaign is over, watch this clip from The Onion:

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Humour bypass

The coverage of the build up to the US presidential elections has had to compete with Brandgate (or Manuelgate or Sachsgate or Whatevergate). The US is about to elect a new leader and we have had another media scandal that engulfs the media in a cannibalistic feeding-frenzy. This alone is quite shocking.

I must admit my head has been spinning with issues that sometimes appear very trivial and then very serious, simultaneously. Ross and Brand weren't funny on this particular occasion - there seems to be a wide consensus on this one. (I'll come clean: I can find Ross funny and on occasions his cheeky childish wit can amuse but his rude, boorish, self-congratulatory shtick - a large part of his act - has started to wear thin. Or put another way, "sisters", I think if I were a female celeb I would think twice about appearing on his chat show. Juliette Binoche, Jane Fonda, Nicola Kidman and even our own Jade Goody have all been subjected to Ross's sexist, car crash sense of humour. Brand's humour has always been too obscured by his ego for me to appreciate his "talents").

Anyway... talk about a diverting issue. As some intelligent articles have pointed out this isn't about Ross or Brand. The column inches devoted to the subject aren't an extension of a public debate about the nature of humour and what makes us laugh. "Can the comedy of cruelty ever be justified. Discuss." No, the official liberal media response to "Brandgate" has betrayed a papable disgust with the thousands that have complained about the Brand-Ross Radio 2 show. Charlie Brooker's column - a very funny column that I read regularly - in The Guardian was entitled: "Want a rush of empowerment? Join the angry idiots registering their disgust with Ofcom". His opening salvo was: "So it's here at last. The dawn of the dumb has broken in earnest."

At the beginning of the week I must admit I was caught up in the fears of the liberal media elite (being a lesser member with aspirations). In particular, the worry that a "Daily Mail witchunt" against Ross and Brand might increase the likelihood of a knee-jerk and censorious response from the BBC, troubled me. But there was something else going on here...

...and then I stumbled on Neil Davenport's article on spiked: A revolt of the masses against the BBC?

Neil takes apart the issue and really explores the BBC's contempt for its audience. The Ross-Brand affair is set in the context of "the media’s low horizons and lack of faith in its audience". This article is a devastating critique of dumbing-down whilst also being a fresh clarion call for funny, and intelligent, comedy. I couldn't recommend it more.

Friday 24 October 2008

Facebook Addiction

Trundling home on the District Line yesterday I picked up a free sheet and skimmed through its news offerings. Skipping the sports pages just in case there were any mentions of "Spurs", "Ramos" and "Relegation", I stumbled across a piece about Facebook and its addictive properties.

One in ten at risk from 'Facebook addiction'

was the headline. An expert from the priory said that: "at least one in ten Britons could be vulnerable to the addiction".

I chuckled and scoffed the rest of my journey home... had some supper... fired up the pute... kicked-off FB and debated with myself about whether 45 friends was really enough and whether 2 people I don't really know (but have seen across a crowded room) should be accepted as friends...

...come on in, there's room for more...

One of my mates has got 332 friends and admits he is a "friends whore".

Saturday 27 September 2008

I would have liked to have had a beer with Paul Newman

A picture isn't needed here. Newman was one of three actors that captured "cool" when I was growing up in the 1970s; Robert Redford and Steve McQueen were the other two, but Newman was my favourite. The faraway eyes and rebel streak made him very compelling to watch. I must have seen "Cool Hand Luke" a dozen times. I was three years old when it was released in 1967, but the movie seem to play back-to-back on television in the late 70s and I never got sick of the hard-boiled egg eating challenge. Newman just cut it as a wilful, independent spirit. His "Mendacity, mendacity" speech, where he railed against his father in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), was another memorable film moment. The film caught the inter-generational tensions of the late 50s and 60s and still resonates with family life today.

Quotes attributed to Newman are worth a read: Paul Newman: In his own words. All poker players know this one (below) but might be surprised it is one of Newman's.

"If you're playing a poker game and you look around the table and can't tell who the sucker is, it's you!"

Friday 19 September 2008

Would you Credit Crunch that?!

It's only Thursday and this week we have experienced the Lehman Brothers collapse, the AIG shore-up and the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB. Lehman Brothers workers left Canary Wharf on Monday with their desks emptied into cardboard boxes. It's been a whirlwind of a week.

But developments on a far smaller scale have been distracting me. I've have been monitoring the credit crunch and it's micro effect on the local economy for some months and small things keep on catching my eye. I walk past a pie and mash shop on the Bethnal Green Road most days on my way to work and in July there was a small, apologetic note in the window that read something like this: "With regret the price of pie and mash will have to go up to £2 on Monday because our suppliers have increased their prices". I meant to snap it with my mobile's camera but I was a bit self-conscious. (The owners might have thought I was from a rival PnM shop or just an arty-type studying East London anthropology and eating habits). The note's honesty struck me. Here was a food outlet that knew its clientele. Wholesale food price hikes were unavoidably being passed onto the punter but with a graceful, and regretful, warning.

Meanwhile just up the road - in fact on the Roman Road - a cash machine that dispenses £5 notes was allegedly being installed. I haven't checked it out yet, but the local free newspaper ran the story and described the decision to install the machines as a response to the gloomier economic conditions and the need for people to access smaller amounts of cash. It seems slightly mad when you think about it. Why bother? And yet, when you start to look at your own spending habits - or saving habits - a cash machine that gives you the fiver option seems like a good idea...

"...I just need a bag of chips (£1.70) and a sausage (£1), I'm covered on the drink front - 2 cans of London Pride in the fridge at home. What's this? A cash machine that only dispenses fivers? Just the ticket. I'll have £2.30 change to buy a loaf tomorrow, make some sandwiches for lunch and skipp the caff..."

Who needs excess cash when the aim of the frugal game is to underspend on your monthly budget and have some shrapnel at the end of the month? Let's have cash machines that dispense pounds and pence! Let's march arm in arm down the street and demand a CASHFLOW REVOLUTION! Yeah!

Monday 8 September 2008

PHP? I'd rather be listening to the Esbjörn Svensson Trio

I've been sitting at the computer grindstone over the last few evenings, battling with blogs and the technology that lies behind them and drawn a blank. PHP? It's not for me. I can barely get my head round entry level HTML. Anyway...

...I let - what a wonderfully simple hyperlink, by the way - drive me on, as I play with coding that is going to eventually raise up its head and spit me in the eye. This magical radio station supplies a fantastic range of music to the ears of unrevenged, low-level, techy nerds such as myself (see my previous entry Rediscovering Music with I know I am being hard on myself but when you come to the realisation 21 years after you discovered computers and signed-up for a COBOL programming course (which you sensibly abondoned), that you ain't got what it takes, then it's time to take stock. Just as well I'm a Producer-Director-Writer in the creative world of Video Production and all this computer stuff is just a hobby. (Hobby? Obsession, more like). Where was I? Ah yes, music...

...Well, in a way I blame for driving me on in my hopeless pursuit. Can I sue an internet radio station for keeping me focussed on the unconquerable tasks in front of me? Probably not. So there I was trying to get my head round how to customise a template in Wordpress by jigging with it's CSS, when through my headphones comes the sounds of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. Yes! I can get this code to do my bidding, I think (re-energised by the "jazz piano" tagged music). I'll hack it and crack it and blow its house in! I'm sitting up straight in my seat, leaning over my computer with authority, trying not to bang the keys in a smart-arsey, syncopated way to the intricate rhythms of the music, because it is, after all, 2am in the morning and I might wake the kids up. The track is called "Eighty-Eight Days in My Veins" and to date it has only been played 301 times on (20:52 08/09/2008). What a discovery! The piano and double bass melody took me on a journey, a trip dare I say, where I was slaying PHP coding snakes and dragons all around me...

..the need for sleep eventually kicked in. The taste of defeat still slushes around my palette but my ears have received all the benefits of great tagging and my brain is slowly working out the potential benefits of getting out more.


What a shock to read in Friday's Guardian, an inspiring article by Jamie Cullum about the band's leader, Esbjörn Svensson, who died in a scuba-diving accident in June. This is a band I would have turned off the computer for and driven miles to see. If you hurry you can download MP3s of "Tide of Trepidation" and "The Well-Wisher" for free.

Slogan of the day:
Don't let great contemporary jazz piano music trick you into thinking that you have slewn the coding demons that are really only sleeping when you should be.

05 Sept 2008 - Jamie Cullum's article - Farewell to a maverick.

16 June 2008 - John Fordham's article - Jazz pianist Esbjörn Svensson killed in scuba accident.

Some good photos of EST live by Manuel Cristaldi on Flickr - Esbjörn Svensson Trio photos.

Thursday 28 August 2008

My Zinc Bed

I think I might like the work of David Hare but unfortunately I have seen very little of it. I saw "Skylight" in the 90s with Michael Gambon and Lia Williams at the National Theatre which I really enjoyed at the time. I stumbled across a trailer the other night for "My Zinc Bed" and decided to stop everything and watch it with my better half. What a disappointment. I am a fan of all three actors: Jonathan Pryce, Paddy Considine and Uma Thurman, but their talents were lost in a "tv play" that just felt forced and quite undramatic. Anyway, I never planned to write a review, or anything so formal, but isn't it nice when you find an articulate reviewer who says everything you want to say and more? Lucy Mangan's review in today's Guardian did just that. I leave you with two intelligent quotes that re-raise some very pertinent questions about the nature of good tv drama.

I can't work out if it is a depressing testament to the debasing effects of the junk-television diet we habitually follow that the heightened language of My Zinc Bed - unashamedly writerly writing - felt like an affectation and distraction, or if it is simply a sign that the intimate medium of television does indeed require a less mannered form of language, lest it overwhelm rather than serve the piece.

...Even an ideas play needs drama as well as discussion.

This great review, which also takes a swipe at BBC policy towards commissioning drama, can be found here:

Thank you Lucy.

Sunday 24 August 2008

An Olympic Wave of Optimism

Qualified, Postive Stuff
Not even the sight of an over the hill musical hero of mine blasting out a rock classic with the Magnum-smooth vocals of last year's X Factor winner could destroy the good vibes emanating from Bejing's Bird Nest Stadium. Jimmy, we all know you want to get that reticent lead singer pal of yours back on the road, but did you have to go this far? But hey-ho, if the choice was between Jimmy or Brain May playing "We Will Rock You" (which some Team GB Art Director's brainstorming session must have thrown up, surely) then we were truly saved.

All right, some Negative Stuff (I'm holding myself back)
I think we have to probably face up to the fact Britain is seriously creatively challenged if Lewis, Page, Beckham and a Routemaster bus is all that we could come up with. I read with amusement that the lyrics to "Whole Lotta Love" had to be altered to tone them down for the closing ceremony. "I'm gonna give you every inch of my love" did not make sense for a female singer to sing, Leona Lewis advised. How quaint and subtlety put. Lewis's suggestion of swapping "inch" for "bit" was agreed by the "band" and so we have been all saved our blushes. [Led Zeppelin classic 'too racy' for Olympics].

Back on track, more Positive Stuff
Creatively challenged we may be, but I think our sporting heroes have been truly inspiring. The work has been put in and rewards were reaped. Rebecca Adlington's gold double in the swimming were the cream of the Brit crop for me. She swam as fast as Johnny Tarzan Weissmuller... wow! And she now has her own Wiki [Rebecca's Wiki]. And she's from Mansfield, Notts (a place I know). We've got an Italian coach for the English football squad and several Australian coaches in Team GB, let's get an international art director for the opening and closing ceremony. Who have we got anyway? Has it been decided? It's Tracy Emin isn't it? Sorry, I was getting negative again...

Very Positive Stuff
My defining memory from the Games was Usain Bolt's 200m record smash. The track side moving camera shot picked up Bolt on the home straight. It was filmic television at its best. Bolt was in sharp profile in the foreground and the Bird's Nest crowd on the other side of the stadium was one big, blurry shallow focus smudge. This was the moment. He had to get it! He had to beat Michael Johnson's record, who had just said in the BBC commentary box that he expected Bolt to run 19:50, i.e. not break Johnson's 12 year record of 19:32. Bolt had his eye on the prize - and, allegedly, on the "electronic timeboard" throughout the race - and Johnson escaped with only a speck of egg on his face. (If anyone could send me a link to that profile shot of Bolt I would be very grateful).

And finally...
The shots of street celebrations in Kingston when Bolt picked up his third gold and made a defining contribution to the 4x100 relay team were just sublime. The camera moved through and over an ecstatic crowd who knew that victory was theirs. [].

Rediscovering Music with

You know when you find a website that just takes your breath away... well has done that for me. It's a music social networking web 2.0 site thingamyjig. It's basically a music website that allows you to listen to vast amounts of music for free*. The clever "scrobbling" software behind the scenes tracks your tastes and suggests to you other music you might like. As exlains itself:

"Millions of songs are scrobbled every day. This data helps to organise and recommend music to people; we use it to create personalised radio stations, and a lot more besides."

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. I have managed to discover music that I just hadn't heard before. "Unlimited free, legal music!" you say in complete surprise. Can this be true? No, not exactly. In the process of playing certain tracks to death, I discovered that will try and restrict the frequency of access to tracks by only letting you hear 30 second excerpts. Why? *Because they want you to subscribe to the service (£1.50 per month) or buy the track. Okay, so there is an business model beneath the surface but what the heck it's still brilliant! Personally, I think it blows iTunes out of the water.

I went to a gig in 1992 at the Jazz Cafe. Abdullah Ibrahim was playing with a 4-piece band. I thought he was amazing and one particlar track just mesmerized me. After the gig I tried to find the track, but to no avail. I bought a few albums but he is very prolific and the internet didn't exist then. I even resorted to singing the flute melody to staff on the jazz floor of London's Virgin Megastore. They were sympathetic, and highly bemused, but couldn't help. helped me discover this track in a matter of minutes. My quest has ended but really it has only just begun. In case you would like to hear this tune here is a link below. It's called "The Mountain" and I believe it is the title track of an eponymous album and with it's oriental themes, should have been the BBC's ident music for the Olympics (or perhaps not, some gem stones are best left undisturbed).

I have eclectic music tastes as my moniker suggests. I have a penchant for classic rock and was lucky to go and see Led Zeppelin in December 2007 at the O2. Please read my blog entry on the Zep gig if you fancy:

But that ain't half the story. I love jazz, blues, Beethoven, Bach, Stravinsky, Mozart, Mahler and am still listening to "London Calling" by The Clash.

I've been meaning to sign up to for a while. The company is based near my work - - in the East End of London, I believe, so I feel a kind of parochial pride in it's success. What a great idea!

electictrains @

Thursday 31 July 2008

Bullshit Bingo

During our working lives we are often confronted with new jargon. Sometimes we are expected to use it even if we know it's temporary adoption will make fools of us all. In Michael McGrath's beautifully conceived short film, a competition between middle-ranking managers to 'push the envelope' with their usage of new business jargon is taken to hilarious extremes. Please enjoy the unity of great cinematography, a classic score and "I Dream of Genie" sound effects. The directing and script aren't bad either.

This film is at least 4 years old and Mike is a close friend who I've been cajoling to put his films out on the web. Thanks for giving in Mike.

Monday 30 June 2008

Anglo-French Relations Revisited or what a nice holiday

Oh my goodness! It's the 30th June and no blog-posting to speak of, or write of, in June. My promise to myself - so you really don't need to know this - was to post at least one blog a month and I'm barely hitting that target. It's positively Stalinist in it's 5 year planishness, if you get my drift...

...So here is a posting with lots more promised in July when my life slows down. I'm just work busy (a good thing, I suppose), forget hectic social life excuse - that's for 20 year olds!

However, I did manage to steal a family holiday in late May (half-term break) in the only country I will ever have the chance of learning the language of - France. Brittany, to be precise. And I have to report that all we seemed to meet were universally friendly French people which is certainly not how the alleged curmudgeons are perceived from this side of the English Channel. Now you might argue, cynically, that these Frenchies were only being friendly because they were taking my money e.g. the main people I had to try out my "O" Level French on were indeed: waitresses, supermarket checkout staff and the gites owner. You suspect that under their breath you can hear them mutter: "Here comes the stupid English family holidaying in France when the Euro is so strong and we've just put up our food and fuel prices to catch up with les Brits...mutter... mutter...". I know what you are thinking, but no. I like 'em. I like their roads, their food and wine, their countryside and their wildcat strikes when they have just about had enough of anything that is fromaging them off.

And do you know what? secretly, oh so secretly, I think they like us...

...In Dinard near to where we stayed, just across the bay from St Malo, they hold a British Film Festival every October... More about this in my next posting (I promise).

But if you can't wait here is a link:

...there's even a statue of Hitchcock in the town...

Tuesday 13 May 2008

I'm Being Pursued by a Theme - Part 2

CCTV to monitor Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath is going to have CCTV cameras to act as a deterrent, the BBC story ran today. We already have them in our parks in East London. My photo set on Flickr (see link below) will hopefully highlight the sordid lengths that the authorities will go to make CCTV cameras just a tad more palatable to us all. How about corrupting the concept of public art (with input from local children) by commissioning a sculpture that is really just a housing for 2 large CCTV cameras? How sick is that?

The more I look at the sculpture - and I do a lot because it is on my way to work - the more angry I get. Personally, I think the debate that we seem to have lost over 15 years ago needs to be rejuvenated. Let's start with a slogan, how about: "Take the cameras down". And here is the argument: liberty takes precedence over crime prevention. We might even find that if we take our liberty more seriously, crime prevention will become less of a problem. (More on that idea another time. I need to understand what I'm thinking!).

4 million cameras? 3% crime prevention success rate? CCTV isn't working. They have invaded our public space and effectively removed it. Fun happens in places where we know we are not being watched and that leaves us in our homes - alone.

Rowenna Rowling, a Hampstead Heath regular, said on BBC London TV News this morning: "You come here to get away from it all, the crowds, noise, CCTV cameras and everything. It [CCTV] would be a terrible, terrible mistake."

I agree with Rowenna. Make London parks free of CCTV and give us back our public space.

My Flickr set of the Weaver's Fields Public CCTV Sculpture

BBC News Article

Tuesday 15 April 2008

A beautiful (eclectic) train journey

View Larger Map

15/04/2008 [13:04] I took a beautiful train journey in stunning spring sunshine from Swindon to Cheltenham, today. I passed a long village that clung to a mild ravine where villagers waved at my passing train and children played without adults in open play areas. (They were probably hiding behind trees and conspiring in my fantasy). The next stop was Stroud and I think the village I passed was Briscombe (at least that was a name I gleaned from a pub sign). [19:18 - Googlemapped it on my return journey: it's Brimscombe].

The sight of south-westerly facing cottages all hewn from Cotswold stone and reflecting this magnificent light took my breath away. My spreadsheeted schedule for an up and coming video shoot in Cheltenham could distract me no longer.

The city versus country debate, which I often joke about with my friends, came to mind. Country folk still to this day complain about the speed and general hustle and bustle of London and we City folk say we would die of boredom in the country. There is certainly posturing on both sides. Very few people want self-enforced isolation and vice-versa, none of us enjoy feeling cramped and caged in.

I love both but play the partisan city dweller with some conviction. I grew up in the country and left home when I was 19 to see what England's city could offer me. There was no plan but Nottingham, Brighton (still a town when I lived there), Manchester and finally London have not put me off.

For now the countryside is a visit, an adventure playground, a brief visit to my past and a magical place.

Back to that spreadsheet...

[19:27] I arrived in a sun-drenched Cheltenham and left in a puddle (but not right up to my muddle. That was Gloucester wasn't it?). However, in between a productive recce and a meeting at HQ, I was informed of the full impact of last year's floods. Workers had to work from home whilst electrical went down whilst noisy, smelly diesel generators made life miserable for the colleagues who had to stay with the ship (probably the IT support desk).

The journey home from Cheltenham was in some ways even more evocative than my trip up. The train's tannoy system was on the blink and the ticket collector's mild-to-thick sub-continental announcements were greeted with hoots of laughter from the kids in the carriage. We adults didn't join in for fear of misinterpretation (all right I chuckled). "The train will shortly be stopping at FARToud..." (read Stroud).

The waving adults and playing children were now all inside and my new favourite ravine (might be just a valley) offered a different side. The valley floor had a steam - I apologise now if you are a small river - that cut a path between small collections of still water that might be ponds but felt slightly less manicured than your usual village pond. The moist, still evening just hung in the air. I was being asked to go and explore but 60 MPH of steel and glass weren't going let that happen. I hopelessly snapped with my superlowres BlackBerry camera. Gave that up.

[20:12] The light has gone. I am not on a plane where I could turn my reading light off. The efficient fluorescents stop me from looking into the dark density of the countryside. But the Brimscombe enticement is behind me and the moment has passed.

Back to the Goldberg Variations...

[20:35] It's raining in London. Where's my umbrella? Back on the bench at Cheltenham Spa railway station - that's where! 3 umbrellas down in 2008. That'll be 9 by December at this rate. Would it be too much to ask for umbrella manufacturers to make me and unbreakable and lossless umbrella.

------------------ {This simple dotted line is "proof" of blog-posting from a BlackBerry}

Monday 31 March 2008

I'm Being Pursued by a Theme - Not Part 2

"Part 2 will follow shortly"...

...Ah the promises you make to yourself and your readership (non-existent as we speak). Let this be a warning against the dangers of promising blog serialisation.

I can't blame back-to-back, nightly viewing of Series One of "The Wire". That obsession could only explain a lack of blog productivity in February. And, no I haven't watched it twice, I have lent my copy to London-based Wire Virgins. (When is it correct to use italics? by the way, as I am odeeing on them tonight). I am awaiting a free peak of Series Two and Three from some from Nottingham Wire Heads who cruelly promised they were going to let me take Series Two away with me on Sunday but have since changed their minds because they want to watch the whole series with the subtitles on. If that isn't an example of Subtitle Completism, I don't know what is...

No March, has got washed up with nasty weather; counting the days until Spring truly arrives (I think it has now); bitty work projects; trips to Nottingham and a very special 80th birthday party. Who needs to blog?

Clearly, I think I do.

I shall be returning to "The Wire" but I will leave you with the article by Charlie Brooker that sparked an interest (in a friend), who in turn showed me a clip of the series on YouTube, who then went and accidentally bought me a copy using my Amazon account (don't ask) - whilst managing to also purchase a second copy for himself. Talk about crosswires!

But here is the fiendish link anyway:,,2246952,00.html

I have never owned a boxed set before. I am the last person on this planet to discover their simple, collectible, repeat-watchable beauty. And lo and behold, since I have now lost my boxed set virginity, it seems that everyone in the world is devouring "The Wire" on DVD. I feel part of a new movement... it's like "The Sopranos" all over again and yet it is not because that was such a live watching experience - now I can pause, rewind... you know, control stuff.

I have some CCTV thoughts to share but they will have to come when they are ready. Series Two and Three are being hand delivered in 11 days, 18 hours, 4 minutes and 59 seconds time.

Thursday 28 February 2008

I'm Being Pursued by a Theme - Part 1

I'm being pursued by a theme. This theme haunts my peripheral vision and nags at the fringes of my imagination. Surveillance. CCTV. Big Brother.

Why now? 'Where have you been for the last 15 years?' some might say. Sure, I've been perplexed and angered by the rapid rise of Surveillance UK for a long time but the full democratic toll of a wired Britain has just begun to grate on me that little bit harder.

It started with a walk through the park near my office in Bethnal Green late last year and has ended up with a walk down Whitehall on Tuesday (26/02/08) of this week. In between there has been the bugged Labour MP, the wonderful HBO TV series 'The Wire' in box set DVD form and the less convincing series 'The Last Enemy' from the BBC. Not to mention a continuous stream of comment and analysis from journalists who cry that "it has gone too far".

It certainly has.

And then, just as I thought I had escaped the BIG THEME, along came
the DVD of 'The Lives of Others'. Devastating. A damning take on the lack freedom in the former GDR and a severe warning about the future of Surveillance UK.

Part 2 will follow shortly.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Zep at the O2 - a belated tribute

A very pixellated photo of Led Zeppelin taken on my mobile at the O2 on 10/12/07.

I've been meaning to scribble down a few musings about Led Zeppelin at the O2 and a recent tribute to the venue in the free rag, The London Paper, has jolted me into action. I picked up the paper yesterday on the tube and read guest contributor, Louise Claridge's article "Why the O2 arena rocks my world". I enjoyed her celebration of a great venue in East London so much I felt compelled to add my experience of returning from December 10th's Led Zeppelin reunion concert. Hopefully you will find her article here:

Oh how sad, it says I wrote my contribution at 1:18 this morning but I know for a fact that I hit my pillow at 12:30!

Guest_Eclectic Trains says: Great article. I saw Led Zeppelin before Xmas and got home in a jiffy. Couldn't contain the smug smile on my face as the majority of fans headed West whilst I was a mere 4 stops from Upton Park (home). Bring on the rise of the mighty East London! It's been a long time... Tuesday 29 January 2008 01:18 Mark as offensive (what's that about?)

I wasn't a Led Zeppelin fan the first time round. "Stairway to Heaven" was enough to put me off. In 1976, aged 12, I had just graduated to Pink Floyd and Punk came along. The albums "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Animals" had to be hidden as The Clash, Pistols etc... went to the front of my LP box. Punk was pithy, angry, urban and cool and rock was what local biker gangs listened too. They were tough but they weren't cool. But like a lot of people whose music tastes were shaped in the 1970s you signed up to the revolution but also, over time, began to appreciate the evolution. What I mean is the raw energy to be fun in "Pretty Vacant" by The Sex Pistols could also be found in "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin. In fact the first drummer we had in our teenage punk band, was a orange-dyed haired, proto-Rotten look-a-like called "John the Punk" who used to entertain us with the opening drum break from "Rock and Roll" just to get an ironic laugh out of us. Once we managed to shut him up, Downstream, our band, went on to pen little Oxfordshire punk classics called "Punk Rock Superstar (what a hypocrite you are)", "Harlequin Man", "Apocalyptics" and "(Living in these) Financial Times". Oh those were the days...

Anyway my simple point is that Led Zeppelin have attracted wave after wave of new fans since their real demise in the late 1970s because they have a distinct and awesome sound. I think a housemate in Nottingham lent me the tape of "Houses of the Holy" in 1986. I didn't listen to it straight away, but a few years later I found it again, played it and started to get hooked (thanks Grant - I've still got your tape!). I'm no mystic. The mystic lyrics of "Kashmir" make me smile but they don't transport me. The relentless power of the music blew me away on the night and their performance of that song will stay with me for a long time. I enjoy the groove, from hard rock to funky riffs to spacey experimentation. Very rarely do lyrics catch my imagination. But on the night of the gig, whilst I was waiting to meet my brother, who had luckily, and legitimately, been sold 2 guest list tickets, I was moved to text him with some trivial and banal Led Zep (LZ) lyrics that were blasting through my iPod headphones as I emerged with fellow LZ fans up the North Greenwich escalators to the O2 Mecca. Here is my text:

------ SMS ------

To: +44**********
Sent: 10 Dec 2007 18:58
Subject: "Night Flight" by LZ
"Night Flight" by LZ

"I received a message from my brother
'Cross the water,
He sat laughing as he wrote 'The End's in sight'.
So I said goodbye to all my friends
And packed my hopes inside a matchbox
Cos I know it's time to fly...
Ohhh yeah come on meet me in the morning,
Meet me in the middle of the night..."

Nuff said. I'm here!

Pop Music is about capturing a musical moment. When it works special songs can coincide with moments in your life. I think I probably reverted to an over-excited teenager just for one night and Led Zeppelin at the O2 are to blame for that.