Monday, 25 June 2007

When It All Goes Up In Smoke

Sometimes, you come across something which is so intrinsically wrong that just seeing it makes you wonder if the world knows what the heck it is up to. Things like Travis selling out Hammersmith Apollo, Jeffrey Archer writing a new book, or Pete Doherty not being dead yet.

To understand this post fully, you need to know that the area I work in seems to be some sort of haven for foreign schoolkids. I don’t know what it is about foreigners bringing their children to this country. I went on plenty of trips abroad with my school and I’m pretty sure that we didn’t spend our time wandering around in huge groups, blocking off the pavements and then deciding to congregate in exactly the same place as every other large group to have lunch. It gets so bad around here that I often end up wondering if we shouldn’t put the street signs up in French, German and Spanish. Throw in the Japanese and Chinese adult tourists and it is easy to end up feeling like Gulliver in Lilliput.

Of course, anywhere you get large numbers of tourists, especially large numbers of munchkin-sized tourists, you get purveyors of cheap tat, designed to part the visitors from their holiday money (and why not? How many of us ever change our left over currency back to pounds when we return from holiday?). You have to wonder, though, why, with such a wealth of utter rubbish to choose from, a large party of French scholars has just walked past, all of whom were under 13 and about 50% of whom were smoking fake cigarettes? You know, the sort where you suck on a white plastic tube and the end glows red?

On one level, you can see this as proof that the French race is never going to change. Cigarettes still seem to be good things, no matter how old you are – as evidenced by the fact that the half dozen teachers accompanying the crocodile of miniature garlic crunchers obviously thought there was nothing wrong with all of this. And it is also proof that money-grabbing pikey shopkeepers will never change, either, as shown by the fact that they clearly didn’t see anything wrong in encouraging the next generation of French smokers, even though there was nothing in it for them. Which is, whatever way you look at it, depressing in the extreme.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Birthday Honours

I don't really read newspapers. I did, once, but now I just don't have time. More importantly, I don't have the inclination. Life's too short to be covered in newsprint.

There are two Saturdays a year when I break this rule. These are the first in January and the second in June. Why? Because that's when the Queen hands out honours to the allegedly deserving. And every last one of them gets published in the papers. Which, to a people geek like me, is like giving a rabbit viagra. I don't care about the headline news, which actor got knighted this year or whatever. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.

Look closely enough and you can find all kinds of things that the headline writers missed. Shamefully, this time around most of them failed to spot a gong for Bob Appleyard, one of the great unsung cricketers of the last 50 years. Anyone who can bowl England to an Ashes win having had most of a lung moved for tuberculosis would, in the modern game, probably be knighted the same week, not have to wait half a century for an MBE.

In amongst that list, I also found these gems:

Nikita Tompkinson - Director, transport security, Department for Transport

Next time there's a rumour of a Russian spy in the security service, we'll know where to start looking...

William John Sim - Farm grieve, Balmoral Estate

The Royal Family are so posh, they even employ someone to cry over their slaughtered animals for them.

Gilbert Charles Godwin Keeys - Yeoman Bed Goer, Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard

You don't want to know what this did to my mind's eye when I read it.

Desmond John Alexander Pawson - Professional knot-tyer and ropemaker

I WANT THIS JOB. How much fun could you have if you spent your whole day tying knots?

Frances Margaret Slade - Former chairwoman of Ladies in Pigs

You get a gong for strap-on porcine bestiality? Cool!

Monday, 18 June 2007

Conspiracy Theory

There’s a conspiracy afoot and it is happening right under our noses. A dastardly plot to undermine this nation’s building trade and its going on right there on our television screens, one night a week (more if you have one of those channels which is solely devoted to home improvement shows). The perpetrator? None other than the doyenne of such shows, the one and only Sarah Beeny.

Now, I am saying nothing new when I observe that Ms Beeny appears to be in a permanent state of pregnancy. The fact that the size of her stomach oscillates wildly during the course of any given programme has been commented on many times before. What always puzzled me was why this happened. (Note, I said ‘why’, not ‘how’. I know how babies are made. Man inserts appendage, gives woman massively disappointing time, withdraws and then goes down the pub for the next 19 years.)

The thing is, you see, that Beeny made her name – and presumably a shedload of money – as a property developer before she became a television presenter. Building sites not generally being regarded as a location conducive to child rearing, I assume that during this time she was in sufficient control of her fertility to avoid squeezing out sprogs mid-project. In which case, why does it keep happening now that she is on television?

My initial theory was that it was a gimmick dreamed up by the show’s producers to keep interest in her show alive now that there is so much competition: “Great series, Sarah. Give us a ring as soon as you’re up the duff again and we’ll set up another one.”

The problem with this approach is that it does give the impression that the poor woman is pregnant 365 days of the year. Every year. Except that, of course, it might not actually be a problem. Suppose that it isn’t really an impression at all. Suppose that La Beeny actually is pregnant almost all of the time, that no sooner has her cervix slammed shut after one baby than she is dragging her poor husband into the bedroom and demanding that he impregnate her again. And again. And again. Until there is a whole army of Beeny babies growing up and ready to wreak havoc on the world of property renovation.

At the time of writing Sarah Beeny is 35 years old. With the aid of modern science, that gives her another 30-odd years of breeding. Even at one baby a year, by the end of those 30 years there will not be a builder left in the UK who isn’t related to her in some way. By the end of the century the whole world could be hers, or at least her grandchildren’s. No path will be laid, not a floor tiled or a bath masticked, without it being done by a Beeny descendent. And if you are not carrying the Beeny gene, well, you’ll never work in the building trade again. You won’t convince me that this is a good thing.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Fade Outs Fading Out

About three months ago, I decided to try an experiment. Having had an mp3 player for all of ten months, I discovered that I actually had so much stuff on there that I now couldn’t remember what I actually had on there. This isn’t because I am some sort of profligate nitwit who buys music, loads it onto his mp3 player and then forgets it is there (I confess to being a profligate nitwit, just not that sort of profligate nitwit). The problem is more that my brother in law very kindly loaded huge chunks of his very extensive collection onto it when I bought it and I’ve never quite worked out what he did put there, other than that it used up 90% of the 30GB memory.

My experiment, therefore, was to see how long it would take to play every album that is on there, in alphabetical order. On average, I get about 30 minutes of listening time a day, Monday to Friday. That’s about 7 songs a day, or 2/3 of an album. Three months in and I’ve not even got to the end of ‘B’ yet – although I have listened to all of the albums whose titles begin with brackets and numbers, before you start getting worried about how much I have on there. It has been a voyage of discovery, with some forgotten gems, some utter rubbish (which I deleted) and some interesting juxtapositions; for example, I’ve recently listened to Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’, followed by 10,000 Maniacs’ ‘Blind Man’s Zoo’ and then The Cure’s ‘Bloodflowers’.

It was whilst listening to the first of those albums that I made an interesting – at least to me – discovery. As ‘Negative Creep’ faded out, it suddenly dawned on me that album tracks simply don’t do that any more. The fade out has, literally, been faded out. Nowadays, every track on every album either has a neat, crisp ending, or runs directly into the next song.

I always thought that the fade out was a bit of a cop out anyway. If a band plays a song live, you don’t expect them to end it by getting quieter and quieter until you can’t hear it any more. You expect songs to have clearly defined endings. OK, every now and then the band might segue one into another, but you can’t do that for a whole show. Not unless you’re Tangerine Dream, anyway.

Despite this, I’m kind of sad that the fade out is no more. It guess this is how I would feel if politicians became extinct, in that I don’t much like them and would take a while to notice they had gone, but at the same time it feels vaguely wrong not to have them there any more.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

The Modern Cloak of Invisibility

Fads and crazes. They come, they go, people buy a ton of crap and never use it again. Swingball? Rollerblading? Who still has a Rubik's Cube? Faster, faster, get this, buy that, quick, quick, before it goes out of fashion. So why, then, has the iPod not gone the same way as all the other pieces of must-have gadgetry. It can't be that it gives you your own choice of music wherever you want it. I already had that, just by remembering the songs and, in many ways, it was better, cos you still can't download Animal Magnet's 'Welcome to the Monkey House'. And the chance to listen to radio? Wow, the portable radio has only been around for 50+ years.

What, then, could be the reason for it? Simple. Headphones. The modern cloak of invisibility. Or, if you prefer, a very modern take on evolution. With headphoes on, no-one can make you hear. And if you can't hear the beggars, they can't pester you.

More importantly, you can't hear the excrement of society, the modern day leper, the chugger. Quite what right these idiots think they have to try and guilt me into giving money to charity I do not know, but being able to wander past them, unable to hear their vile imprecations to hand over cash to their favourite home for rabid barren lesbians, is wonderful. Don't they know that we know that only about 1p in every pound actually goes to the charity, the rest going into their exquisitly designed pockets? Almost exclusively made up of out of work actors, the chugger really is the most loathsome, hateful, lying speciment of pavement blocker known to man. And frankly, if wearing headphones means that just one out of work actor curls up with hunger and is forced to get a real job, then I can't believe I'm a bad person

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Watching the Watchmen

Modern art is, by and large, rubbish. Utter crap. It seems to me that the real talent lies not in being able to do these things, but in being able to pass it off as art. A sliced sheep in a tank of formaldahyde is great art? Please. It's pickled mutton. People have been doing it for centuries. Show Damon Hirst's most famous work to someone from the 16th century and the only response you'll get will be "What the fuck have you done to my lunch?".

That said, I have always had a lot of time for the work of Antony Gormley. You might not think that the Angel of the North is all that special - it is the size that strikes me as impressive, not the idea - but some of the things he has produced are amazing. His sculpture in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral is, quite simply, the most beautiful and moving work of art I have ever seen. I can't begin to explain why, you have to go and see it for yourself.

Now, in London, we have Event Horizon, a series of casts of Gormley's own body which pepper the skyline, each of them facing towards the Hayward Gallery, where another Gormley exhibition - Blind Light - is taking place. You can see them on Waterloo Bridge, on the Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre and indeed on most tall buildings around that area. Except for the Palace of Westminster, who wouldn't allow it for some arcane and soulless reason.

The sad thing is that no-one knows how long Event Horizon will be there. Yet there is something strangely reassuring about having them there, patrolling the city rooftops, watching over us. Watchmen for the modern age. I hope they stay.