Saturday, 22 December 2012

Xmas compilation track listing

As ever, there is an Xmas selection. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue (only in the musical sense, this year). There is also a little new year and a touch of hannukah.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about my rules for putting an Xmas compilation together.  I had twenty rules in all. This year, I have broken ten of them at least. Which were? Well, there is no Elvis, no Phil Spector, no White Christmas, no world music, no sexual revelation, nothing ethnic, no English folk, no reconsideration of a seemingly nauseating classic, no country music, nothing that would offend sensible opinion by its obviousness or the singer's identity.

So which ones didn't I break? 

Rule three The first track must be a familiar one . . . Well, this year's, Christmas Island, is fairly familiar.

Rule four Many, if not all, the best Christmas songs are about sadness, loss, separation and inevitability of death . . . Well, maybe not death but River is about loss and separation.

Rule six Many, if not all, the best Christmas songs are about family — its realities as well as its fantasies . . . See Xmas.

Rule nine There should be unfamiliar versions of familiar songs . . . See
Silent Night and, perhaps, River. Also even, Van Morrison's Santa Claus.

Rule ten There should be at least one quite unfamiliar new(ish) tunes. See Xmas, I'm Dreaming, Van Morrison's Santa Claus, Home For The Holidays.

Rule fourteen There should be something by Bing Crosby or Johnny Mercer . . . See Marshmallow World.

Rule fifteen There should be one or more example of the wonderful world of US black Christmas pop . . . A bit of a stretch as it wasn't a hit etc but see Riverside Drive.

Rule sixteen There should be wit . . . There's a lot of that this year. See, again, Riverside Drive. Also I'm Dreaming.

Rule nineteen There should be something that sounds like it was recorded in a cornflake factory . . . Listen to Happy New Year.

Rule twenty There should be something by a girlie indie singer with an off-putting name and shtick which is nonetheless surprisingly enticing . . . See Christmas Song, Home For The Holidays and Xmas.

I guess I have to add a few new rules, though . . .

Rule twenty-one It should reach beyond Xmas. See Happy New Year, 'Twas The Night Before Hannukah, The Latke Song.

Rule twenty-two The genuine believers should have a shake. Christmas Prayer, When Jesus Was Born, Did You Spend Christmas Day In Jail?

Anyway, here is the tracklisting.
2 Marshmallow World Bing Crosby
3 Skating Vince Guaraldi
4 It Must Be Christmas Gerry Mulligan & Judy Holiday
5 Xmas Shelby Lynne
6 River Tracey Thorn
7 I'm Dreaming Randy Newman
8 When Jesus Was Born Sons Of Heaven
9 A Christmas Prayer Solomon Burke
10 How I Hate To See Xmas Come Around (Christmas Blues) Jimmy Witherspoon
11 Christmas On Riverside Drive August Darnell
12 Getting Ready For Christmas Day Paul Simon
13 Christmas Song Jenny Owen Youngs
14 Home For The Holidays Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler
15 Silent Night Slow Club
16 Van Morrison's Santa Claus Rich Chambers
17 Happy New Year Lighnin' Hopkins
18 The Latke Song (Live) Debbie Friedman
19 Twas the Night Before Chanukah Stanley Adams and Sid Wayne
20 Did You Spend Christmas Day In Jail? Rev. J.M. Gates
21 Holiday I.D Lou Reed 

I might do some sleevenotes etc. I might not. I'll let you know next week.

If you didn't get an email inviting you to download the tracks from Dropbox, drop me an email or put a comment on this page and I'll send you a link. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Naked women: why?

To the Donmar Warehouse, for the heralded all-female production of Julius Caesar. As politeness requires, I’ll start with the positive and praiseworthy.

One It was short, two hours, with no interval. Not a minor point at the Donmar which must have the most uncomfortable seats of any internationally renowned theatre.

(This might also help stoke the slight but unmistakable air of smugness in the crowd. They have not just managed to get tickets for such a famous little house but they have suffered for their art. They exhale the same air of entitlement that plumes from the mouths of the people queuing outside this month’s most hippest no-reservations restaurant. Pitt Cue, say. Oh, I know, I am so early 2012. Slap my wrist.)

Two They did a great job of editing it down. The story shone through and was easy to follow, even if you didn’t know much or any Roman history. Again, not a minor point. It’s an unwieldy play. The guy in the title is dead half-way through. There’s not much in the way of sympathetic characters. There is no surprise about either the murder or the denouement. All that stuff about divination etc makes no sense to modern minds. Etc, etc (to drop suitably into a little Latin).

Well, it wasn’t very good. When asked at the end, I replied: one star. And, feeling poncey, added: jejune. Later, I also said: same kind of half-dead tropes there had been in guff like my school’s student production of Titus Andronicus. Neon lights! Paramilitary uniforms! Shouting! (Even! More! Than! Usual! For! A! Shakespeare! What is it about actors and Willie the Shake? Why do they have to shout lines that should be spoken? My first theory: they, like memsabs addressing foreigners, are convinced that volume enhances comprehension. My second theory: they know not what they do — or what the lines mean.)

Okay, okay, I hear you say. So far, so usual, what’s your point and can’t you get to it quicker?

So: nakedness. Naked women, in particular. One naked woman, in this case. She was wandering around at one point. It was a bit of a shock. Mostly because, well, it made no sense. At all.
Why, oh, why do directors persist in prevailing upon actresses to take their clothes off in the name of art? Obviously, it does make sense some times. I remember a production of Sondheim’s Passion in a theatre even smaller than the Donmar. The show starts with a couple rising from a bed where they have just had sex. We had front row seats. The singer-actors were naked. As singers, they were wonderful. They also had singers bodies. I couldn’t make up my mind whether their lack of beauty enhanced the humanity of the story or merely distracted the audience into physical critiquing.

I asked one of the two women who came to Julius Caesar with me about the naked woman. Yes, she said, I couldn’t work out what it might have signified either. Also, she added, it wasn’t as if the actress was the . . . Then she said something that if I’d said it, I would have had angry stares at least. She was, let’s put it this way, less than enthusiastic about the actress’s physique.
I’d thought that, too, obviously. I’d had another thought, too. That the director and the other actresses might well have pushed her into it. Its pointlessness whiffed of bullying. Women, almost invariably, are far, far more judgmental of other women’s bodies than men are.

So, for me, that was the only moment that the all-femaleness of the show made sense. Just as a gang of senators gang up on JC, so here a gang of gals gang up on another gal. That the parallel of this untethered emotional violence was unseen by its perpetrators made it all the more poignant but also genuinely tragic. Julius Caesar meets Mallory Towers.

PS I didn't want this text to be centred but there is something that goes wrong in blogger when you paste in an image. The text centres itself and you can't reset the alignment. At least, I can't. Any thoughts etc welcome.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Michael O’Leary, twat or cunt? A philological con-undrum

I quote Carole Cadwallar from her piece on the latest piece of ridiculous flim-flammery to emerge from the mouth of Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary. 

Customers had complained about having to pay £60 if they’d forgotten to print their own ticket. What did O’Leary have to say to them? ‘We say quite politely to those passengers, bugger off.’

And so, in The Observer, Carole Cadwallar used similarly base language to describe the Ryanair boss. ‘Michael O’Leary is a twat . . . He is . . . And Ryanair . . . is a twattish airline.’

Ah now, Carole, I beg to question. Is it fair to call O’Leary a twat? Is it an accurate characterisation? Is it reasonable to compare him — and his airline — to a piece of female genitalia? And then there is the most vital question of all: if Michael O’Leary is a vagina, is twat the best word in the context?

Some possible alternatives can be easily dismissed. He is clearly no pussy — there is nothing meek about him (or his airline). Nor is he a fanny — certainly there’s no fannying about in the Ryanair universe.

No, there are only two possible vagina words for the airline boss: twat or cunt. And I’d challenge Cadwaller’s choice of twat. I think most people would agree that it’s the weaker word and that a twat’s twattishness is the result of stupidity or, even more likely, laziness. A twat is an English equivalent of a French con — foolish rather than malevolent. The French play and film, Le Diner Des Cons

Le Dîner de cons 

was translated Dinner for Schmucks. Not for cunts. Though when they showed it in France, it was translated - confusingly, I would have thought - back to the same title as the original French film

When children’s author Jacqueline Wilson called someone a twat in her 2008 book, My Sister Jodie, that is surely the sense she was after. Someone that is useless, a drain on humanity but, really, they don’t do it on purpose. Someone doing something stupid like, say, using the word ‘twat’ in a book for children.

A cunt, though, knows what they are doing. And I find it hard to believe that O’Leary doesn’t know what he’s doing. In fact, I’m sure that his consciously obstructive rules for his airline are, more than anything, a way of getting free publicity. If I told people they couldn’t come in my house without a pre-printed ticket, then tried to charge them for printing it, I would, I reckon, be called a cunt for doing it. So O’Leary is clearly more cunt than twat. I quote myself, from my book Filthy English.

‘Cunt has only recently been used as an insult - since the late 19th century roughly. In that time, though, it has acquired unparalleled potency and pungency. I'd say there was an implication - an accusation, probably - of active malevolence in calling someone a cunt. Which is, to my mind, the reason it's seen as such a terrible word. Not because it represents vaginas and not just because it represents real hatred but because it represents real hatred allied to vaginas. So it's a violent repudiation of all our origins.’

PS1 All things considered, though, I don’t think O’Leary really is a cunt. He’s not nasty enough for that. (Nasty being another vagina word, of course.) Matter of fact, I’d use a native Irish phrase for him. I’d say he was a cute hoor. And if you want to know more about cute hoors, you’ll have to buy my book — now available, and selling well, as an eBook.

PS2 You don’t have to go via the satanic Amazon either. Both paperback and eBook are available via,,, . . . and any good online bookstore.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Greatest song in the world ever . . .  today

Number 2 

The Champion Part 1 Willie Mitchell
Things don’t come much more stupid than repetitive instrumentals. A riff is rapped out. A groove is found. And then it’s repeated and repeated and repeated till . . . well, classically, till there is no more space left for any more grooves on one side of a vinyl 45.

Things don’t come much smarter than these ‘songs’, either. Dance instrumentals really can be a matter of making bricks out of straw, something from virtually nothing. Something a corpse could dance to. On The Champion Part 1, this means . . .

* two-fisted drums, right on the beat, not even any symbols — yes, that is what I typed — I did, of course, mean cymbals but I’m not sure I wasn’t right (or, at least, righter) first time

* occasional filigreed guitar figures which sound like they might be by that king of Memphis, Steve Cropper, or perhaps one of its princes, Teeny Hodges

* simple, simple organ notes, one-fingered, maybe less

* an overblown horn section

* and, of course, handclaps — pretty much like the ones on the Bar-Kays’ Soul Finger which I learned to dance to (and love) at all-night beach discos on the Costa Brava when I was . . . well, much younger

A classic soul-stomper, The Champion was on Hi records, known in the 1960s as the ‘house of instrumentals’. Willie Mitchell was another Memphis king. Classically trained, he had a Brazilian of a moustache and played trumpet on early BB King records. He was also the man who made both Al Green and Ann Peebles.

Way back when, this was a Northern soul floor-filler. I assume it’s a 1960s side but the only copy I can find is what I assume is on the English label, London American, a reissue from November 1976. Yes, pretty much the same week as the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen. 


That was when the Northern Soul thing was at its most intense. I guess that a few months later its scene-makers have been leather-jacketed and gobbing. But for that moment, they were out on the floor at the Wigan Casino etc, dancing that simple, simple, skipping step-dance they all did. I love the fact that someone has YouTube edited it to Fred Astaire but, really, Northern Soul dancing was never that sophisticated. Unlike The Champion which is the essence of supersmart stupidity. Even I can dance to it.

The Champion Part 2? Don’t bother. It’s more varied, the band swing better but it’s not a champion. Let alone, as they’d put it up Northern Soul way, champion.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The first fucking James Bond film

It’s a couple of weeks back now but I went to see the new James Bond, Skyfall, on a wet Wednesday afternoon on half-term in Penzance. It was packed.

Before I get on to Bond, though, let me wander off for a bit with something about the cinema, the Savoy. It’s the oldest in Britain, I think. Last time I was there, when they showed the bit before the film about how taping movies etc is an act of piracy, a member of the audience stood up and, in the deepest, roundest Cornish accent ‘Aaarr, that it be.’ (I’ve told that story before but in person. I’ve no idea if it worked in print.)

And so to James ‘fucking’ Bond. Well, actually, Judi ‘fucking’ Dench. Have you seen the film yet? Did you catch it? Mrs/Ms/Miss M, at a dark moment, says: ‘I fucked up, didn’t I?’ She doesn’t say it clearly, she mumbles it.

And my point is? That no review — not that I’ve seen anyway — has commented on it. Why did they put it in the film then? My guess is for two reasons. One, I can tell everyone about but the other — which is the real one, I reckon — is something that can only be revealed to people who’ve actually seen the film.

Reason one. It was a straightforward way of emphasising the gravity of the moment. Nothing else would have achieved the same impact. Which shows that, however publicly acceptable ‘fuck’ has become, it still does retain power.

Reason two. Because it is a Rubicon of a moment. A river has been crossed. A moment has happened. It’s an indication that things will never be the same again. It’s an emotional harbinger of something that happens later in the film. Something tough and irrevocable. But I can’t tell you what it is. (If you’ve seen the movie, I don’t think you’ll have too many problems figuring it out.) It has nothing to do with sex, though, just with the more usual modern meaning of ‘fucked’.

Next The next Greatest Song In The World Ever . . . Today. This one doesn’t even have words.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The greatest song in the world ever . . . today
Number one: Fats Domino’s The Fat Man

This is the thing. I’m sure you feel the same way, too.

You’re listening to the radio or to your iPod on shuffle and a song comes on, one you already know well but probably haven’t heard for a while, and you think: how wonderful is this, now I remember why I was so driven by it in the first place.

You play it again. And you feel the same again. And again. It’s like love at first sight on repeat mode. Rapturous. Childish wonder. Intimations of immortality, that kind of thing. It is, without doubt, the greatest song in the word ever.

Then you forget it again. Well, I do.

So writing about these moments here is a way of fixing that memory. Some kind of memento of lost todays. From now on, every time I find myself thinking: that is the best song ever, I will post something here. With a link to the song. And picture of the artist. Plus a little information, a story or two and a bit of an attempt to explain why it is the best song in the world ever.

And so to the Fat Man’s The Fat Man.

It was Fats Domino’s first record, cut as long ago as 1949, in New Orleans. Antoine Dominique Domino Jr was then twenty-one and, well, good golly, miss molly, he is still with us. I’ve only seen him play once, in the late 1970s. He seemed ancient — not to mention enormous. But he was only the same age as I am now. (I’m bigger than I was then, too.)

The Fat Man is a song about hanging on a street corner watching the girls go by. Not just any corner either but Rampart and Canal, then the heart of non-white New Orleans.

Non-white? Why didn’t I write black? Because of the kind of girls the fat young man is scoping. These are not just any girls. These are Creole girls. I assume the singer referring to what are now called Creoles of color — ie they have African ancestry. Pre-Civil War, they were classified as neither black nor white. Creoles were a kind of black upper middle class in New Orleans. Fats was a Creole himself — hence the Frenchie Christian name. If you want an idea of the kind of girl he was lusting after, think Beyoncé — she’s another Creole.

There’s another story behind that story, too. While Domino took a credit for writing The Fat Man, it’s really just his cleaned-up take on an earlier New Orleans anthem, Junker’s Blues. That’s the one Dr John played as Junco Partner. It’s possible that, these days, it’s best known as the basis for the Clash’s Wrong ’Em Boyo.

This greatest song in the world ever is all about hitting a piano hard and keeping on hitting it. Even sitting at a desk, you nod your head along. I guess that is its secret. And the whah-whah bit. It was possibly the first rock and roll record to sell a million. I think it was the whah-whah bit that did it.

Sing it, Fats.

‘Whah-whah-whah. Whah-whah. Whah-whah-whah-whah-whah.’
Thanks, Fats.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

 You believe a man can fly

The other day, I saw the most wonderful stage show. The only reason I didn’t post anything before was that the run was so short it would have finished by the time you read my post. As an Arts Council funded thing — research and development only — it was only on for a few days, at Jacksons Lane in Highgate. Maybe, if everyone is lucky, it will be put on again, maybe for longer.


It was Birdy, an adaptation of the William Wharton novel which was the basis of the Nicholas Cage movie. 


The story is, roughly, this: WW2 US paratroop gets shot up, goes to hospital with childhood friend who was with him in unit and also badly injured; ‘hero’ decides he’s a bird; he might be psychotic, he might be pretending, he might really be able to fly, you kind of decide; at the end, he is better; as a viewer, you are happy for him (not to mention relieved) but you are, thankfully, none the wiser as to the ‘reality’ of his ‘illness’ — or flying technique.

This show was what I guess is called physical theatre. The meaning is, more often than not, in the motion rather than the locution. For someone with my background and inclinations, this kind of stuff was a big challenge for a very long time. Why walk when you can talk?

This, though, was something else.

Declaration of interest: the co-director is a friend, Mitch Mitchelson.

Anti-declaration of interest: Mitch is a ‘circus skills’ expert and teacher: my take on the idea of ‘circus skills’ has up to now been to giggle, if quietly and up my sleeve when Mitch was around. (He’s a big bloke. And even bigger on a pair of stilts.)

Simply, reader, I was wrong. In the right hands, ‘circus skills’ and ‘physical theatre’ become something else entirely. As I watched, I felt that thing you rarely feel — childhood wonder. This was something I was seeing for the first time and it was a joyous revelation.

I remember taking my daughter to see a panto for the first time. Her ex-nanny was performing in it, playing a fairy. When the nanny fairy began to fly, my daughter started crying. I had to take her out to the lobby and distract her for the rest of the show while her older brother took it all in his stride. She had, I guess, been foxed by the transgression of reality. Real nannies can’t really fly. But this one had. Logical and emotional certainties had been upended.

Here, in Jacksons Lane, I was also confronted by a someone who could fly. It was extraordinary. There was none of that jumping up and hoping for the best rubbish you normally see with Peter Pan etc — people on wires flapping about, stupidly and boringly. He really convinced that he was learning to fly. We were in the front row and he flew out over us. I was so certain he could fly I wasn’t even worried that he’d crash into us.

There was also trick-cycling and pole-dancing in the show. Nothing like you might see down the Hackney Rd on a late Friday night, though. Not that the girls down there couldn’t have learned a thing or two from the way this (male) pole dancer could walk up it and drop down. Honestly, if it had been a different crowd, he would have quite a few fivers tucked down his shorts. 


Maybe even an Adam Smith* or two. (Oh, apparently, it’s not called pole-dancing but Chinese pole. It’s still pole-dancing, though.)



I’ve seen all this kind of stuff before, in old-fashioned circuses and the Cirque du Soleil etc. I was always impressed by the physical wonders of what they were doing, but left empty with a kind of: so what? This was something else, though. Here, the movement had meaning and emotion. It was like watching quality dance — Matthew Bourne, for example — or Pina Bausch on her day.


The movements were not just wondrous in themselves but they were invested with thought and possibilities. It was circus skills used to express meaning. It was theatre in a new — to me, anyway — language. Not English or French or ancient Greek but fluent Circus-ish.

* The great economist’s profile is on £20 notes.

Next The fatman sings (having put heroin and prison behind him)

Monday, 22 October 2012

What the British ambassador really said . . .
Last week, there was a brief and minor fuss about a tweet by the British ambassador in Buenos Aires. Reports seemed to indicate that he had repeated a Chilean football fans’ anti-Argentinian chant which referred, disparagingly, to the Falklands war.

Actually he didn’t. He merely referred to it, extremely obliquely — and wittily. The joke was that, by going to see the Argentina vs Chile international in Buenos Aries, he would find out something new about the reasons behind Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands.

Even the chant itself wasn’t well reported in the press. It was always printed in its English translation: 'Argentines, you faggots, you lost the Malvinas for being dumb assholes'.

Which doesn’t sound much like an effective football chant, does it? For one thing, it has no rhythm. For another, it has no rhyme.

The original, though, has both of course. ‘Argentinos, maricones, les quitaron las Malvinas por huevones’. The rhythm, I guess, not having actually heard it, is the same one as something like: together, united, we shall never be defeated.

How does it actually translate? I asked my friend/colleague Damian in Buenos Aires. Though he has no interest in football, he became used to these kind of questions when I was writing my book Filthy English.

The first problematic word is ‘maricones’. Superficially, it is easy to translate. It’s the standard hispanic world word for homosexuals — hence the American faggots in the newspapers. But, Damian pointed out, to me, it overwhelmingly refers to cowardice. That’s just not there in any English words I can think of for homosexual. Poof, poofter, woofter, shirt-lifter, uphill gardener etc etc . . . Lots of sneering but no intimations of cowardliness.

Interesting, then, that hispanic homosexuals are cowards while anglo ones aren’t. It says, I guess, more about hispanic and anglo heterosexuals than it does about homosexuals. So, given that it’s likely that racial and group slurs represent not a true image of the denigrated group but rather an externalisation of an internal piece of something, what does that say about hispanic heterosexual men? That they are placing some cowardly part of themselves on homosexuals?

Certainly, there could be something of that kind going on in the Chilean anti-Argentinian chant. Argentinians are a bolshie  bunch and Chileans quite probably resent them in this way or that. (I’ve no idea if that’s true. But if, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, you can’t believe one evidently false thing before lunch, where is the fun in life?)

The other problematic word is ‘huevones’. Dumb assholes is a terrible translation of that. Obviously, it has nothing to do with bums but everything to do with eggs. As in that breakfast dish ‘huevos rancheros’. But eggs? It’s the Chilean slang for testicles. It’s a common equation. Hebrew uses the same metaphor. Not Argentinian Spanish, though. There, the reference is the same as in English, to balls: boludo.

So how to translate huevones? In this context, it clearly refers to stupidity — which asshole doesn’t. So I favour the Irish bollix. As in: you complete bollix. A cousin, of course, of the English: he/she/they bollocksed that right up. (NB the interpolation of the qualifier ‘right’ highlights the importance of rhythm and redundancy in quality swearing.)

But there’s more. Bollix also implies a level of friendship — and so does huevon, which can also be translated as mate or pal. As can boludo, which is a common form of address to a friend. As huevon is huevo plus the emphasis-suffix of -on, an even better (though non-swearing) English equivalent might be matey.

So, what the British ambassador really referring to? I can’t get any rhythm or rhyme to it but a more accurate, if completely unevocative (and therefore meaning-lite) translation would be: 'Argentinians, you cowards, you lost the Falklands because you are complete and utter bollix'.

One more thing.
Don’t think the Argentinians are likely to have been that intimidated by the Chilean chant. As anyone who has seen that extraordinary scene in Secrets In Their Eyes will know, Buenos Aires football crowds are, well, let’s say lively. Also, Argentinians certainly can turn it on when swearing and are no slouches at cross-border insults.

I quote myself, from my book, Filthy English.

Length, detail and specificity are all notable features of Argentinian swearing. An example from a popular film. ‘Negro de mierda y la concha de tu puta madre boliviana, parte de una generación sometida por los blancos; hijo de la guasca rejuntada de la zanja de un quilombo de travestis paraguayos. Sabes porque éste ispa está así? Por los negros, cabezas negras, analfabetos, peronistas y engominados como vos.’

This translates as ‘Nigger of shit and cunt of your Bolivian whore of a mother – one of a generation subjugated by whites; son of semen collected from the ditch outside a Paraguayan transvestites’ brothel. Do you know why this country is like it is? Because of the niggers, blackheads, illiterates, Peronistas and men like you who use too much hair gel.’

Gomina? It’s what old-fashioned Argentinian men put on their hair. Buenos Aires waiters, for example.

If you want to know what this fantastic swearfest sounds like, it’s here . . .

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Wonders of the modern world, 13: caviar and Apple

Two signs of the time, one in Brent Cross, the other in Primrose Hill. Both food-related, possibly. Both consumption-related, certainly.

Brent Cross. The Apple store. They have taken the prices off everything. You no longer know what you’re in for without asking someone. Once upon a time, toney restaurants had ladies’ menus — ones with no prices on them, to protect laydeez from the stink of commerce or from bothering their pretty heads with finance or relieving them of the anxieties of responsibility.

Now Apple are doing the same. For different reasons and with different motivations, though, I guess. As dedicated brand-builders, they must think it adds to the mystique somehow. If you have to ask, you clearly can’t afford it: that kind of thing. There are no prices in church, after all.

More than ever, as a former Apple-tiser, I feel I’ve wandered into a foreign land, from one of evidence-based conviction to one of faith. I believe therefore I Apple, that kind of thing. Or perhaps, to rephrase Descartes, I think therefore iPhone.

Primrose Hill. A fish shop. My fish shop. Not that it’s been there for that long, just a couple of years, but it was an extremely welcome arrival to an area which was turning into a cafe.

Last time there, though, I noticed a price list on the wall. For caviar. There were four or five different types of caviar, each priced differently. Now, I’ve got nothing against caviar. Some of my best friends are fish eggs . . . Nor have I have anything against the shop. But . . .

Again, I feel like I’m in a strange land. A price list for caviar. I can’t help read it as a symbol that represents consumption. That is, its presence is more a signifier than an actuality. Customers might or might not buy caviar. No one did while I was there. But they — or at least some of them — take succour from living in a world where their local fish shop has a price list for the stuff, on the wall.

No prices at Apple, caviar prices in a local fish shop. Same thing, I guess. Veblen got it right all those years ago. I buy therefore I am.

Bye. Buy.

PS Yes, I know Primrose Hill is not exactly the city’s bleeding edge but, scratch it a little and you can find its own dysfunctions and social issues. Gosh, you know, just the other day, I saw a piece of gum on the pavement.

Next Filthy Argentinians — to Chilean minds anyway.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Colour vs genitalia: you decide

A belated addition to the stirrings around John Terry and Ashley Cole . . .

So: fucking black cunt from JT and bunch of twats from Cashley. There seemed no comment on the fact that, in both cases, the final insult/swear was vaginal/vulval.

Which, I guess, means it would have been okay if JT had merely pronounced his opponent a fucking cunt. Which leads to other questions: what if his opponent had called him a fucking white cunt? or he’d called him a fucking n-word cunt? (not nigger but n-word) or a f-wording n-word c-word?

Still, the kick-up did finally clarify all doubt over the question: what is the worst thing in the world, a person of African descent or the female genital organ? Black people are, we now know for certain, even worse than vaginas.

Cover your ears.

Next Apple computers, caviar and me

Sunday, 19 August 2012

My second Olympic memory . . .

I happened to be in Penzance when Britain (I can't help it, I find it too hard to type Team GB) won its first gold medal. 

A local girl had won it. I had myself photographed in front of the gold post box but I don't have that picture to hand. What I do have, though, is a picture of that gold winner's parental business. It's an ice cream shop in Newlyn. 

Here is the shop.

And here is the celebratory notice put up by her parents. It's a crop from the previous photograph. I would have got closer but that would have involved standing in the middle of a busy and narrow road. Also, there was so much sun falling on my camera that I couldn't see what I was photographing. It was just point, pause, click, hope.

One Yes, it is a piece of cardboard with Gold written on it, not very well.

Two Yes, it is me in the reflection.

Three No, I can't make up my mind either about what I feel about the display. 

These are the possibilities, I guess . . .
a) What kind of parents (whose daughter has just won an Olympic gold medal) can't be bothered to do more than reuse an old scrap of ice cream material packaging?
b) Is it perhaps a moving antidote to the hi-octanity of other celebrations just about everywhere else?
c) Do I like its modesty and amateurism in an embarrassingly pomo manner?

PS Truth be told, I don't like the ice cream much. It only comes in one flavour — vanilla, they call it, but white would be a better description. It's made with milk rather than cream. The only person I know who likes it — or claims to like it — is a Famous Five-ist.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

If you can't get a medal . . . 

An image from Friday night outside the Theatre Royal Stratford (after a drink in a Brazilian bar overlooking the Olympic park). I look as though I'm having a good time, don't I? I was.

The torch was handed to me by the woman next to me. She was a local councillor. She hadn't been a torch-carier either. She'd borrowed it from someone that she'd nominated who had carried it.

Next Another Olympics image. Not featuring me this time.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

London Calling. In nine parts. Parts seven to nine

7. London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

Awkward English but a good rhyme — and image of swinging, ringing truncheons. An apt metaphor for London in 1979. Three examples . . .

a) On Monday, April 23 (St George's Day, Shakespeare's birthday), at an Anti-Nazi League demonstration in Southall (west London suburb, capital of south Asian Europe) Blair Peach (New Zealander, Trotskyist, former president of the National Union of Teachers) died from blows inflicted by the SPG (Metropolitan Police's Special Patrol Group, neo-military, armed with baseball bats, crowbars and sledgehammers) .

b) On Friday May 4, Margaret Thatcher was elected. Her first cabinet meeting agreed spending cuts of £4 billion and set in train the sale of nationalised industries. Income tax was cut by 3p. Council house sales began. (Also, exchange controls were lifted: for the first time since Hitler invaded Poland, UK residents were free to take as much money as they liked out of the country.)

c) On September 11, one of Thatcher's senior ministers, Jim Prior told journalist Hugo Young: 'We are sober people who can see real collapse staring this country in the face.' 

8. The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin

It’s true that apocalypse was in the air. See above. (Coppola’s Apocalypse Now arrived in time for Christmas.) And that oil prices doubled over the course of the year.

Joe Strummer, June 1979, NME interview: 'There's only 10,000 days of oil left. It's finite.' That's, roughly, twenty-seven years and four months. Say, mid-to-late November 2006.

7. Nuclear error, but I have no fear
London is drowning
And I live by the river . . .

The reference to a nuclear error is to the US where Three Mile Island nuclear power plant sprang a leak. Apocalyptic as the idea that London was drowning might sound, catastrophic flood was a real threat in 1979. Hence the defining major public building project of the period: the Thames Barrier, a dozen or so miles downstream on the far side of the city, that had been under construction since 1974 and wouldn't be finished for another five years.

So, all in all, a song for its times? Whether it’s one for our times, though, is a different matter.

Suitable for a British Airways promo? Well, actually, yes. Anyone who comes to London expecting Beefeaters etc already knows what they’re in for. But this taps another market. I guess it’s aimed to attract the kind of people who were drawn to New York by the lure of the Velvet Underground’s drug anthem Waiting For The Man. People like me, that is. Still, I’m not sure that’s the biggest of markets . . .

Some fun? Dolly Parton undergoes sex change

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

London Calling. In nine parts. Parts two to six

2. Now that war is declared and battle come down

Okay, I can see the Olympic struggle and war/battle equivalency thing but, still a bit extreme — if amusingly so. The original song is referencing the travails of the year in which it was made, 1979. Such as? Such as . . .

There was a revolution in Iran. The Sandanistas took power in Nicaragua. White rule was swept away in Rhodesia. The Camp David peace deal was struck between Israel and Egypt. In Pakistan, shariah law was imposed and President Bhutto hanged, handcuffed and hooded, in secret at 2am in a regional jail. In Kabul, the US ambassador was kidnapped and killed. Shi'ite gunmen seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca: false rumours that the attackers were Americans led to assaults on the US embassies in Pakistan and Libya. Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq. Vietnam invaded Cambodia, uncovering Pol Pot's mass graves. China invaded Vietnam. Russia invaded Afghanistan.

3. London calling to the underworld

Well, that same year, a movie was made, set mostly in East London. It was about a gangster trying to get out of the underworld by doing a deal with the US mafia over plans to redevelop the newly emptied docklands area for . . . the Olympics. Things go wrong, though, for the crim and he ends up being kidnapped by terrorists. If you haven’t seen Long Good Friday, do. (PS Pedants, yes, I know it came out in 1980 but it was made in 1979.)

4. Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls

I assume that the original intention was to anglicise the then-fairly new concept of coming out of the closet. So: a plea to be open about homosexuality, both male and female.

5. London calling, now don't look at us

No, I never really got that line, either — though it does kind of link to the next one . . .

6. All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust

I suppose I thought of this as a follow-up to Joe Strummer’s 1977 line about a future free of the Beatles, Elvis and the Rolling Stones.
Next up Parts 7 to 9

Monday, 16 July 2012

London Calling. In nine parts. Part one

Now, I do have a long-standing interest in (and knowledge about) The Clash’s London Calling. As some of you know, it was my mobile ringtone for a long time — causing very loud smiles when it went off in public meetings etc.

But, really, British Airways? What do you think you are on about?  Using it as a promo teaser for Olympics time?

Let me parse the lyrics line by line, one line at a time over the next few days . . . .

1. London Calling to the faraway towns

Okay, nothing too controversial there. Just a take on the original BBC call sign. (Actually, it wasn’t the BBC. It was its predecessor but I won’t bother you with the technicalities right now. Nor will I introduce essential elements of that story — such as Noel Coward, ‘the girl with the silver syringe’ and the oddly quiet funeral of the Duke of Kent, after his death in a plane crash, in which he had a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

It's Wiggo go-go time again . . .

Everyone's favourite mod is at it again. He even manages to get swearing into an apologia pro vita sua in the Guardian. 

July 14, 2012

He is explaining why he didn't believe in taking performance-enhancing drugs. (What? Call yourself a mod, mate? Not even a black bomber or two?)

I would not want to end up sitting in a room with all that hanging on me, thinking: 'Shit, I don't want anyone to find out.'

Next up The mystery of the British Airways London Calling ad

Friday, 13 July 2012

Xmas comes earlier and earlier . . .

I know it doesn't feel or look like it out of the window but it is still six months to Christmas but . . .

Spotted in Mayfair in early July. I eventually figured out it was the Marks & Spencer's buyer (or something) preview but still . . . they didn't have to have a snowman on public display. They could have been a bit more discreet.

Did you see that snowman move between the two pictures? I think you did.

To cheer you up and away from the bad side of Xmas in July, here is the good side . . . mambo, animation, reindeer, Billy May, what's not to like?

More Wiggo words 

Following our swhero (does that even make sense?) to the finish line in Paris . . .

July 11, 2012 Shit

'I'm not just some shit rider who has just come from nowhere.' An explanation of why he was rejecting, yet again, online suggestions that he was half-cyclist, half-chemistry set.

Next That Xmas thing I said I'd post . . .

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Fucking cycling

Football aside, the only other sport that holds my attention for more than a moment is the Tour de France. Not road race cycling. Just the Tour de France. Enough is enough.

Watching the tour this year — and more importantly, reading the press conference reports — I have decided that I could apply a swearing algorithm to this sporting contest, too.

It's a different one, though. Rather than using it as a way of comparing two matched competitors, I am using it to assess just one competitor — British rider Bradley Wiggins.*

Mr Wiggins — Wiggo, I think, to the racing fancy — is leading the field as the race reaches the halfway point. He is outperforming every other English rider who has ever ridden the Tour.

He also gives great interview. Almost invariably, his replies feature swearing. Not just any swearing either but inventive stuff — nothing fancy or strikingly original, mostly drawn from the classic English repertoire, but still fun and expressive. It expresses the richness of the man expressing it. He is honest, forthright, direct, as far from the inanity of most footballers as you could hope for.

(He also has the most fantastic sideburns/sideboards. Bugger's grips, in the parlance.)

So, to start with anyway, I will be keeping you up-to-date with Wiggo's swears.

Here are some to be going on with . . .

1. July 8, 2012 Fucking wankers, shit, arses
Invited to offer his opinion on people who claimed that bike racing was still more a matter of chemistry than talent or effort, he replied: ‘Honestly they’re just fucking wankers. I can’t be doing with people like that. It justifies their own bone idleness . . .because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to anything in their lives. And it’s easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that kind of shit rather than get off their arses and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something.'

2. July 10, 2012 Shit fight
Asked about his chances of winning the Tour, he replied: 'We expect this to be a shit-fight for the next couple of weeks. That's how we've prepared for it and that's what cycling's about."

3. July 7, 2012 Ass-wipe, cunt  

So . . . as the leader of the Tour has to do a press conference every day, I look forward to more Wiggo words. Let's hope his swearing talent powers him all the way to the finish in les Champs-Elysee and that he becomes Britain's first victor in the race. As the French would say, putain!

* Side point. Isn't that the most wonderful of names? Bradley Wiggins. It sounds like a name from the Simpsons, one dreamed up by Matt Groening to tease the English. 

Next Christmas 2012, my first sighting