Monday, November 30, 2009

That’s what it’s all about

If anybody still doesn’t quite get the hang of Twitter, apparently this is what I’ve been doing for the past year:

And you thought it was all about overturning injunctions and dissing homophobic journalists and bring democracy to Iran, didn’t you?

(Go here if you want one for yourself.) On second thoughts, don’t. Apparently you’d be laying yourself open to hackers. Sorry.

PS: Or maybe not. Sorry, this is just too complicated for me.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wooh, hello Paddington!

If you happen to be in the vicinity of London’s Frontline Club this coming Wednesday, do feel free to pop in and chuck a bread roll or two while I discuss the past decade. More details here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I’ve been topping up my karmic footprint in the past few days, indulging in what Alan Whicker would have dubbed a jet-set lifestyle. And as the recycled, H1N1-drenched air slowly poisoned my brain, a few thoughts seeped through:

1.) I simply don’t comprehend the prevailing neurosis about unflattering passport photos. Surely it’s the flattering ones that should cause the most distress? My own picture dates from 2004, a point at which I could muster respectably pointy cheekbones and enough hair to concoct a pompadour that might offer Little Richard a run for his money. In fact, I look pretty cute in it, if I say so myself. As a result, whenever I present it at immigration, the polyester-swathed lackey’s eyes brim with pity, as if to say “You poor sod, what ungodly trauma blighted your once-carefree life over the past five years?”

2.) Talking of those grounded denizens of the airport, why do they insist on saying “Have a nice flight”? My tongue-jerk reaction is to say “You too”, which rather rubs in the fact that I’m about to fly off somewhere potentially interesting, while they’re just going to spend the next six hours looking at passports, checking in luggage, selling bottles of duty-free Scotch and the like. Must stop doing it.

3.) I understand that, when it comes to picking in-flight entertainment, airlines tend to avoid movies that include scenes of air crashes, hostage situations and the like. Surely it would also be tactful to avoid exposing economy-class travellers to films such as Julie and Julia, which is essentially about the joy to be had from the preparation and consumption of delicious food. I mean, that’s just cruel.

4.) Between flights, my sleep cycle is inevitably buggered up. I find myself leaping fully awake at about 4 in the morning, then crashing out again shortly after lunch. All well and good, except that this would only make sense if I’d been flying from Trinidad, or possibly Tasmania. Which I wasn’t. Jet lag I can deal with, but I’ve never before suffered from someone else’s jet lag.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary

The good news that Gil Scott-Heron is back on the scene has got me thinking. As he suggested, the revolution will not be televised; but that’s because by the time we get round to organising the revolution, television as we know it will be dead and gone.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sticks, stones and tweets

Stephen Fry, discussing his on/off infatuation with all things Twittery, reckons that “it is a bit much that somehow people almost feel they have a right to be heard in their insulting of me.” Well, assuming they have the right to say it, I suppose that entails the right for it/them to be heard. Otherwise, Twitter (and by extension, pretty much the whole of Web 2.0) develops into a whole new strain of the Bishop Berkeley conundrum: if Stephen Fry is insulted on Twitter and nobody reads the tweet, is he still entitled to be upset?

But on a more general point, we’re back to the situation in which people who have multiple pulpits, many of them well remunerated, from which to say stuff to a wide audience, slap down those for whom blogs, Twitter, Comment is Free and so on are the only means of being heard. Talking of which, our blogchum Fat Roland gets a mention in CiF, and some of the comments are a bit unpleasant, but I think he’s fine with that. Take note, Mr Fry.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Print’s charming

Maybe I’m just benevolently disposed towards The Word at the moment, seeing as how they gave my book so much coverage, but I was impressed by an article that David Hepworth wrote in the current article, suggesting that the Kindle and the Reader and such like won’t present much of a challenge to the dominance of the conventional book. His is not just a fogeyish argument that books have lasted 500 years so they ought to last for at least another 500; rather, it’s a highly modern observation about how we express our identities today:
...a lot of books and nearly all magazines are read on public transport. In the act of reading something with the cover pointing outwards we advertise ourselves and our attitudes. It’s the most complex and powerful sign language we know. An attractive woman makes herself twice as attractive when she is seen reading an interesting book. How can a brushed metal blank or a piece of nice smooth plastic begin to cope with that? We live in a culture of display, where people pay more for a ringtone than for a record. It’s the worst time in history to be hiding what you’re reading.
That said, here’s another view, from Freek Bijl. (Thanks to Ian Hocking for alerting me to this one.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Blinking freak

I’d never quite identified a word or phrase that defines all those books (Blink; Freakonomics; The Black Swan; The Long Tail; The Undercover Economist; and so on) that seem to oscillate between economics, sociology, psychology, business, current affairs, pop culture and self-improvement, until Shane Richmond nudge*d me towards this article by Maureen Tkacik about Malcolm Gladwell; she refers to “the competitive thought-generation business”, which nails the whole genre quite nicely. Although, when I come to think of it, I suppose that’s what I do as well, albeit with less success. Ouch.**

*And there’s another one.

**Which might well be another one again.***

***Ah. It is. Sort of.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Not the one with Huffty

Much coverage of the Noughties book in the latest issue of The Word magazine, available from all good newsagents and doubtless a few iffy ones as well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reading while bleeding

Got an e-mail from an old friend, apologising for the fact that she’s only just finished The Noughties, because she doesn’t commute and as a result barely reads anything these days. I sort of know what she means; I’ve got piles upon piles of unread books over two continents, that show no sign of succumbing to erosion. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s only when I’m on trains and boats and planes that I’m forced into a state of prolonged concentration.

This seems to be a fairly widespread phenomenon. I must admit that a quantity of drink was taken on Tuesday night: Red Stripe for Billy, Guinness, then vodka for your correspondent. But not nearly as much as had been encountered by a gentleman I saw on the way home, barely able to stand, blood trickling from a mysterious wound on his flushed, sweaty forehead. But once he’d boarded the train at Old Street and managed, after several attempts, to achieve a satisfactory bottom/seat interface, he got stuck into a battered paperback of Thomas Mann short stories.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Punk pedantry

So it was Talking Musical Revolutions last night, transplanted to a pleasantly dank cellar in Shoreditch, and Stevie Chick is discussing his fine-sounding, just-out book about Black Flag with John Robb, and Stevie mentions that guitarist Greg Ginn was a huge Grateful Dead fan, and how the whole punk Year Zero concept is a bit of a myth, and that the Sex Pistols were really into Yes, and I mutter sotto voce that, actually, it was the Buzzcocks (specifically Steve Diggle) who were into Yes, and Billy completes my thought process by asserting that the Pistols (specifically John Lydon) were more into Van Der Graaf Generator, and I wonder whether we should start a Facebook group or something of that ilk for people to get all nerdy about the banal minutiae of the whole Now-Form-A-Band culture, although wouldn’t it be more punk not to care?

Monday, November 09, 2009

It’s not as funny as it used to be

I’d rather drifted away from Viz, and only picked up November’s issue because it promised a nostalgic wallow in the company of some of my old favourites, such as the Pathetic Sharks, Roger Irrelevant and Johnny Fartpants. (Hey – what happened to Mr Logic – surely the model for Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory?) But there was one gem, in the sub-Tuckeresque midst of Roger’s Profanisaurus: a single word that encompasses all those regional exclamations that don’t mean anything, such as “Howay the lads” and “Och aye the noo”; bolloquialism.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

That was then, this is then as well

I just posted this at the Noughties blog, but I’ve allowed it to come out of its box and run around for a bit, since it doesn’t have school tomorrow or anything. It’s by Patrick West at Spiked, discussing the extent to which the current decade will be defined by its nostalgia for previous decades:
No wonder Philip K Dick’s stories have become so popularised in cinematic form - in the guise of Minority Report (2002) and A Scanner Darkly (2008), which are both paranoid paeans to the past, and to the future. And no wonder Danny Dyer’s fake cockneyism has become popularised in a time when we all long for the ‘good old days’ when West Ham, Millwall and Chelsea fans could kick the shit out of each other. No wonder the backward-looking Life On Mars was a success. Even Dr Who has a decidedly retro feel about it. Yesterday and Dave and various Discovery and History channels have become successful avenues, and with good reason. The Noughties has been an epoch of endless re-remembering.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Return of the old-style cultural theory post!

If I were to frame Larkin’s Law of Reissues, it would say that anything you haven’t got already probably isn’t worth bothering about. In other words, if someone tries to persuade you to buy a limited edition of the 1924-5 sessions by Paraffin Joe and his Nitelites, keep your pockets buttoned up; if they were any good, you’d have heard of them at school, as you did King Oliver, and have laid out your earliest pocket money on them... Everything worthwhile gets reissued about every five years.

Larkin was writing in 1969, in the days when music fans were expected to wait patiently for any audio scraps to fall off the table. But he also seems to speak of an era when nostalgia was rooted in accurate memories, with no potential for revisionism. For example, I certainly didn’t watch this

when it was first on TV in 1980. But in true postmodern style, I’m quite capable of retrospectively absorbing it into my childhood. If, as Roland Barthes suggested, the Author is Dead, did he take the Past down with him?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Film of the Noughties

Last weekend, almost by accident, I caught Michael Moore’s latest salvo, Capitalism: A Love Story. It’s what you might expect from the man that Bernard Goldberg identified as the most dangerous person in America; let’s just say that the title’s a tad sarcastic. In fact one could argue that with this and Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore has created a cinematic diptych that defines the Noughties, a two-part Film of the Decade.

In fact, that’s what I thought for a few days: until I saw Chris Atkins’ Starsuckers, which reminded us that, even if our era is bookended by two New York institutions collapsing into dust, many of us have been distracted by Britney and Brangelina, by Jade and Jedward, and by the weird wish that maybe, just maybe, we could have a tiny slice of the same pie. Just a little too late for my book, I’ve found the film that sums it all up.