On Friday night I strolled across one of the always magical Hungerford footbridges (I chose the one looking east to St Pauls and the City this time) to see Henry Rollins doing his spoken word tour at the Festival Hall.

I’ve never been particularly interested in hearing the man’s music (I imagine it’s a little loud for my liking) but I’ve always been a bit fascinated by him as a person, ever since reading stuff by him and about him in places like Purr magazine back in the nineties. Probably because he looks like such a hyper-masculine guy, and yet completely defies my prejudiced stereotype of what a hyper-masculine guy should be like.

The night wasn’t at all what I thought it would be – I guess I was expecting some sort of visceral punk poetry. Instead we were treated to a monologue that was somewhere between stand-up comedy and political rant. I wasn’t disappointed though – he’s an immensely likeable fellow, and his rambling stories about flying to countries his government were trying to make him afraid of and befriending strangers there with the phrase “Hi, I’m Henry, what’s happenin?” were most entertaining.

And I wasn’t totally deprived of scintillating poetry either. I turned up at the venue an hour early, and got the unexpected bonus of a free performance in the bar by Poejazzi – sparkling streams of words that trickled refreshingly into my brain. (“My love’ll cuss you out like Christian Bale” is the phrase I remember two days later.) I’ll definitely try and catch one of their nights again.

I heart the South Bank. It’s full of little surprises like that.

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Oik

November 10, 2009

 

Nigel

Last week, Boris Johnson saved a woman who was being mugged by 12-year-old girls wearing the obligatory ‘hoodies’ and wielding an iron bar.

The girls just stood there until the woman told them “He’s the Mayor of London” at which point they ran away. Who knew the trappings of office still held such power?

Boris, or as the muggee referred to him “my knight on a shining bicycle”, chased after them, calling them “oiks”.

Oiks? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s an informal noun meaning an uncouth or obnoxious person. Fair enough, except it’s a word that would feel more at home uttered by one Nigel Molesworth (pictured above) in the 1950s setting of St Custards than on the streets of Camden. I can’t believe the girls had ever heard the word uttered before.

So very Boris.

No November

November 8, 2009

K&MU14

If you’re wondering why are so many no’s in the above flyer, cast your mind back to a certain nineties Eurotrash dance number…

It’s for monthly night Kiss & Make Up, which we attended on Friday night. A fair amount of lager and bourbon was consumed, we swapped Little Chef experiences with Stuart, one of the not-so-evil masterminds behind the night, Steven got “beard envy” after meeting some of the bear-ier gentlemen present, and as promised there were “spontaneous outbreaks of dancing”.

The next morning we were slightly worse for wear and headed down to our local greasy spoon. There we had a breakfast that in Steven’s words, left us “equally disgusted and delighted”.

The rest of Saturday consisted of Working Girl, Revenge of the Sith and X Factor. Each of which attained that same delicate balance between disgust and delight.

Spiritualized3

I’m not sure I really approve of the fad for bands to do gigs (well, probably concerts actually, as they tend to come with a ‘we are serious musicians’ attitude) consisting of all the songs from one of their albums in the right order.

But when I found out that Spiritualized were going to give ‘Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space’ a live spin, it only took me a couple of seconds to get over myself and snap up a couple of tickets.

The album came out in 1997, when me and my friend Nicki were sharing the tiniest of flats in a beautiful white-pillared street in Notting Hill. We painted the walls a cheery yellow and our old college friends would come and hang out in our miniscule living room under the Wong Kar-Wai poster (“The world’s most exciting film maker”). We’d thrill to the crazy new sounds of Radiohead’s OK Computer and chill to the blissed out world of Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space. It had been a good few years since we’d left university, and here we all were again – only now in London! With jobs! And money! And nice clothes! Going to cool bars! And clubs! In London! I still sometimes get a thrill from just being in London, but back then I got it a lot more.

In fact it was during that time that the inevitable cracks in our cosy circle of friends finally started to appear. Tensions and fallouts and schisms that I wasn’t directly involved in, but that freaked me out nonetheless, though in hindsight it’s all for the best that we transformed from a single many-headed organism into a collection of individuals. And for me the album remains associated with the happy bit just before all that.

So tonight I decided to dig it out and stick it on the iTunes so me and it could get reacquainted. And it’s impossible to do that without taking a minute to admire the packaging.

The whole thing is done as if it’s a pack of medicine. I didn’t splash out on the deluxe version pictured above in which each track is on a different CD, sorry tablet, in a giant blister pack. Instead I got the next version down which had just the one tablet in the one blister. Inside was a medicinal-looking leaflet with details of the contents (track listing), active ingredients (band members) and a whole host of other information (What is Spiritualized used for? Spiritualized is used to treat the heart and soul.) You can read the whole thing here.

Every detail has been obsessed over by design studio Farrow until it’s spine-tinglingly perfect. They even released this photo to show that it had been packaged under ‘strict pharmaceutical conditions’ (though I reckon her nails should be a bit shorter if so). My favourite bit of verbiage is on the back of the box: ‘For aural administration only’.

Rebooted

August 23, 2009

About a year ago, I received an email from a poncey New York hotel chain alerting me to the news that one of their hotels had been “reimagined” by a designer with a European sounding name. Brilliant. How much classier it sounded than a mere redesign. And it wasn’t just the hotel people that were at it – movie folk soon realised that reimagining a film sounded less of a cop-out than just remaking it.

This year, that’s all changed. Film studios have ditched the flair of reimagination and are now “rebooting” film franchises instead. I quite like this too. “OK,” it seems to admit, “perhaps we went overboard with the tenth, eleventh and twelfth films in the series. But be assured that we have now realised the error of our ways, gone back to basics and actually put something like a proper plot in this one.”

And how do I know of this latest term? Because I managed to score a couple of last-minute tickets to Movie Con II, a somewhat unholy alliance between Empire and the BFI. Steven and I spent last weekend geeking out to film clips from a bunch of upcoming films as well as Q&As with some of the directors.

Normally, such an event would have me twittering, or tweeting if you prefer, like crazy. But because of an anti-piracy ban on phones, I found myself deprived of my addiction. So like a true addict, I found a way round it.

Welcome to the world of paper tweets. (Click to embiggen.)

Tweets

Booking fee

January 5, 2009

There are few phrases in the English Language guaranteed to induce such a feeling of downright queasiness as “booking fee”.

This unpleasant euphemism for “daylight robbery” heralds the sound of eager talons clawing hefty chunks out of your bank account. And unless you turn up at the box office window on Tuesday morning at 10am (by which point the event will probably be sold out) there’s no way to avoid it.

So big love to the Old Vic and its chief of staff Kevin Spacey. I was booking a couple of tickets on their website and after heading to the virtual ‘checkout’ I looked to see what the extra damage was. Nothing. Nowt. Nada. Bugger all. No booking fee. No transaction fee. Not even a modest charge for popping the tickets in an envelope and trotting down to one of Waterloo’s fine postboxes.

For the record, we’re off to see Ethan Hawke in The Cherry Orchard. I’m not familiar with the works of Chekov, but I suspect there’ll be rather less opportunity for Ethan to remove his clothes than there was for Josh Hartnett in Rain Man. Still, you can’t have everything. What you save on the booking fee, you lose on the disrobing.

Wallpaper

August 26, 2008

Living in the city, there are streets you walk down every day. And then there are other streets you only walk down now and again, or ones that used to be part of your life but which you haven’t visited for years. And because of the gap, these streets can suddenly release strong memories of the things you once experienced there. Sometimes the same street conjures up events from several different time periods, like layers of peeled-back wallpaper on a partially demolished wall.

Monday was a Bank Holiday, and we walked down Lamb’s Conduit Street and had lunch in the flock-wallpapered Perseverance, where I’d spent a very pleasant afternoon back in the days when producers used to take me and my art director to lunch. Afterwards, we walked up the Gray’s Inn Road, past the Water Rats where I’d nodded along to a friend of a friend’s band. Then up to King’s Cross past the snooker hall where I once sat befuddled drinking tea with the crazy girl from work after the nightclubs closed, surprised that what had looked sinister from the outside was full of extremely polite young men. Just up the road from there, although we didn’t actually pass it, I could picture the Scala, once home to Popstarz, the nightclub that made it OK to be gay and not conform to a gay “look”, where I had happily danced, drunk and occasionally snogged. And peeling back another layer, I remembered all the way back to when the same building used to be a slightly arty, slightly seedy cinema, a time when I didn’t think of myself as gay but  was nevertheless drawn inside by the poster-boy for Pink Narcissus (an arty seventies striptease of a movie) and sat uncomfortably in an audience of men who all sighed wistfully at the final unveiling. Then through Bloomsbury past the leafy square with the hotel bar where I once went for a convivial drink with my dad and his wife when they hadn’t been married that long. And finally back to the West End (whose streets I still regularly tread) and a return to the present.

Series

March 16, 2008

London Mayor Ken Livingstone is planning to raise the congestion charge from £8 to £25 for “gas guzzlers” (a fabulously evocative term if ever there was one). And the people at Porsche aren’t very happy about it. Not only are they launching legal action to try and stop it, they’ve put up a website to get the public on their side.

It’s liberally sprinkled with pictures of Porsches in London as if to persuade us how bereft London would be without them. In one photo, some banker appears to have parked outside the Lloyds building, which I suspect would set you back a lot more than the proposed charge.

And then there’s the words. “Porsche believes this will be bad for London.” “We believe it sends out the wrong message about London as a place to do business.” And my favourite: “This increase will hit a large proportion of families that drive people carriers – the sort of people who use one large car rather than a series of smaller ones.”

Now, there’s a germ of a point in there: it’s presumably worse for the environment to replace a large car with two smaller ones. On the other hand, as most gas guzzlers you see bombing past have at least half the seats empty, you’d only have to replace them with one.

But it’s the word “series” that really does it for me. On whatever planet these people are from, families don’t just have one or two cars, they have a whole bloomin’ collection, probably dotted around the grounds of their stately home. It’s just another tiny indicator that perhaps this website might be more about self-preservation than righteous indignation.

Then again, maybe I’m just jealous. I only get to ride through the streets of London in a series of buses.

Bomber

February 28, 2008

Not a word you hear that often these days (apart from when the jackets were everywhere a decade or so back). But then it’s not that often I get talking to old men in Waterloo station.

I had twenty minutes to wait for my train, so I sat down to read the paper. In the seat next to me, an old man was studying a page of instructions. Partly to check he was OK, partly out of sheer nosiness, I read over his shoulder. “…Meet opposite platform 8 at 8.35. My mobile number is… Your mobile number is…” And so on. He had plenty of time anyway. I guess he noticed I was looking, as he started telling me that he was going to the dentist. This led him onto how he’d had 14 teeth taken out and replaced with plates before joining the RAF in the war, which led to how he “hadn’t had a bad war” being an aircraft engineer at a training camp in Canada getting Wellington bombers ready for flight, crawling around in the cockpit chasing coils of wire, endlessly worrying in case he’d missed something and some young pilot wouldn’t make it back. Then about how he’d gone back to carpentry after the war, and married an accountant who’d invested his money for him and made him rich, and how she now had cancer and the cloud that had cast over his life. Then a little bit about his chickens that he’d been feeding at five that morning.

And then it was time for me to get my train. We shook hands and off I went, a little bit richer than when I’d sat down.

Asymmetric Librarian

July 12, 2007

OK, I admit it, I made this particular phrase up. It all started recently when I got a couple of months’ work over in Shoreditch.

I’m normally more of a Soho boy. Over the years, I’ve worked, shopped, eaten, drunk, danced and pulled there. Shoreditch has been the place I go when someone groovier than me organises a night out, and I’ve always enjoyed sampling its delights – all those exposed-brickwork offices stuffed with apple macs, and the haphazard jumble of funky little cafes and bars.

If London districts were Australian cities, Soho would be Sydney and Shoreditch would be Melbourne.

So I’ve much enjoyed getting to know Shoreditch a little better. In particular, the people-watching proved fabulous. ‘Faux-homeless designer’ caught my eye, as did ‘Dayglo Eighties Rapper’. But my favourite of the many and varied specimens on display was ‘Asymmetric Librarian’: a sect of serious young women dressed head to toe in ironically dowdy clothing, topped – lest anyone should miss the irony – with a diagonal fringe.