Sunday, December 25, 2005


Seems it's suddently fashionable in talking-head circles (Stephen Fry, Ian Hislop, Julie Burchill et al) to announce that one loves Christmas "as unfashionable as that sounds".

Well if I can be (un?)fashionable by denouncing this fashionable unfashionability, and announce that Christmas is acceptable behaviour if one is either:

a) a Christian, or;

b) eight years old or below.

If not, it's about as much fun as chronic sinusitis.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Books of the Year addendum

Completely forgot the best thing about Coe's BSJ biog.

He suggested to the BBC that they should let him make a drama-doc about Oscar Wilde.

With Wilde played by Frankie Howerd.

To lose one's parents thrice nay...

Bad face day

Foolishly got some ID photos done this week having a) just had a pretty no-holds-barred haircut b) not been to the gym for several months.

Who is this flabby-jowled freak? I look like Bob (Sugar/Husker Du) Mould crossed with everyone's most blatant stereotype of a child molester.

Talking of which, news just in that the wonderful Chris Langham has been arrested in connection with a child porn investigation. Such news always makes me uneasy. We don't know the full story and he hasn't been charged, let alone tried or convicted, and in any case, who hasn't downloaded something or other that was, in retrospect, a bit tasteless, and in any case the guy's a comic genius and shit did you see that George Orwell thing he did...

...but... but... from now on, whatever comes of this, his name will be tainted.

I still think the guy's a genius, whatever.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


So, they killed him. Let's not rehearse the arguments about capital punishment; just ask why they did it.

For the families of the victims? What good, exactly, does it do them?

Redemption, redemption, redemption. It's like a John Woo movie.

Nah, it's just to prove that steroid abuse didn't entirely rob Arnie of his bollocks.

Books of the Year

I'm always wryly amused by those Books of the Year features in the broadsheets (or slightly-less-narrowsheets as I suppose we ought to define them). It's not only the slappity-backity chumminess, where all of literary London votes for their pals, rather like in the Eurovision song contest (and without an exasperated Wogan to berate the Baltics and Scandinavians for setting up their own little cartels). Bless lovely Jeanette Winterson for always voting for herself, in a manner that would cause the Eurovision computer to crash, but enlivens many Decembers.

It's also the fact that, because of the bizarre way many books are published, especially biographies and lit fic, by the end of the year of publication, many tomes are still only available in hardback. And how many people really spend 15 quid on the latest McEwan or Amis or Barnes, when they know they'll be able to get the same thing for 6.99 in a few months? So, to a great extent, these people, the exalted recipients of proofs and comps and review copies, are just talking to themselves. It's all done in the earnest hope that a few more readers will splash out on the high-fibre versions of the books, maybe as desperate Christmas presents for those difficult relations.

So here are my Bs of the Y. Because of poverty and lack of connections and distance from the London/NY axis (do you know what Amazon charges to send to Bangkok?), very few of these were published this year. The only thing that unites them is that I read them for the first time in 2005.

In no particular order...

Like A Fiery Elephant by Jonathan Coe
B.S. Johnson, the experimental novelist who opened his veins in 1973, comes over as a chippy Mr Toad in this biography; moreover the examples of his journalism, when he's not playing at being the next Joyce/Beckett, seem to suggest that the guy couldn't actually write that well. His account of the 1966 World Cup final makes this epochal event in postwar British history sound like a knockabout on Hackney marshes. But Coe, whose own fiction would have been dismissed as dishonest and pedestrian, rips open the very process of biography, admitting to his gaps and guesses, opening up the relationship between author and author that developed over 7 years of research and writing. Not the biography Johnson would have expected, and maybe not the one he deserved.

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
Narrators from different ages, genders and nationalities combine to create a wry commentary on the collision of power, sex and money that makes modern Thailand. What Thai writing I've read veers from the ordinary to the excruciating. But of course, Rattawut isn't a Thai writer, any more than Rushdie is Indian or Ishiguro is Japanese. It's in the mix, which gives him the moral authority to 'become' the pubescent daughter of a desperate Thai cockfighter, but he's really an American, playing with authorial voice and perspective and able to dodge accusations of cultural imperialism because of his race. But at the same time, the story that works least well is the one where he becomes an elderly, disabled American, exiled in Bangkok...

Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami (well, had to be, innit?)
Japan’s wartime trauma expressed through murder, falling fish and a global whisky icon that eats cats’ hearts. Murakami back to his bonkers best, after the by-numbers self-parody of Sputnik Sweetheart (with added travelogue - ooh, let's go to Greece for a change). It's the combination of deadpan observation with a bubbling sense of weirdness; like Garcia Marques recited by the woman who does the Shipping Forecast.

Rip It Up And Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 by Simon Reynolds
An unashamedly personal look at what was worthwhile between the Pistols and the Smiths (ish); Reynolds justifies his exclusions with the explantion that certain acts "aren't my bag of spanners". At the same time, he lacks the stylistic idiosyncracy that a Savage, Marcus or Morley might have brought to the project. It's telling that the best line - describing Scritti Politti's Green Gartside as "an unwashed pope" comes from Ian Penman. But Reynolds is very good at evoking time and place (the early 80s Liverpool scene, for example) and it's great to have as a record of a neglected era - and of course it coincides with the period when I was first poking my nose over the pop parapet.

The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw
Among other things, the saga of Johnny Lim, the Verbal Kint of Malaya, as colonial rule stutters to an end. Again, more than one authorial voice here, with the structure (dead, ethereal female narrator bookended by living, perplexed male) reminiscent of Wuthering Heights. Great on atmosphere... sweat, sweat, sweat....

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
More stories-within-stories excitement, taking the idea of linked narratives that he used triumphantly in his first book, Ghostwritten, and making things even more exciting and complex.

The Noodle Maker by Ma Jian
The corrupt stupidity of post-Mao China gets an absurdist kicking, while the ghosts of Orwell, Kafka, Kundera and Bulgakov hold the coats and cheer the author on. Blood, shit and bits of goose. I think the word is 'rollicking'.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Melting down

If, by some bizarre clerical error, I ever find myself invited to curate my own Meltdown Festival, who would be there? Basically, the deal is, anyone who's alive.

The Magnetic Fields
Moe Tucker & Jonathan Richman
Pete Wylie
Ornette Coleman
Prince Buster
Gavin Bryars
Chavela Vargas (maybe these last two together?)
Geographic Night (Maher Shalal Hash Baz & The Pastels & Bill Wells)
Poetry Night (McGough & Patten & Attila & Cooper Clarke & Joolz & Zephaniah, etc... the people I saw at the Albert Hall when I was 16, minus the dead ones)
Terry Edwards
Super Furry Animals
Bo Diddley
Sugarcubes reformed for one night only
Tom Lehrer
Peter Skellern & Victoria Wood & The Black Dyke Mills Band

Monday, November 28, 2005

...ain't what it used to be...

Been launching guerrilla raids on the nostalgia banks lately, via the wonders of BBC DVD box sets. Secret Army (the Belgian resistance, strangely attractive Nazis, dodgy farmers on bicycles) was really rather good. The Omega Factor (precursor to the X-Files, shady Govt department investigating the paranormal) suffered, as expected, from ropy special effects, but was genuinely chilling). Ditto Blake's 7.

The big disappointment was Survivors. A sort of dystopian flipside to The Good Life, this grim drama about a lab accident in China wiping out nearly everybody on earth had me gripped when I was about 7-8-9. I recalled the title sequence (man drops flask... gets on plane... feels ill... rubs head... you see his hand flopping on the pavement...) to the nearest frame.

But God, is it ropy. Jumpy direction, bizarre non sequiturs, variable acting, weird pacing... and according to the pundits this (the first) series is the best. I can tolerate the 70s fashions - although would so many people attempting to rebuild civilisation be so punctilious about meticulously applied mascara and/or neatly knotted ties? One character, played by Peter Miles (Nyder in 'Genesis Of The Daleks') even wore his tie in bed, before being seen off by a not very scary sheepdog.

But the most infuriating thing is that the core characters are so smugly middle-class, and there seems to be an unspoken pact between them that the only people they want to form a community with are similarly pukka. The architect Charles is a good bet, until he starts treating women like brood mares; the Welsh tramp and the neurotic barber, are tolerated at best, but swiftly discarded. As for the tyrannical trades union leader (George Baker) and his gang of thugs - it's like a Daily Mail opinion piece, circa 1975, come to life.

Still having shelled out 30-odd quid, I'm sure to watch to the end...

Friday, November 25, 2005

Something weird happened today

Got an e-mail this afternoon. It was from the mother of a guy I used to work with until about six months ago, forwarded by another ex-colleague.

Apparently the guy (call him 'D') was involved in a road accident on Tuesday, and died in hospital from loss of blood. The details of the hospital, the morgue and the funeral (next week) were all given.

I phoned a couple of mutual acquaintances, and forwarded the e-mail to a few more. I thought of phoning his wife, but I've only met her once, her English is poor, so I thought I'd save the respects bit for the funeral.

Then, a few hours later, I got a call from one of the people I'd phoned earlier. Apparently D isn't dead. It's all some kind of sick, elaborate hoax.

What disturbs me is my own reaction - I felt anger for the hoax before I felt relief that he wasn't dead.

Stiff drink needed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Religious Hatred Bill nailed

An article by Philip Pullman, from Saturday's Guardian. Sad we have to rely on so-called "children's writers" for common sense these days, but there you go...

n.b. Copied the whole thing because it seems to have vanished from the Graun website. There you go again.

Is the proposed "religious hatred" bill a bad idea? Of course it is. Of course it should be opposed. That's my instinctive reaction. But in trying to think about why I react like that, I've found myself wondering more and more about the question of "identity", because that seems to be at the heart of the problem. Is our "identity" a function of what we do, or what we are, or both?

It seems to me that:
1. What we are is not in our control, but what we do is.

2. On the other hand, and simultaneously, what we do depends on what we are (on what we have to do it with), and what we are can be modified by what we do.

3. What we do is morally significant. What we are is not.

4. With respect to the past: it's important to some of us to know that our ancestors came from this or that part of the world, to know a little of the history of our family, to feel a connection with a landscape, or a language, or a climate, or an artistic form of expression, or a religion that our ancestors knew as theirs.

5. With respect to the present: it's important for each of us to feel that we belong somewhere or with some group that is like ourselves in some way. We need to be free to live in a place and among people where we feel at home, and not in exile, or under threat.

6. Praise or blame, virtue or guilt, apply to our actions, not to our ancestry or to our membership of this group or that.

7. Belief or faith is partly the result of temperament. I may be temperamentally inclined to scepticism, you to belief in supernatural forces. As far as the temperamental component of our beliefs is concerned, I am not to be praised or blamed for my scepticism, nor you for your faith.

8. It's when we act on a belief that praise or blame comes in. That is where the temperamental component of religion ends and the moral component begins.

Britain is still officially a Christian country. The Christian church, or to be more accurate, the Anglican part of it, is closely involved in the great rituals of public life, such as coronations and state funerals; prayers are said before parliamentary sessions; bishops of the Church of England sit by right in the House of Lords; there is a blasphemy law that protects the Christian religion; the heir to the throne is not allowed to marry a Catholic.

For a long time now, the kind of religion the Church of England (or of Scotland, or in Wales, or of Ireland) embodies has been a mild, tolerant, broad-minded sort. There have been zealots, but they have tended to leave and form their own sects, not to occupy the parish pulpits or episcopal thrones. The tendency of the established religion has been liberal, worldly, inclusive. But this involved a certain amount of not-speaking-about-things. For example, there have always been clergy who had homosexual feelings, but while these remained unspoken about ("don't ask, don't tell"), it never became an issue of public discussion, denunciation, exposure, justification, confession, condemnation, punishment, and so on.

That particular matter has become painfully inflamed in recent years, and now looks as if it might split the Anglican communion in two. The zealous faction has been feeling its power, and is beginning to exercise it, and it's partly over this "identity" business: the stress on being, rather than on doing. Canon Jeffrey John was prevented from becoming Bishop of Reading because although he lived a celibate life, it was what he was that mattered, not what he did. If you "are" homosexual, then even if you live an entirely celibate life, you will still be tainted and abominable and unfit to belong to the clergy. In the concise and unambiguous words of a poster brandished by an American preacher in a recent photograph, "God hates fags".

In some ways this attitude is a development of the Reformation emphasis on justification by faith. It didn't matter what good works you did: it was only when you made the commitment of faith that you were able to receive the divine grace of forgiveness and healing that made you righteous, and then you were utterly changed. Hence the modern American phenomenon of being born again: to be born again is not just to change your behaviour. It's to have a new "identity", to leave the old sinful one behind, to be someone different.

At its extreme, it can lead to a sort of cognitive dissonance, when people claim an inner "identity" that has nothing to do with their actions: "Yes, I murdered my wife and children, but I'm a good person." The lawyer of a Texas boy scout leader recently found guilty on a child pornography charge was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "I've got to tell you, this is a good man."

So "being", in the eyes of many people, apparently has its own moral quality, which may be good or bad, but which is resistant to any form of change except the miraculous (being born again). "Being" trumps "doing".

It's hard to convey the sheer bafflement and distaste I feel for this attitude towards "identity". I feel with some passion that what we truly are is private, and almost infinitely complex, and ambiguous, and both external and internal, and double- or triple- or multiply natured, and largely mysterious even to ourselves; and furthermore that what we are is only part of us, because identity, unlike "identity", must include what we do. And I think that to find oneself and every aspect of this complexity reduced in the public mind to one property that apparently subsumes all the rest ("gay", "black", "Muslim", whatever) is to be the victim of a piece of extraordinary intellectual vulgarity. Literally vulgar: from vulgus. It's crowd-thought.

Of course, someone might choose to wear a single kind of "identity" as a badge - perhaps a badge of difference, perhaps one of solidarity. If you're being discriminated against for one of the multifarious aspects of your complex entirety, then it makes every kind of sense to join with others in the same position, and deliberately and publicly adopt that "identity" ("gay", "black", "Muslim", whatever). But "identity" claims are not free of consequences. They narrow as well as strengthen.

For myself, I like it best when I have no such simple and public "identity". I don't know what I "am", and I don't especially want to. But I know full well that I am free to feel anonymous and invisible, which I like feeling, even if deludedly, only because I am white and male and reasonably affluent. I look like the people who have the power; I don't stand out in a crowd; I have never been stopped by the police. Other people have less of that sort of freedom than I do.

Now: what does it mean to say "I am a Muslim"? Is it the same sort of thing as saying "I am a Jew" or "I am a Sikh"? Not quite, because being a Jew or a Sikh is a matter of race as well as of belief, according to the law as it stands.

Is it the same sort of thing as saying "I am a Catholic"? It might be more like that, because saying you are Muslim or Catholic says nothing about your ethnic origin. But it isn't quite like that, because you can choose to leave the Catholic church without facing a penalty on earth, though you might go to hell when you die. If you choose to stop being a Muslim, you are an apostate and, depending on where you live, liable to severe punishment, which might include the death penalty. So being a Muslim is partly a matter of choice and partly one of coercion. If you are born into a Muslim family and brought up in that faith, you will not be able to leave it as easily as a child born into a Catholic family can leave the Church.

However, the latter child is likely to retain Catholic habits of thought long after they cease to believe in God, especially if the Jesuits had charge of their first seven years.

So it's all very complicated.

Then there's another kind of complication. Apparently more and more British people of Asian descent are choosing nowadays to identify themselves by their faith rather than by their ethnic or geographical origin. I can see why they do - (5), above. But is saying "I am a Muslim" or "I am a Hindu" the same sort of thing as saying "I am British"? Is it the same sort of thing as saying "I am Asian" or "I am black"? Is it saying "This is what I do", or "This is what I am"?

Because one of the consequences of this is that if someone's primary "identity", according to their own definition, consists of what their religion is, then Home Office Minister Fiona Mactaggart's claim about the religious hatred bill doesn't hold up. She has said that the proposed law won't prevent the criticism of religion, because it's merely designed to stop us inciting others to hate particular people.

But to criticise the religion of someone who makes that religion the primary marker of their identity will be, specifically, to criticise them. It will be criticising what they are, not what they do. And if it comes to the courts, will the law be capable of distinguishing between a rational analysis of theology and an incitement to brutal violence? Home Office Minister Hazel Blears doesn't think it will: she has said that she can't predict how the courts will act. Better safe than sorry, is the implication.

The inevitable consequence for literature - as many others have pointed out - will be that publishing decisions will increasingly be made not by editors, as they used to be; nor by accountants, as they now are; but by lawyers. And my learned friends will be throwing the pall of their caution over the theatre as well, to the impoverishment of all of us.

I'd better say why I would like to be free to criticise religion, and think about its effects on society, without fear of prosecution. Religion is something that human beings do. Like art, it's a phenomenon that has characterised every society we know about. Thanks partly to the Enlightenment, it's been possible in the past couple of hundred years or so to consider religions dispassionately, to look at their historical development, to examine their social effects, to appreciate the art they inspire, to question the philosophical implications of their claims to truth, and so on.

It's easier for someone who is not a zealous believer to do this. Those who are passionate adherents of their faith, who are willing to kill and die for it, are less likely to take a wide and considered view of the subject. And the fact that religion makes people willing to do these extreme things is one of the reasons we need to examine it. Something in the nature of religious conviction gives believers the chance to experience sharp and intoxicating tastes; those inclined to it can become addicted to the gamey tang of the absolute, the pungency of righteousness, the furtive sexiness of intolerance. Religion grants us these malign sensations more strongly and more deeply than any other human phenomenon.

And it's religion that allows otherwise intelligent people to discard the fundamental methods of science and to teach "creationism" to schoolchildren. It's in the name of religious law that vile and grotesque punishments (mutilations and stonings) are carried out in parts of Africa and the Middle East today, as they were in Europe (torture, burning at the stake) only a few hundred years ago. And in the US especially, it's religion that's called in to justify the rapacity of the giant corporations that despoil the environment, by saying that there is no shortage of resources in God's earth, and in any case it doesn't matter if the earth is ravaged beyond repair, because all the good people are going to be whisked up to heaven in the Rapture. That sort of religion is aesthetically nauseating, intellectually toxic, and ethically squalid, and I can think of few activities more valuable than saying so loudly and clearly.

Fiona Mactaggart claims that nothing in the Bill would prevent us from doing that. I think she's wrong, because the tide of religion is coming in again. This government, led by a weak man who is attracted to power, has sensed a gathering strength in the religious lobby, and is anxious to appease it. The way they use the word "faith" is interesting, and typical of this mood: it used to be a noun. Now it's an adjective ("faith schools", "faith communities") and it carries the implication "good, admirable, worthy of approval". Everything in the temper of the times suggests that religion is getting stronger and more influential, and that those who are most zealous about it will want more and more privileges, and that this government will give in to them.

Well, I think we should resist this tendency stoutly. I think that to make things fair and level we should begin by abolishing the special protection the blasphemy law now gives to the Church of England - and I don't mean extending it to other religions: I mean abolishing it altogether. We might usefully continue with disestablishment, even if this deprives our future King Charles of the title "Defender of the Faith"; but since he's said that in any case he would rather be known as "Defender of faith", he would be free to call himself that, though he'd have to do it as a private individual rather than as head of state. We might go on to consider the place of religion in the House of Lords. I'm not against giving some sort of representation to special interest groups, but if the Christians are going to be there, so should the Jews and Sikhs and Hindus and Muslims and Buddhists and Zoroastrians and pagans and humanists.

But I think there must be something genuine behind this idea of identity, even if "identity" is a coarse and inaccurate parody encumbered with half-examined baggage, and with misunderstanding, resentment and hostility trailing behind it.

True identity is surely a matter both of what we are and of what we do. It must include everything we inherit from our remotest ancestors in the way of our physical body and our animal instincts: the ones we know about and the ones that operate too deeply for us to be conscious of. It must include our physical appearance, the colour of our skin, the shape of our eyes, and so on. It must include everything we know about the history of our family and our nation, though I don't see how it can include the things of this sort of which we are not aware. It must include the language we speak and our consciousness of belonging to a group that speaks the same language, and the same variety of that language, and if we can use more than one variety (standard English as well as a regional dialect) then it must include that fact as well. It must include our own educational history, and our place in the economic life of the community around us; it must take account of the amount of choice we have in the matter of spending money. Can we afford a bowl of rice? Can we afford a new car? They are matters of identity. Unless we use cash, we can't buy anything without proving who we are. Our tastes in food, and entertainment, and fashion are matters of identity too; so are our talents and our interests and our opinions on politics.

Furthermore, to some extent we can shape our identity by the way we behave. Trustworthiness, kindness, industriousness and the like are acquired characteristics: we can make ourselves trustworthy, kindly, and hard-working by being so. It takes time and effort, of course, not a miracle. But identity is what we do as well as what we are.

And identity, as opposed to "identity", will of course include religion. But a religious identity will be a matter of almost infinite subtlety - a matter of different degrees of belief in different aspects of a creed; or believing something passionately when young, but less urgently when old - or the opposite; or assenting to the moral teaching while withholding full credence in the supernatural - or cleaving to both; or responding with delight and warmth to the aesthetic elements of religious ritual while being ignorant of the theological, or being indifferent to the aesthetic and fiercely doctrinaire about the theological - or neither; or finding more comfort in the memory of childhood worship than in the prospect of a life after death, or vice versa; or being more conscious of the threat of hell than of the promise of heaven, or being more concerned with doing good on earth than either; and so on, in a dynamic complexity of influence and inclination, of knowledge and emotion that would be impossible to describe in full, and that is constantly changing and evolving - because of what we do as well as what we are. That is more like what I think a religious identity might be, and it would still be only part of the whole. The pity of religious identity-claims, like any other, is that they mutilate this wholeness so brutally.

So I think we should be free to examine the matter of religion, and criticise it, in both senses of "criticise" - to examine it as a literary critic examines a book, evaluating its merits and strengths as well as its weaknesses, tracing influences, seeing patterns of imagery and rhetoric; and to condemn its propensity for liberating, empowering, and justifying the worst qualities of human nature.

In the course of doing that we need to distinguish between (7) and (8) above, and we need to remind those who claim that their "identity" is primarily religious that no identity-claim comes free of consequences. The consequence of this one for those who make it of themselves is that they must put up with the criticism of religion.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Top posh Tory in posh drug non-story

David Cameron has been bounced by Jeremy Paxman into admitting to drug use.

The problem with DC's alleged (well, confirmed now, it would appear) use of Class A substances is that everyone presumes it's cocaine. "Dave" is desperately attempting to shake off his posh-boy image, and a predilection for yuppie talc is not going to help.

Now, an expertly staged shot of him in a Toxteth crack den, or maybe renting himself for a few quid so he can feed his smack habit might convince the punters that he's just an ordinary bloke...

The future of e-tailing?

I've only just noticed this. Amazon (US) now has an in-store pickup service for people who don't want to wait for the US Mail service. Here's the deal; you order online, with Amazon... then you go to (wait for this, it's so left-field it's wonderful) to a BOOK SHOP (this is a shop that sells books) to pick it up.

Am I missing something here?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

...and one final cultural posting from London...

Last Sunday, before flying back to BKK, had lunch at Ask in Kew. Perfectly pleasant as pizza franchises go (Genovese - mushrooms, aubergine, olives, pesto - couple glasses Montepulciano) but something struck me. Every few minutes, a couple or several couples, with varying numbers of kids (but none childless, apparently) would come into the restaurant. All, I guess, between late 20s and mid 30s. All professional/middle-class, but that covers everything from aspirational first-in-the-family-to-go-to-university to trust-funders. But most significantly, THEY ALL LOOKED THE SAME. It was as if John Wyndham had scripted an episode of Coupling.

Beware... we are being invaded by BODENZOMBIES.

Think I'll copyright that one, so fucking watch out, OK?

London theatre and the hobgoblin of unfulfillable expectation

Was in London until last weekend, and managed to squeeze in a couple of shows.

First was Ducktastic, the latest extravaganza by Sean Foley and Hamish McColl (aka The Right Size), the pair who came up with the Morecambe & Wise quasi-tribute The Play What I Wrote, possibly one of the funniest shows I've ever seen in the West End. I've loved The Right Size for many years - they manage to combine self-referential surrealism with vaudeville timing in just the right proportions. Think Brecht meets Bunuel meets Marx (Bros) meets Jackie Mason.

Ducktastic wasn't bad, but it sure as hell wasn't up to their usual standards. The premise - a seedy, deluded conjurer gets involved with a dimwitted pet shop owner - was perfectly OK as a starting point, but they don't seem to have taken much time to work out what happens next. Some OK magic tricks, rather too many nob gags (and I like a good nob gag), fat suits and many (real) ducks do not make a show unless someone can impose some order. They've clearly taken Siegfried and Roy as their inspiration, but how can you parody something that's beyond taste?

Kenneth "I have no lips" Branagh was nominally directing, but he seems to have nipped out to the pub during the important bits.

Then to Richard II at the Old Vic, with Trevor Nunn directing Kevin Spacey. It's a modern dress production of a play I don't know too well (memories of Jacobi doing it on telly and a new American lecturer asking us to summarise it in rhyming couplets at college). Clear Blairite overtones, with occasional stabs of al-Jazeera (all fuzzy video footage, riots and soundbites). Ben Miles (aka the prematurely grey guy from Coupling) was surprisingly good as Bolingbroke, balancing the man-of-action determination with the equivocation of someone who really doesn't want to be a regicide. The best performance comes from one of my favourite underrated actors, that old smoothie Julian Glover as John of Gaunt. As you may know, J of G croaks early on, but flashes of his "This England" speech keep coming back on the two big screens that flank the stage.

The disappointment is Spacey. His camp sarcasm is amusing, but it's clearly "business", and seems imposed on the action. Thank God he doesn't do a funny walk a la Verbal Kint. Towards the end, his serviceable Brit accent begins to shift into something Australian, and the audience rather yearns for the stroppy ponce to keel over.

Well, some of us do, but the starstruck dullards in the stalls give him a standing ovation. I'm reminded of when I was a kid and used to see shows at Chichester Festival Theatre - big names (John Mills, Alec Guinness, Alan Bates, even Ian bloody Ogilvy) would get a brisk round of clappity just for making their first entrances.

I have this problem with live theatre anyway. When I was about 19 I saw the Deborah Warner Titus Andronicus at The Swan in Stratford and the experience was so devastating that nothing I've ever seen since can compare. In every other area of art, I'm constantly striving for something new and exciting to become my new best friend. In theatre, it's done, it's over. It's as if I've run a sub-two-hour marathon, proved Fermat's last theorem and conclusively identified who killed JFK, all in one evening. Very satisfying, but does leave you with a sense that there's not much point in getting out of bed tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Just discovered that someone else has a Cultural Snow site. Except it's called You Know, Cultural Snow. Well hello Eric, whoever you may be, and please be assured that it's the sincerest form of flattery.

Now I must shower and shave, in the hope that my neat and tidy appearance will bring pleasure to more people that my grumpy meanderings here have done so far.

Guess it's gonna be moussaka. Which is Greek I know, but satay's Thai these days, so what da fark?

See what I mean?

Hours since the last post.

Graham Payn has died. His fame would appear to rest upon the fact that he fucked Noel Coward for many years. What must it be like to have your existence defined by your proximity to someone else's genitalia? I don't think I've ever had sex with anyone more famous than me, not for want of trying.

Finding the David Boyle book rather frustrating. Many schoolboy errors, and since it's meant to be about authenticity and reality, it's really not good enough. Will list them all later.

I'm going to a Turkish restaurant tonight. Any recommendations (meat not really being my thing)?

Getting to grips with this blog lark

How often should one post? I suspect writing a blog is something like a sexual relationship. You fuck each other raw and gasping at the beginning, taking every single opportunity, then as the novelty wears off, it becomes less of a compulsion, more of a pleasant pastime, until suddenly it's become an obligation, like cutting your toenails.

Clearly - what is this, the seventh post in about 15 hours? - I'm still at the hormones-a-gogo stage, pushing the blog facedown in the pillow and giving it a regular old digital seeing-to. But it won't last, and I'll become more absorbed by the www version of toenails (say, checking my bank balance). The blog will remain, smiling inanely and wondering where it all went wrong.

Anyway, enough of this solipsism. Blimey, that Tony Blair, eh? Looks like he's got a fight on his hands. Personally, I find the whole debate (how long can you detain a terror suspect and still be able to look yourself in the mirror without flinching?) like knitting with candyfloss. The antis argue that banging someone up for 90 days is a denial of human rights. Well of course it is - but so is banging them up for 42 days or 28 days or 7 days or 10 minutes. The question isn't whether we should deprive people of those rights - it's how much we can deprive them without looking like total bastards.

At the same time, Blair's argument that 90 days is necessary is just another number pulled out of a hat. Who's to say 90 days is enough. Maybe someone will need 91. There are people at Guantanamo who've been there so long they'll probably be eligible for US citizenship before long. Or is it Cuban?

On a marginally more cheerful note, I'm listening to Aretha and Ray Charles shaking their respective thangs on 'Spirit In The Dark' (Aretha Live At Filmore West). That bit where Ray sings "When you hear Aretha sing, y'all, can you feel the spirit?" and all the hippies say yeah like a Baptist congregation... it's quite good, actually.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

And I'm quite happy to admit that I've never read The Magus

Mistah Fowles, he dead.

...and there's more, as Jimmy Cricket said before I cut out his tongue and fed it to mutant rats...

No, couldn't bear the inaccuracy... changed the starsign.

Turns out the date field is in US format (month-date-year). Bloody colonials.

My profile

And now I've put the usual self-indulgent piffle in my profile. Left off my real name. But anyone I know who comes across this will realise who it is; not least because most of it is just repeated from my friendsreunited entry.

There's a thought. Is friendsreunited for people too lazy or illiterate or technophobic to write blogs?

Anyway, my profile says that I'm a Cancer. This is wrong, but if I change it, that would suggest that I care, that I actually believe all that primitive, anti-scientific crap.

And how did it get wrong? Did I key in the wrong birthday? Someone else's?

Palimpsest (sp?)

And now I've corrected the date on that first post (and, while I was at it, corrected a typo) so that everything is neater, but the first sentence of the second post now makes no sense whatsoever.

But it doesn't matter, of course. This is the wonder of postmodernism; a work of art (ooooh, he's calling it art, missus) no longer needs to be about anything. It's enough to be about itself. This is why Paris Hilton defines the modern condition, when she's not sucking the penis of a married man, of course.

So this blog needn't be about anything, but it ought to be for something.

Any ideas, please let me know.


Now why does that last post say that it's 5.19 tomorrow morning? I'm not that drunk, surely.

God, his second posting and he's already getting metafictional...

OK, what's this blog going to be about? Well, I'll probably talk about books I'm reading (currently The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw and Authenticity by David Boyle) and, while we're at it, films I've seen recently and music croaking its way into my mind (Super Furry Animals, Vanity Set and Aretha live at the Fillmore West). And then I might have a wee rant about one of my pet political peeves (probably something to do with education) and then something terribly rueful about bad haircuts or trapped wind or my inability to get to grips with predictive text.

Or maybe not...

Welcome to Cultural Snow

In analogue times, people who were slightly drunk and at a loose end might begin writing bad poetry, or stand on a soapbox at Hyde Park Corner, or just phone the speaking clock and scream obscenities at it. In a similar, but defiantly digital mode, I've started a blog. What's it for? Where's it going? Will it change the world, or will it degenerate, like 97% of all known blogs, into tired harrumphing over the rights and/or wrongs of the Iraq War. I really have no idea, but maybe that Polish vodka does.

It's a bit like taking a pencil for a walk, that pastime beloved of well-meaning art teachers confronted by incompetent six-year-olds, but it's a long time since I wielded a pencil in anger. I took a dog for a walk this evening, however. Will that do?

A hint, though, to where this might all be going; the title, 'Cultural Snow' is a reference to the work of the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. I'm too lazy to track down the exact quotation in full, but I'm pretty sure it's from the novel Dance Dance Dance. So maybe you can expect occasional references to Murakami to crop up in future postings. Or maybe not.

I'm going to get a bit more of that Polish vodka from the fridge. Will be in touch. Soon. Unless the vodka beats me to it.