Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ball games

Muay thai (Thai boxing) is, of course, Thailand's most thrilling sport, but takraw runs it a close second. (It was actually invented by the Malays, but don't tell any Thai people that.) It's a bit like keepy-uppy; players have to keep a rattan sphere off the ground, using any part of the body apart from their hands and arms. It has several variations, derived from volleyball and basketball, but the purest form consists of nothing more than a few blokes kicking the takraw to each other on any available patch of flat earth. Often, the acrobatic skills on display make Brazilian footballers look like arthritic Cybermen, and they can keep it going for hours (which is more, it seems, than the Brazilians can manage these days).

I mention this because there's a big building near my house. I don't know what goes on there; people come and go during the day, and trucks occasionally arrive at the gates. But there's a Wonka-esque mystery about what's actually happening inside. The only activity anyone can see or hear is a bunch of blokes playing takraw in the car park, all day, every day. Maybe it's a takraw factory, and they're testing them.

There's less mystery about the goings on in the building a few doors down. It's a sauna. Usually, the clients at Thai saunas can have a beer before, after or even while they, um, do what you do in Thai saunas. For some reason, this one doesn't appear to offer such facilities, although there is a bar directly opposite. As a result, it's not unusual to see an elderly, pot-bellied Asian gentleman, wearing nothing but a skimpy towel about his loins and a post-coital glow, strolling across the road for a Singha or two, and then returning, revived, for another session. At 11 in the morning. Land of Smiles, eh?

Where there's sex, there must be death. There's a good line in Tim Hilton's Guardian obituary of sinophile and art enthusiast Peter Townsend: "Avant-garde magazines sometimes change character when editors move to a new pub." And while we're digging out that black tie, anybody called The Reverend Bevan Wardrobe can claim a Telegraph obit on the basis of his name alone, surely?

Also: Salman Rushdie offers Germaine Greer outside; Chuck Klosterman on blogging, irony, populism and the undeconstructible Snakes On A Plane; patriotic Iranians are exhorted by comedy president Ahmadinejad to refer to pizzas as "elastic loaves"; Rod Liddle almost gets Barthesian on Thorpe Park's ass, but bottles it; and, from the mighty Tangents, news that Bob Stanley of St Etienne is putting together a C86 movie. If you have any video or cine footage of shambling/anorak/twee/indiepop* performance from the era, please send details to

*Select your pejorative of choice.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

What the Cornflake said

Who's the most profound, perceptive analyst of modern culture that we have? Baudrillard, maybe? Habermas? Harold Bloom? Pah! Lightweights.

No, it's Dave Lee Travis. You heard it right, people. Opining on the reasons for the imminent demise of Top Of The Pops, ex-Radio One jock DLT had this to say (after some inevitable zaniness about kids with WiFi aerials in their heads):

"There's just too much stuff out there. Everything's becoming marginalised."

Now, like the best Zen koan, that's a seemingly meaningless, paradoxical statement that packs a powerful pipeful of truth. Everything is marginalised. We have no canon any more, no core cultural identity. You can't assume any knowledge on the part of your audience, which means that at every step you run the risk of patronising half of them, and shooting the conceptual ball way over the heads of the other half.

There's a bit in Ulysses where Deasy, the pompous headmaster, admonishes Stephen to be more prudent, noting that Shakespeare said "Put but money in thy purse." Stephen's response is to mutter the single word "Iago" under his breath.

Now, the joke only works if we know that Iago is a villain, so we shouldn't necessarily be taking advice from him. But how do we deal with this, if we don't know how much the reader knows? Stick with "Iago"? Maybe play safe with "Iago, the villain in Othello"? Or do we have to aim for the lowest common denominator, and explain that it's from "Othello, a play, by the playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616), who also wrote William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet"?

Of course, you can go to the opposite extreme. One thing I love about Eliot's notes for The Waste Land (apart from the fact that he can't remember which Antarctic expedition he's talking about) is that he kindly translates the Sanskrit for us; but assumes we'll be OK with the Latin, Greek, French, German and Italian. That's right. Eliot. He wrote Cats.

So where do you pitch it? The problem is, it's one thing to bemoan the lack of a cultural centre, another to decide what and where that centre should be. I'd be happy with, say, Shakespeare and Eliot and Joyce. (Sorry, make that "the Irish author James Joyce (1882-1941), who wrote Ulysses".) Whereas DLT's vision of what can unite us within a common, unmarginalised, cultural identity would probably be ELO and Snooker On The Radio. But who am I to argue with a mind and beard like that?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

About some boys

Get the semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman stuff out of your system first, then start to play with the genre. That’s the rule for novelists, although even as I write it, I can hear you bellowing the exceptions. But think of Joyce using A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man as a personal catharsis, a professional calling-card and a dry-run for Ulysses.

David Mitchell hasn’t read the rules, it would seem. He kicked off with Ghostwritten, an interlinked series of tales, somewhere in the no-man’s land between a story collection and a novel; paid tribute to Murakami with the Booker-shortlisted Number9Dream; and then followed went back to the intertwined narrative thing with Cloud Atlas, but went one better, moving his multiple narratives to a distant, dystopic future, and then galloping backwards again, linking the stories with such casual elegance that you gasp in admiration.

Mitchell’s Black Swan Green is, on the face of it, a big jump away from structural trickery towards something like a proper story with a beginning, middle and potential for Andrew Davies to do the adaptation. It’s the story of Jason, an awkward, unpopular, stammering 13-year-old who lives in the titular Worcestershire village in 1982. And, really, that’s it.

Of course, Mitchell adds a bit of narrative oomph at the macro (the Falklands War) and micro (Jason’s parents’ marriage woes) levels. And, as a treat for his loyal fans, he also brings in a minor character from Cloud Atlas. But essentially it’s a first-person narrative with all the stuff that fictional teenage boys get worked up about: peer popularity; personal inadequacies; parents; siblings; girls and their breasts.

What literary invention there is, remains rooted in mundanity. Jason has a mature, imaginative vocabulary for a teenager (“Worm casts pitted the bubbling lawn like squeezed blackheads”), but that’s because he’s a poet, under the gloriously 13-year-old pseudonym Eliot Bolivar. There are unspoken struggles with an internal demon called Hangman (very Murakami) but that’s just Jason’s method of personalising and defeating his stammer.

Maybe all this material would have been too painful to write before Mitchell had secured literary credibility for himself. It is, after all, blatantly autobiographical: Mitchell’s the same age as Jason; he comes from the same area; he had a bad stammer when he was a child. The period detail, all bulletins from Goose Green and snogging to the sound of ‘Planet Earth’, feels pretty accurate (I’m about the same age) although some of it seems a bit second-hand, like one of those cheap nostalgia shows that keep Kate Thornton one paycheque away from the shopping channel. Indeed, Mitchell admits “debts of detail” to Andrew Collins’s Where Did It All Go Right?

It’s a brave admission, in that it hints at a genre/marketing shift, from ‘literary’ fiction to the sentimental end of lad lit. Of course, some people are allowed to scamper between the two, not least the crawling king snake of the genre, Nick Hornby.

Hornby’s Arsenal-‘n’-Springsteen persona disguises the fact that, deep down, he only ever wanted to be a literary critic; his first book was not, as the official myth has it, Fever Pitch, but a volume of essays under the clunky title Contemporary American Fiction. In The Polysyllabic Spree, he returns to the bookish leg of his geek tripos (the others, of course, being footy and pop).

It’s a collection of pieces from The Believer magazine, in which Hornby discusses what he’s been reading. The focus is less on the books themselves – although, inevitably, a level of criticism does slide in – but about himself as reader and consumer. The distinction is key – each essay is prefaced by two lists, of the books he’s read, and the books he’s bought in the previous month. There’s crossover, but they’re usually very different. I think we all know where he’s coming from. Bloody 3-for-2’s in Waterstone’s, that mysteriously leave you with two books you didn’t really want...

When he was writing about Liam Brady or Teenage Fanclub, Hornby was faced with the challenge of turning action (a goal, a guitar solo) into prose, to make it come alive for the reader. If you’re writing about writing, the challenge is less pronounced – why tell when you can show? As a result, the best bits of the book are the quotations from other sources. This could just be Hornby demonstrating that he’s a good anthologist with excellent taste (or, as readers of his latest novel might wish to attest, the fact that his own literary ability is going a bit Sunderland). Consider this, from This Is Serbia Calling by Matthew Collin: “The one good thing about no electricity, one cynic remarked during the power failures, is that there’s no television telling us we’ve got electricity.”

There. The insanity of war and politics encapsulated in 24 words. Hornby, to give him credit, just steps back and applauds, and I rather know how he feels: probably the best line in this post is the result of me quoting Hornby quoting Collin quoting some beleaguered Balkan. It’s postmodern correctness gone mad, I tell you.

Of course, Hornby makes no claims to be a war correspondent, although his life hasn’t been all honey for tea. He can combine humour and pain when discussing his son’s profound autism, and touches on a number of books about the subject. It does reinforce the authenticity of the book – this is about what he reads, and what touches him, not what he feels he ought to read. (In that sense, that the only agenda is spontaneous and autonomous, his essays would work very well in blog form.)

Hornby’s immunity to the vagaries of academic fashion is admirable, but he does seem to create a kind of bunker mentality, seeing himself as ringleader of the intelligent populist against the theorists and the literati (he does, after all, still live in Highbury rather than Hampstead.) One ally and friend that he namechecks is Tom Shone, who has distilled the essence of the intelligent movie blockbuster as the ability to combine clever, subtle details (Chief Brody’s son copying his dad’s gestures in Jaws) with big, dumb thrills in just the right proportion: “…you could have finger steepling and scary rubber sharks in the same movie. This seemed like important information. Why had no one told us this before?”

But when Hornby makes an equivalent point about middlebrow fiction, it comes over as the kvetching of a popular author who might make it to the Booker longlist, but that’s as good as it gets: “…after a lifetime of reading I can officially confirm that readers’ writers beat writers’ writers every time…”

Which, if we accept that what he’s really saying is that Hornby is better than Rushdie and Ishiguro and McEwan, et al, because more people read him, it surely means that Hornby is in turn less good than Grisham and Brown and Kinsella or whoever sells more than him. Or that Chelsea are currently better than Arsenal, and Lily Allen is better than Springsteen.

Once again, he has to reach for a quote to redeem himself, and it’s Gabriel Zaid who summarises the whole book, as well as Hornby’s other completist fascinations: “…the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.”

Now, if Hornby could come up with one-liners like that – even if he changed the subject matter to Panini stickers or Dylan bootlegs – he’d get the Booker and the sales figures as well. It's the last match of the 1989 season and the ball’s at his feet...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Is this a blogger I see before me?

I'm developing a morbid fascination with the way old media is stumbling onto the blog bandwagon, especially when legitimate hacks use their blogs to reflect on the way blogs are challenging and changing their working practices. It's all so thrillingly metatextual!

Here's the deputy editor of Newsnight on how they're using Technorati to pick their interviewees, and also the delusions still held by some bloggers that their thoughts are somehow private and privileged; and the news editor of on how last week's stats about how many people have blogs are skewed by commercial definitions of what is and isn't a blog.

Which in turn offers up today's essay question. MySpace: the Sunny Delight of blogging, or what?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Three quotations...

...that might have gone into that bit where the Spinal Tap one sits, or maybe the Green Wing one, or possibly even the Murakami. Such is the postmodern condition. (A line I tried to shoehorn into the 3,000 words I wrote about Radiohead's 'Fitter Happier' at the weekend, before deciding that references to Baudrillard, Eliot, Joyce, Lou Reed, Nirvana, The Stepford Wives and Leonard Nimoy made it quite pretentious enough, thanks for asking. And on the subject of Radiohead, has anybody listened to Thom Yorke's Eraser album yet? Doesn't it sound a bit like how you'd imagine TY's demos to sound before the other guys have had a chance to work on them? Strange, that.)


"Thus, although the culture industry undeniably speculates on the conscious and unconscious state of the millions towards which it is directed, the masses are not primary, but secondary, they are an object of calculation; an appendage of the machinery. The customer is not king, as the culture industry would have us believe, not its subject but its object."
(Theodor Adorno)

"...and there is a breed of Tuesday in January in which time creeps and no light comes and the air is full of water and nobody really loves anybody..."
(Zadie Smith, from On Beauty)

"Do I get bonus points if I act like I care?"
(Dr Gregory House)

Monday, July 17, 2006

Church of the poisonous mind

The truffles still unsniffed by the finest snouts in the blog forest are: 3, 'Computer Song' by bowler-wearing bedsit maestro Jim Noir; 4, 'I'm Waking Up To Us' by Belle and Sebastian (allegedly about the breakup of Stuart Murdoch and the adorable Isobel Campbell, left); 17, the fi-doesn't-get-much-lo'er 'You're So Great', possibly my favourite Blur song ever; and 20, 'Blue Jay Way' by some Scouse chancers. I'm surprised nobody got 4 or 20; but even more astonished at the ones you did manage to pin down. Enthusiastic yet chaste handshakes, masking wistful yearnings, to one and all. To Molly, the laurels, and try saying that after five pints.

Anyway, in a packed programme tonight: my old mate Nick (who doesn't have a blog, despite the fact I keep nagging him to start one, so you'll have to make do with his IMDb entry or even his Wikipedia entry) has flagged up the existence of the magnificent CAP Reports site.

It's a Christian thing, intended to warn parents about the horrors coming out of that modern Gomorrah, Hollywood; or, as they put it themselves, "A service to His little ones (which includes at-home teens) through you, their parents and grandparents, in His name by His Word". Inevitably, the likes of South Park ("vulgar and vile") and The Exorcist come in for stern reproach. But Satan lurks in the unlikeliest nooks. Godfearing parents are beseeched to watch out for "torture of a character (gingerbread man)" in Shrek, for example. And that's before we get to the "lies, several" in, uh, Pinocchio.

Despite the fact they're deranged bigots, one can only admire these guys' thoroughness. A single example: in their analysis of American Psycho (which scores an unprecedented zero on their "we don't like it, it's horrid" scale), they note not only the head in the fridge, the bodies in the closet, the chainsaw, the cannibalism and so on; but also "inappropriate touching", "abuse of prescription drugs" and, most heinous of all, "two abbreviations of 'Christmas' without 'Christ'". I feel unclean just typing those words.

One final gem. The review of A Midsummer Night's Dream is prefaced by: "...if you enjoy Shakespearean lingo, you'll like this one. All of the script is in Shakespearean."

And, while I've got you... Bob (St Etienne) Stanley on drugs and art in The Times (note to self: re-read Huxley); Viv Stanshall sings Cliff Richard, courtesy of Bob Swipe; and, thanks to Ms B, a quite extraordinary clip of Morrissey and Marr suffering little children at Kew Gardens (also available here if YouTube is playing up).

Friday, July 14, 2006

25 loved songs

Update: Will put you out of any remaining misery at around 1200 BST today (Monday). 3, 4, 17, 20 still to be identified. Molly leads by a nose from Billy and Betty.

For the weekend, another meme from the ever-fruitful loins of Billy, subsequently picked up by Patroclus and others. Opening lines from 25 randomly (ish) plucked tracks. Name 'em, and the artists. (Two or three of these have opening dialogue, which I've ignored. Some are also cover versions, or have been covered - I'll accept any performer who has actually recorded the song. For one, I'll accept either of two titles.)

1. [In the next world war, in a jackknifed juggernaut] Airbag - Radiohead (Billy)
2. ["Can I have your autograph?" he said to the fat blond actress] New Age - Velvet Underground (Slaminsky)
3. The moment I switch you on, you sing your song, let me know it won't be long
4. I need someone to take some joy in something I do
5. [I know so many people who think they can do it alone] Hang On To Your Ego/I Know There's An Answer - Beach Boys/Frank Black (Geoff) The former title being the one Brian prefers, although they used the latter on Pet Sounds because Mike Love, a twat, didn't like the implied dig at Transcendental Meditation.
6. [Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show with some smartass New York Jew] Rednecks - Randy Newman (Geoff)
7. [Oh the white folks hate the black folks and the black folks hate the white folks] National Brotherhood Week - Tom Lehrer (Will)
8. [If you need some fun, something stereo gum] Radio #1 - Air (Betty)
9. [I can think of younger days when living for my life was everything a man could want to do] How Can You Mend A Broken Heart - Bee Gees/Al Green (Tom L)
10. [I don't have plans and schemes, and I don't have hopes and dreams] Since I Don't Have You - Skyliners, etc (Betty)
11. [I lost my heart under the bridge to that little girl] Down By The Water - PJ Harvey (Billy)
12. [I tried but I could not find a way] Re-Make Re-Model - Roxy Music (Billy)
13. [I can turn a gray sky blue, I can make it rain, whenever I want it to] I Can't Get Next To You - Temptations (Tom L)
14. [Alabama’s gotten me so upset, Tennessee made me lose my rest] Mississippi Goddamn - Nina Simone (PJ)
15. [I’m in love again, been like this before] Love You More - Buzzcocks (Betty)
16. [It isn’t the way that you look and it isn’t the way that you talk] I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten - Dusty Springfield (Molly Bloom)
17. Sad, drunk, and poorly, sleeping really late
18. [Nobody knows what human life is, why we come, why we go] I Will See You In Far Off Places - Morrissey (Ms B)
19. [This place is a fun park tonight, I follow the lights into the town] First Day On A New Planet - Urusei Yatsura (Molly Bloom)
20. There’s a fog upon LA and my friends have lost their way
21. [Down by the docks the talking turned] Come Back - Wah! (Nick Pegg, by e-mail)
22. [Debonair lullabies in melodies revealed in deep despair on lonely nights] When Smokey Sings - ABC (Molly Bloom)
23. [When you see him again, tell him everything you told me] Willing To Wait - Sebadoh (Occasional Poster of Comments)
24. [Though this world's essentially an absurd place to be living in, it doesn't call for total withdrawal] French Disko - Stereolab (Nick Pegg)
25. [Stained, glaucous, glycerine, gold, goat, clover] Word Song - Syd Barrett, RIP (Molly Bloom)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Don't believe the Web

I just found something slightly bizarre in the Oasis entry on the respected Allmusic site. (Scroll down a little until you get to the list headed "Performed songs by".)

If we can assume that there's some logic behind the ordering of the list, my own authorial contribution to the Reality Show Rutles would appear to be less significant than that of Noel Gallagher or Lennon-McCartney (fair enough) but bigger than that of Gary Glitter or Slade. Or, indeed, Liam.

(There is a mundane explanation for this, and no, it doesn't mean that I have massive royalty cheques rolling in every quarter. Such is life.)

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Piper

I'm filled with self-loathing. I have no sense of proportion, no sense of the meaning of grief. At least 100 people have been murdered in a series of bomb attacks in Mumbai. And what's really upsetting me is that bloody Syd Barrett's died.

"It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here
And I'm most obliged to you for making it clear
That I'm not here."

'Jugband Blues' (1968)

By any other name

So, Rose leaves Dr Who and, I'm not ashamed to admit, eyes were not entirely dry at Cultural Snow Towers. I've loved this series (Intertextuality! Sarah Jane! ELO!); although the whole project does induce a sort of wistful melancholy at the thought of what Tom Baker might have been able to do with a half-decent budget and a smidgeon of CGI.

One thought. The last two episodes have established that there are multiple parallel universes, and movement between them is feasible, albeit difficult and unwise. Does this mean pretty much anything is possible? The original series operated on the principle of canonicity, so that if something happened, it happened; it couldn't be contradicted in subsequent stories. This did necessitate increasingly daft explanations as to how Davros was able to reappear, but at least it imposed some sort of continuity, not to mention discipline, on the writers. Oooh, when it looked as if the Brigadier had retired by the time of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, the letters they got!

But now, the Doc can just find himself confronted with something that's logically impossible, say "Oh bum, must have slipped through into a pesky parallel universe again!" and carry on saving the (a?) world. Sounds a bit like cheating to me.

And it means they could even bring back Adric.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

All art is quite useful

The immediate problem with Modernism – Designing a New World 1914-1939, at the V&A, is that the exhibits are united by philosophy, not form. You can be studying a reconstruction of the austere Kleinstwohnung, the German minimal dwelling that everyone was going to inhabit in the utopian, concrete future – and then turn to see Soviet ballet costumes that wouldn’t disgrace the campest of Dr Who villains.

In theory, the two extremes were united by a Modernist ethos that fused art and technology for the improvement of society. However, there was no one, unified Modernist dogma to which everybody who assumed the mantle could adhere. This makes the exhibition slightly confusing, as we hop from Russian films to Chicago skyscrapers and then to a bust of Mussolini that makes him look like one of those ceramic knobs on a power line.

But this incoherence seems to be part and parcel of the time. There’s a photograph of Mies van der Rohe’s monument to the November Revolution, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. But its hard-lined brutality and fuck-you sloganeering – "I AM, I WAS, I WILL BE" – could just as easily have been appropriated by Hitler. Similarly, the assembly-line economics of Henry Ford and FW Taylor, emblematic of 20th-century capitalism, were revered by the Soviet government in the 1920s. These ideas in turn, become the inspiration for film-makers as diverse as Eisenstein, Chaplin and René Clair, with humans turning into disembodied components of what the Futurist architect Sant’elia dubbed "the urban machine".

It’s not all doom and dystopia, though. One snippet we pick up is that the Bauhaus organised, of all things, a weaving course, and Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky were both tutors on it. Loomcraft aside, which one of them finished the last custard cream in the staff room, one wonders. (Kandinsky, incidentally, has his own show at Tate Modern, documenting his movement from representation to abstraction. It’s good, but slightly pointless, because on the evidence here, he never went fully abstract, in the way Rothko or Pollock did. There’s always something that looks a bit like a cannon, or a penis, or a couple riding the log flume at Alton Towers, that penetrates the chin-stroking with a giggle of recognition.)

Like Kandinsky, it seems, the Modernists never quite had the courage of their own convictions. One of the last sections is devoted to the Highpoint buildings in Hampstead. The architect, Bernard Lubetkin, occupied the penthouse in Highpoint 2, but despite his nominal adherence to Mies van der Rohe’s "Less is More" credo, he decorated his abode with garish images from Pollock’s toy theatres and the weirdest manifestations of marine life. If your best aesthetic intentions have been hijacked by Fascism, Stalinism and the wilder excesses of industrial capitalism, maybe Surrealism is the best refuge.

On the other hand, Surrealism could also be a tricky beast. Undercover Surrealism: Picasso, Miró, Masson and the Vision of Georges Bataille, at the Hayward, is an apt if unwieldy title, as Bataille was always at odds with André Breton and his Manifesto gang, the self-appointed bearers of the lobster-flavoured torch. Like the V&A show, it flirts with incoherence by insisting that true Surrealism existed before and beyond those who appropriated the name. It’s a sound point, but it means that we have to get past a 17th-century Abyssinian prayer scroll and photographs from the abattoir at La Villette before we reach the arty bits.

And that’s the point. Bataille was the founder of the magazine Documents, a precursor to the likes of Roland Barthes in that it found meaning in the manifestations of mass culture that, in the 1920s, still slipped under the critical radar. He was as fascinated by the Buster Keaton movie on show by the entrance as he was by what the likes of Breton, Magritte and Tanguy chose to define as art (their own stuff, mostly). No wonder relations were a wee bit frosty.

The rampant eclecticism here means that the works by the headline artists (including some glorious, purple-slashed Mirós) play second fiddle to Bataille’s fixations, notably his obsession with headless forms. Despite the feud, this is something he shared with the paid-up surrealists, as his favourite images of acéphales tie into the Freudian notions of the subconscious imagination bypassing the rational brain; easier, surely, if there’s no brain to bypass.

Bataille’s world view is a real thumb in the eye to the Surrealists because, despite their Dadaist, anti-Art roots, most of them still craved acceptance (not to mention cash) for their ability to put oil on canvas. The two most memorable pieces leap out of that self-imposed box. One is a drawing of giraffes, by André Masson’s nine-year-old daughter Lili. ("A child could do that!" is the philistine response to modern art. To which the obvious retort is, "Of course a child could. But for an adult to be able to do it as well is something special.")

The other is more a happy accident. There are listening posts, allowing vistors to log into the music that soundtracked Bataille’s world. At the end of the day, nobody’s listening; the headphones lie empty, but the music – Stravinsky, Duke Ellington, voodoo rituals – still leaks out, different sounds from different posts, mushing together, fighting and then reaching some sort of equilibrium. It sounds like a thousand drunken bagpipers playing Radiohead, and it’s beautiful.

Two things unite these exhibitions. One is the cheeky perversity of their respective settings: the minimalist functionalism of the Modernism nestling in the camp, imperial finery of the V&A; Bataille’s magpie tendencies occupying the austere, urban lump that is the South Bank.

The other is that the exhibits themselves are mostly of secondary interest. The individual pieces exist to tell a story, to support an idea, a concept; there’s no single work here without which either exhibition would fail. The message transcends the medium, and the most important ‘artists’ at work are the curators. The conceptualists have taken over the asylum.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Couldn't resist it...

A rub-on gel that might become the first over-the-counter remedy for erectile dysfunction is due to go into clinical trials by the end of this year.

The Sexual Dysfunction Association (I bet they have really fun parties) warned: "Only after a careful evaluation will we be able to say whether this is a great tool or not."

(Incidentally, the bloke pictured in the BBC story - not the guy at the left - appears to be rubbing his nose. Is there something I've been doing wrong for the last few decades?)

Also for your delectation: the wonderful world of knitted pop stars (I'm particularly fond of Jimi Hendrix); and a man called Dr Tits.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A blog of one's own

Following Patroclus' splenetic hatchet job* on Mary Dejevsky's bizarre "women don't blog" piece in The Independent, I had a little word.

Dear Mary,

I'm sure several hundred politics nerds have pointed out that Iain Dale isn't an MP, so we needn't go there. But hey, let's get to the meat of your article.

Yes, there are doubtless practical and/or psychological obstacles that prevent some women from blogging. But we're not in Virginia Woolf country now, Toto. Three great things about blogging as a means of communication are:

1) It's proactive - you can blog in your own time, when you want, how you want. No deadlines; no wordcounts; no editors talling you what's going to appeal to the target market. If you can spare any time whatsoever, you can blog. I've watched a hell of a lot less TV since I started.

2) It has the potential for anonymity. If you feel hindered by any aspect of your 'real' identity, you needn't mention it. Feel inhibited because you're female, black, gay, disabled, old, young? Just don't tell anyone. Or do. It's your call.

3) It requires little or no technical ability. If you're functionally literate, and you can turn a computer on, you can blog.

The first two, I reckon, make blogging a far more attractive mode of communication to some women than, to pluck something out of the ether, print journalism. If you have any spare time at all, even if it's between all the oppressive domestic chores you list, you can do it. And you don't need to prove yourself over and above blokey, beer-swilling hacks with Hemingway complexes. Just do it.

The third might, I suppose, deter some women who've bought into the "women can't do technology" myth, but I reckon that money, education and social class have a much bigger impact here, with gender a distant fourth.

If I might be allowed to hypothesise with little or no solid evidence here - and sorry Mary, your article sets a pretty solid precedent for that - you're yet another old media journalist who feels slightly threatened by blogging without really quite understanding it. Don't worry, you're by no means alone. Even hacks who blog seem to come a cropper (Richard Lloyd Parry at being a rare exception).

Part of the problem, of course, is that much of the wider world was introduced to blogging by the politics wonks who popped up during the '04 US election. It's a much bigger world than that. If you can spare the time (I presume you too are prone to all the domestic duties that you ascribe to women - if you are a woman - see point 2 above) check out the following:;;;;;

Then get back to me if you can spot any that seem dominated by childcare and/or gynaecology. I think they're all women. But you never know. See what I mean?

Till then, all the best,


* Have you ever used a splenetic hatchet? It's like Dr Who's sonic screwdriver, but heavier.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

From our Middle East correspondent

The Israeli authorities have expelled four Hamas representatives from Jerusalem.

One of the banished MPs, Mohammed Abu Tir (above), told Cultural Snow:

"Sure an' oi'll go back to me little house under de toadstool in aul' Galway with me little shroine to Roy Keane, an' if ye rub me tummy t'ree toimes oi'll cast me ancient spells against the infidel agents of fascist Zionism, insha'Allah, so it is."

P.S. Of course, if I'd actually been fully awake when I first posted this, I could have come up with some wonderfully erudite Hibernian pun about Tir na nOg.

But I wasn't.

So I didn't.