Christmas did come early yesterday as this week’s comics were released on Tuesday rather than Thursday, meaning breaking habit and going to pick up. Comic-book buyers are creatures of habit, prone to OCD levels of neuroses when it comes to their slot. Which means, you tend to invariably see the same dudes for the same thirty minutes and interact with the same shop clerk every week. Comic book nerds can cope with this level of interaction as it doesn’t require too much changing of habit thus risking meeting new people. So anyway, yesterday I had to deal with a shop clerk I had never met before and some new choice nerds with their own set of habitual anti-social behaviour. While the shop clerk, a teenage emo girl with itching new tattoos and a strong South African accent, searched through the box of standing orders for my weekly draw, scratching herself into a coma on her lower back and arm, bearing two new tattoos, I stood waiting patiently. A man, old enough to be a dad- probably not a dad- bounced from foot to foot desperate to be served, desperate to have his comics, sighing neurotically as the shop clerk went through the box twice to find my folder. I was used to the slowness, what with the chatting and sharing of stories and new films/shows peppering the process usually. This time, there was no banter. The shop clerk and I felt the need for comic banter, which is why anyone works at a comic shop or goes to a comic shop- just for that ‘OMG did you see...’ conversation- but the looming impatience of Mr Asperger stood next to me cast a gloomy cloud of no-fun on proceedings. She found my folder but it was empty. The owner, Tim, hadn’t reached me yet. I turned to the shelves and picked them up myself. Mr Asperger said to me as I spun around: ‘They didn’t have your comics ready? My god. This world is turning to shit.’
I grabbed my comics and turned round to watch Mr Asperger deal with the shop clerk. He plonked his comics down on the counter. The following exchange ensued:
‘Why aren’t these bagged and carded?’ ‘Erm... sorry, I can do it for you now. I’m on my own today. Tim’s ill.’ ‘I need them bagged and carded. Tim usually does it before I come in. He knows I come on Tuesday evenings. Can you do it quickly before they get ruined? Now.’ ‘OK. Sure. Tim’s ill.’ ‘I’m not interested in his health. Be careful of the comics. You have oily-looking hands.’ ‘Well, do you want to do it?’ ‘I’m not employed to bag comics. You are. Card them too.’ ‘We don’t have any cards.’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘We’ve run out of cards and it’s Christmas so the delivery won’t get here till next week.’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘We have no cards.’ ‘I don’t understand. Tim always cards and bags my comics. Always. Without fail.’ ‘We’re out of stock of cards. Shall I just bag them?’ ‘I’m sorry but I really don’t understand this. Why don’t you have cards? This is a comic shop. Comic shops have cards. I can’t take these without cards. They’ll get ruined.’ ‘Shall I serve this gentleman (me) first and then we deal with this? I was serving him first.’ ‘No. I was here before him. He can wait.’
It went on but you get the gist. He may have been OCD or have Aspergers but I don’t think so. I see this behaviour every week. The insane demands, the unpredictable behaviour of the nerd. The inability to relate to people in 3-D. Maybe this is what my friend meant the other night about real-life. When nerds emerge from their dimly lit bunkers having been online playing Second Life for hours with Battlestar Galactica in the background, they probably have forgotten basic human interaction protocols. Is this the life I am eventually destined for? Can you be a well-adjusted nerd?
Later that night, we watched ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ the Br-Angelina starrer about quite the marital pickle. Imagine, being married to an assassin... but being one yourself but then getting a job involving killing each other. Wow. Crazy dayz. The premise wasn’t what bothered me, suspension of disbelief and all meant I was semi-intelligent enough to go with it. It was the script, the weird asides each character had. You had to believe that these two were savvy smart impossibly cool people. The way they were intelligent enough to cross, double-cross, bluff and double-bluff each other was intelligent and convenient. But it was the asides, the asides to an audience the director didn’t feel was intelligent to get the subtlety of the aforementioned whizz-bang plot, where, in case you were wondering, they were conflicted about having to kill each other. Maybe they really did love each other. They would talk to themselves, this was the dramatic device used to induce subtlety... ‘I don’t love him, do I?’ Angie would wonder. ‘She’s a liar, a stone-cold killer’ Bradford kept telling himself. Every now and then in films, it cuts to a really pointless bit of clawing hammering dialogue where the hero or villain will get to squeal adlibs of ‘Come on...’ or ‘Yeah bitch....’ or ‘I’m gonna get you sucka...’ and you think, why is this here... why do they feel the need to strip away any second-guessing from the audience. Usually it’s in films where directors think a dumbass audience will be attracted. I don’t get it really. The worst example of this was the driver’s cat-calling to Kurt Russell in Death Proof. She spent an entire 20- minutes doing the ‘I’m gonna get you sucka’ when driving really fast would have done. Is this the Bay-ification of cinema as Mark Kermode calls it?
It’s Christmas tomorrow. Doesn’t feel like it yet. But my elevenes today is a mince pie.
From my friend Nick: "Damon Albarn was seen in the crowd for pantomime 'Mother Goose' at the Hackney Empire. The Blur man was allegedly seen "flapping his wings and singing the 'Goosey Beat' song at the end of the show, although he got bored after the third chorus".
And from me: "Just saw Charlie Brooker walking around near my work. As he walked past, I got a little excitable about my writing hero and squealed 'Oh my fucking god, it's fucking Charlie Brooker! Fucking awesome.' To which my American friend replied, 'Charles who?' Anyway, forgetting Charlie had ears and could hear, I didn't take into account he heard my sycophancy. He snarled his lip and skulked off, hating every second of my attention. If I'm lucky, this exchange will be column-worthy."
What’s the worst insult in your mother language? In an awkward pause in conversation yesterday, we turned to swearwords in different mother tongues and their literal translation, giving you the sliding taboo scale of what act is considered the worst possible degrading slice of dirt in any particular language. In India, it’s having conjugal relations with your sister. That’s the worst thing you could do and therefore it’s the worst insult to hurl. In England, referring to someone with a Nordic word about female genitalia is the lowest you can go. But in Greece, we learned yesterday, to be a ‘child of the bottom’ is the lowest of the low. In Greece, to be born out of the backend of your mother, well, you’re a bottom feeder- literally.
Yesterday signalled my grand re-entry into polite society after a long battle with seasonal disaffection illness and general tiredness from reediting my book in response to some kind words from a brilliant publisher and my current TV obsession with Battlestar Galactica. My mission was to be caught up before the final episodes air in January and I’m powering through like a Cylon Centaurion. The question came up yesterday about real life living versus living through your art. Currently, I exist in the shows I watch, books I read and music I hear. Anything else isn’t factoring on my radar currently. One of our party thought this was ridiculous preferring to live in real life and the patterns it offers. I didn’t agree, I countered that everything I ever learned about the world was through television and books and surely I was considered a relatively intelligent well-adjusted person.
Being out felt strange. Having to talk to people, in 3-D, actually live a life of interaction instead of through the screen, I found it difficult, I found it hard-work staying interested and interesting. I yearned for my bed and the book I was reading (‘The Giro Playboy’ by Michael Smith) and I was the one who instigated this debutante ball of sorts. I was still under the fug of illness.
We collate all our years’ achievements and measure them up against each other, looking for patterns and for red letter years and memories. What happened this year that requires retention. To be honest, I’m happy for 2008 to be over. Like really over. Over the last twelve months, I’ve faced my own inadequacies as an artist, a musician and a writer, I’ve tried to keep myself locked and focused on the ultimate goals, I’ve lived with my parents this year and all the while, my father has walked away from the last 30 years of his life with less than nothing to show. 2008 can go suck an egg. 2008 is a child of the bottom. I think back to last year and how happy I was in Kenya despite myself, and despite wishing for London. Now I’ve been back a year and I want to leave again. London is a child of the bottom. It is a festering loop of repeat offenders and crushing disappointment. I crave the simpler life we had away from all of this. I think I crave a time when my parents were happy, when something was going right for them. Now with debt and disability, they are being crushed. It’s not fair. These two have fought for so long and for so much and each turn has taken them further away from their end game. The worst thing is, dad has nothing now the business is no more. He worked away his personality, he worked away his interests. He has no hobbies. On Saturdays, without a warehouse to go to and a stack of orders to plough through, he parades himself through my parental house like a lump of broken clay, unable to settle on anything to do, waiting for the afternoon so he can enjoy a beer. There’s nothing to do. The house is empty, the others are indulging their interests. He sits and stares into space and tries to remember what it was he always wanted to do. Now there’s no interest in anything. This is what life in this city did to him. In this country even. Would we have been this happy had he stayed in Kenya? Would we have been so aspirational? Life probably would have turned out the same but it would have been sunnier and at least he would have had the sea to stare into, instead of the dull dark mirror of his own reflection in a television that he’s willing himself to not switch on. That’s why 2008 can get out the house. 2008 hurt my dad bad, and I want it to get out of the way now so we can help him get back on track and find himself again amidst the loneliness and regret and hurt.
Good things did happen this year. I got an amazing job, some amazing feedback from publishers who are starting to put me on their ‘watch’ list and Radiohead gave me the concert of my life in summer. I reconnected with my crew and built a strong small closeknit group of friends. I saw some amazing films, discovered the Wire and Battlestar Galactica, heard some awe-inspiring music and learned how to make good barbeque burgers. All small victories leading to a grand scheme. I’m not going to make the mistake I did with 2008 when I stood on a chair and declared it my year. 2009 is another year. It has some significant events in it. Career-wise, who knows. Who actually knows where I’ll be this time next year. All I know is, like dad always taught me and showed me, I’m going to give it all I’ve got and persevere persevere persevere. Keep pushing onwards and upwards. Just like dad.
This weekend I said goodbye to a huge chapter in my life, and a formative chunk of my youth. Every Sunday I would go with my mum and dad to their warehouse and either sit in the office doing my homework or help to pack orders. Excited, I would sit in this hub of commerce, graffiting my name on to hidden parts of the warehouse, or clamouring over boxes, climbing up on to shelves in my own private action thriller where a man has to pose as a lowly warehouse worker to infiltrate the gang. Even when I was old enough to develop a social life, I would still once a month visit the warehouse to help out, as did all the family, every Sunday. We would sit and chat and pack orders for my dad and we would do so without grumble. Soon the lure of the place wore off and I went off to be a teenager instead. This weekend, the business folded after financial issues, the warehouse closed its shutters for the final time and dad said goodbye to the last twenty years of his life.
And he did so with sadness. When we arrived to help him, he looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you dare say this is an end of an era or I will lose it with you.’ I bit my tongue. It was sad. I felt sentimental. I walked around the warehouse trying to find those little pockets of graffiti that were mine that showed I had existed. They weren’t there anymore. I searched for twenty minutes while some of the final tasks were carried out. I couldn’t find them. I saw out of the corner of my eye, the coat hooks lining a wall as soon as you entered the offices of the warehouse. Above them were labels with the names of previous employees from over 20 years ago, before we had moved into this warehouse, the employees of a fridge company now based minutes away in a bigger facility. They were ghosts and embers now. This was no longer their space. I needed the next tenant to know about my dad and his brother and their wives and the lives they had fought and spat to forge and the sacrifices they had all made for their children. Brimming with sentimentality, I found some new labels in the stationary drawer and covered up these fridge magnates’ names and I wrote in marker pen: my father, my uncle, my mother, my aunt- their names written clearly for posterity, surviving forever in the memory and breath of the warehouse.
My school was around the corner, my Beatles tape was still in the broken tapedeck, and on the wall was a framed photograph with a foreboding proverb: ‘Just when I make ends meet, someone moves the posts’. Dad and I remarked about how seven or eight years ago he and I had been moving my sister’s bedroom mirror and we had dropped it, smashing it on the floor. We wondered whether the dark cloud of bad luck was now firmly behind us. He angrily spoke about the UK and how it wasn’t geared to deal with small businesses, especially ones with vaguely ethnic names. Now, in liquidation, the vultures of finance were gathering around him like a flapping feather of doom, trying to lay claim to their pieces of silver, draining anything possible out of the zero balance the company possessed. One particular supplier, an Indian, who I had visited during my travels, who had taken care of me, had emailed dad and said he had ruined his life. The claws were out. The knives were sharpened and yet no one seemed to care about the centre of the storm: a broken old man, a few years away from his retirement, now faced with the dissolution of the last twenty years of hard graft and sacrifice and less than nothing to show for it, only debt and direct debits and no future. Dad had regret. He had mental lists of what should have beens and what could have beens and what was wrong and what would happen next time, only now, there was no next time. I asked him if he wanted to take the sign down outside the warehouse, advertising the business. ‘No f*cking way,’ he replied. ‘I want nothing to remind me of this place. Not even a business card.’
Before we left, I found a undiscovered corner of the warehouse, my favourite spot to disappear to as a child and read and I wrote on the wall, ‘We gave it everything we had; it was enough’ and I looked out at the warehouse and said goodbye forever. Dad closed the door on the last twenty years of his life, holding back a tear and wondered aloud if it had been worth it, he had nothing to show for it. As if she knew my private thoughts, mum held his hand and said, ‘We gave it everything we had; it was enough.’
1) TV on the Radio 'Dear Science' Like all TVOTR albums, you appreciate it and find it worthy at first and then one day it hits you and you completely 'get it', you understand. This is such a gorgeous album as TVOTR discover their pop side and get all funky, full of bopping breaks and some Prince-esque falsetto, as well as the sublime weep-inducing 'Family Tree.' This is a special album, one that will continue to grow and grow in your ears for years to come.
2) Vampire Weekend 'Vampire Weekend' From the moment this dropped, it never left the speaker. Each time I heard it, I got obsessed with a new song and rewound it constantly. From Wes Anderson-friendly baroque organs to Peter Gabriel-winking slap-bass soloes, this was an ambitious indie prospect by achingly cool NY preppy boys, Vampire Weekend. Bringing the punk with riotous 'A Punk' and the campfire blues with 'Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa' (sparking off a series of excellent cover versions and remixes), as well as the anthemic 'Walcott.' This was all killer, no filler. Completely utterly endlessly listenable.
3) The Indelicates 'American Demo' When the shots ring out on 'The Last Significant Statement in Rock'n'Roll' you know hyou're in for a bilous journey through the spit and snarl of Simon Indelicate and his troupe of feisty articulate socialist punks and poets, all in thrall to Jeff Buckley and the Manics and other mid 90s luminairies. This was special stuff, so intelligent, so fierce and so on the ball. 'If Jeff Buckley Had Lived' was a riposte against hero worship and the disappointment he would have faced if he'd carried on, while 'Heroin' and 'We Hate the Kids' take pops at the indie scenesters and their impossibly stupid ways. This was angry spiky anthemic stuff from the most intelligent band in the country.
4) Spiritualized 'Songs in A&E' J.Spaceman knows how to tug your heartstrings. His vocabulary pallette hasn't changed much in the last 4 albums but each time he gives us higher highs and bigger blues as he tackles the big issues of love, heartbreak and lust. This time, he takes us on a journey through death and its own caustic set of melodies. As the life support machine chugs away, the texture and melancholy of the guitars and soaring strings lead us on a journey through death, debilitating and honest, yet life-affirming and full of soul. Completely on fire throughout. Brutally honest and staggeringly beautiful.
5) Roots Manuva 'Slime and Reason' Roots Manuva has slowly been going mental for years now. This time he decided to take time out to balance his partying and his cathartic honesty in an album that's half-confessional and half-soulful, bouncing and skipping along on a minimal thrust and bop of scuzzy synths and deep rumbling basslines. 'Buff Nuff' reminds us how funny he is while 'Again and Again' is a reggae symposium of sun-drenched bravado. Completely fucking brilliant.
We came together like fallen soldiers in a heaven bar reunion. Dead and forgotten fighters of the good fight, our resolve weakened by bureaucracy, our intentions vanquished by slavemasters. We sat and we reminisced and we bitched and moaned and groaned about the state of affairs.
Meeting up with a mixture of old and new work colleagues is always a difficult one. You have a choice: find a new common ground and move on, or spend the evening moaning about your old boss and his/her old behaviour and what’s happening now and what said what to who and he/she’s still an idiot. We fell into old patterns, a table of office workers still in the grind and process, durm and strang of an office it seemed they hadn’t managed to mentally leave yet.
Talk soon turned to Obama and the monumentousness of the entire event. We hadn’t seen each other since before the elections and were now living in the bosom of history. It only seemed fair to try and deflect the office talk to something political and empowering and inspirational. Sister A was the first to burst our bubbles. Barack Obama, she said, is not the USA’s first mixed-race president. My jaw dropped. This was news to me. Warren G. Harding, she said was the USA’s first mixed-race president. Harding's great-grandmother was African-American, meaning Barack is the second in a line of mixed-race presidents. Further internet research revealed that Joel A. Rogers and Dr. Auset Bakhufu have both written books documenting that at least five former presidents of the United States had Black people among their ancestors. The president’s names include Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge. What does it mean though? Does it matter? Does this detract from the historical gravitas of Obama’s win? No. Because he is the first outwardly black president, down to his physical appearance. The others had mixed-race blood dating back generations. It’s still an amazing thing. It got me thinking about the end of volume 3 of Heroes (aired 15 December 2008) where Nathan Petrilli mets with a president who looks a lot like Obama. And in the last issue of Marvel’s Secret Invasion, it’s a president suspiciously like Obama who gives Norman Osborn the keys to the US defence strategy (possibly a bad decision). It’s like pop culture is trying to subtly ease America into the idea through multimedia icons. It’s amazing to think that this is happening quite seamlessly. Sister A noted that Obama’s presidency can be attributed to Jack Bauer, the neo-conservative dreamboat action torturer. Without his endorsement of Senator David Palmer in series 1-2 of 24, we’d be without Obama. It was the neo-cons what won it. I then accused our old boss, a middle-aged Indian lady, of being a racist. This kicked off a lefty-liberal argument between two white people at the table about whether ethnics could be racist. I said, of course they could. I have, in my time, seen disgusting behaviour made by my own family towards blacks and Muslims (and sometimes both combined) and this was just as racist as a BNP member. My lefty liberal white old colleague disagreed, saying that history disinherited ethnics of the right to be racist, which I found incredibly patronising. Anyone has the ability to be horrendous to each other. If race plus power equals racism, and power can be dictated by the use of a word, of aggression, of slurs, prejudice, bigotry and not just socio-economic superiority (her argument) then anyone can be racist. She was, in her own way, defending ethnics and the oppression perpetrated against them by history, but by doing so, she was robbing ethnics of any rights and abilities to stand up and be counted now, because history had set us off at a disadvantage to them. She was wrong. But at this point I was phased out of the argument by an equally passionate white lefty liberal man who took it upon himself to argue my point for me. I then talked about power dieting with Sister A, who is on an insane diet involving drinking 4 small cartons of nutrient powershake and a small meal of steamed meat and green vegetables. Insane. She looks great though, properly great. I’m down to get involved, see her consultant and get on the extreme measures bandwagon in time for my wedding. I’ve tried everything to lose weight, maybe it’s just time to go insane.
This latest bout of hermitage has brought me closer with a new set of virtual friends. While I edit furiously and re-write and imagine some distant utopia where I’m a published author, I get into deeper more complex friendships and relationships with people like Peter Petrilli, Liz Lemon, Dwight Schrute, Hank Moody, Admiral William Adama and Dexter Morgan. These are my friends, my social group: a superheroic male nurse who wants his mummy and daddy to see he’s special; a neurotic comedy writer with no social skills; a neurotic office worker with no social skills and martial arts training; a misanthropic beat writer with a large libido and drinking problem; a stoic military man trying to save humanity; and a sociopathic serial killer with mummy/daddy issues. Are these versions of me? Is that why I relate to them? Or are they reflections of who I aspire to be? Out of all of these, I probably feel most like Peter Petrilli and want to be like Hank Moody, when in reality, I’m most like Liz Lemon and want to be Admiral Adama. Stoicism vs neuroses. That’s the battle I’m fighting.
This got me thinking about my life and who I aspire to be. I seem to essentially want to be a character from a television programme; somehow this is my ultimate goal. I have my own theme tune (‘Deceptacon’ by Le Tigre); imagine moments where I’m either in a detective thriller or an intense drama (somehow never comedy), and make incessant notes on daily life occurrences in case they can be recycled later on in the filmed version of my life. When all is stacked up though, I lead an inherently boring existence, mundane and austere. I watch television, I work at my semi-important publishing job. I read a lot, listen to a lot, watch a lot- and I fill in the gaps by writing my own versions of my own potted histories. Would this be worth watching on screen? Probably not. The cliché that we must write what we know is a lie. We must exaggerate what we know for comic effect, for dramatic effect, for explosive effect. The realms of imagination.
So the point of all this, if I am to be in my own television show, I might as well have some wish-fulfilment about my character. So, what follows is my character brief for TV show-me. Feel free to add your own. Who knows, we may gather enough supporting cast to create a kick-ass sitcom.
Name: Kish Keshla Age: 25 Job: mattress tester
Kish is a lethargic mattress tester with a fine line in sarcasm and an infinite knowledge of most pop culture items. He reads comic books, listens to bad-ass garage punk and watches oodles of television. He has been mattress-testing for years now but recently, he’s become an insomniac. He doesn’t know where the insomnia’s coming from, what’s causing it and why it keeps him up at night. Is he having an existential crisis? He can’t do his job properly anymore and mattresses are being left by the way-side. His problems stem from his parents. They’ve just gone out of business. They used to be biscuit architects, ergonomically designing the look and feel of biscuits. However, the biscuit-designing world is a young person’s game and they’ve been driven out of business by a hot-headed rival with a new product set to take the world by storm: salty hob-nobs. Kish has had to move his parents in with him, which ruins the gentle fabric of his life. He can’t watch telly or read in peace, nor pump the music up cos dad’s always watching cricket and mum is always cooking for him. He can’t entertain ladies and he certainly can’t sleep at home with all that geriatric snoring. How is he going to support two loving retired parents with large outgoings and sweet teeth if he can’t sleep and get those mattresses tested.
Characteristics: geeky, sarcastic, petulant, easily riled by parents, Height: 5”11 Weight: 12 stone Race: Asian Eye Color: brown Hair Color: black Glasses or contact lenses? Thick black clark kents Skin color: caramel-skinned Shape of Face: chiselled How does he/she dress? Geek chic Style (Elegant, shabby etc.): Slightly awkward Greatest flaw: Never saying the right thing Best quality: Always being right
There are pages and pages of details to add, but let’s keep it simple and leave it there.
In Eli Gottlieb's sophomore book, death is the catalyst for Nick Framingham's life to slowly and delicately unravel. When he was a child and a teenager, he hero-worshipped Rob Castor, even loved him in ways neither of them understood. He and Rob and Rob's sister belinda formed an intense bond that got through them through childhood and difficult parents and absent fathers. Rob's now dead and as Nick deals with the grief, his safe suburban middle-class life disintegrates around him. He has built himself into a shell while Rob has gone off to the big city and become a famous writer. Rob kills his cheating girlfriend then himself and now Nick deconstructs Rob's motivation and his final moments, flicks through the remnants of their friendship and tires his best to maintain his marriage despite his disinterest. As we progress through the book and his grief leads him to rekindle his affair with Rob's sister, we're drawn to a dark startling conclusion of sadness and morbid tension.
This is a simple book with big designs, skillful and suspense-ful. Each string of revelation comes with the right layer of subtlety and melancholy. This is a heart-wrenching book that never betrays its own quiet approach and smart language and dialogue. The ties of friendship, the bonds, the tricks of memory and the repressed nature of Nick all make for a beautiful read, sad yet tinged with the slight promise of hope throughout. Gottlieb paints his characters with subtle nuances and colours and the broad stroeks of the story play out in these quiet moments with well-depicted characters. Heartily recommended.
This is the time of year when colleagues buy each other generic ‘secret santa’ gifts and agonise about getting Sally in accounts who no one ever speaks to because she tends to eat her hair and usually has biro ink on her palms. The pressure, the enforced smile, the having to suck it up and realise that it’s just nice to receive something. There’s no curve, no standard, we get what we’re given and we lump it and if someone decides to get you a wind-up toy of a gorilla playing the bongos or a set of tights, then, well god has given you the gift of people spending money on you. I picked myself. I had the panicky moment where I couldn’t decide whether to keep it and treat myself or put it back and play the game. WWSD- what would santa do? I put it back and picked again, getting the PR girl who wears a lot of make-up and is friendly and girly and erm... errr... that’s all I know about her. What to do? I cast my mind back to every situation where we’ve conversed to in case there was a clue in my memories. All I could come up with was on American election day, we were both happy about Barak Obama’s lead. Success- I went for it, I bought her Barak Obama’s autobiography, wrapped it and then spent two days in a pit of self-pity worrying that it was potentially the dullest disappointment this side of a winter wonderland. Others mocked my choice. They had gone generic, buying chocolate bars and coffee mugs for their colleagues. I was stuck with my political statement.
The Christmas party seemed to throw a highlight on those who didn’t go out much as they imploded with the prospect of authorised daytime drinking, ploughing their way through the vino before the starters had arrived, getting into tussles with their bosses and generally being the loud abrasive twat they weren’t allowed to be in a professional environment. We ate and tried to learn about each other but fell into the trappings of office politicking before two splinter factions led their cliques out of the restaurant and into two separate post-lunch venues. Where to go? What choice to make? I chose both, being the Switzerland of the office, engaging in sedate literary chat at one venue, and in drinking and loutery in the other. There were tears, there were spilled drinks, there we all were ringing in the new year with our mugs and tights, thanking secret santa for his impeccable taste.
This, again on the delectable Canongate, short read is a baffling dissection of the English language and though appears on paper a tough sell, is a rewarding celebration of the softer sides of our lives... yes, our 'vowels' and their impact. Despite its outward appearance and beguiling style, there is a story buried deep in the prose, and that story involves an intimate look at each vowel and how it mutates and shape-shifts within each word it commands.
'Whenever Helen needs effervescent refreshments, she tells her expert brewer: 'brew me the best beer ever brewed'
You see, the trick is, each chapter will only contain words with the specific dedicated vowel of its choosing. It's infuriating and maddening but brilliant and ambitious at the same time. Though it lacks a narrative centre to hook readers in, once you get used to the style, it is a rewarding read full of texture and conjecture on the courtly A, elegaic E, lyrical I, jocular O and obscene U. This is a triumphant and awe-inspiring piece of playful ambitious fiction, perfect for scrabble-freaks and boggle-maniacs.
This timely collection of the late great wit Alan Coren is lovingly curated by his adoring posh children, dictionary-defying Victoria and sub-editor-loving Giles. It features his best works of short fiction, articles, thoughts, ponderings, musings and pointed facts permeated with his intelligence and fierce humour throughout. This is a book to be taken in small doses so as to appreciate each piece as a stand-alone work of a great mind. It is a great re-read as well. Coren subverts our perceptions of language and verbage through his eloquent command of English and ability to twist it into the absurd, hilarious and pointedly poignant. Coren's credentials need no reexamining but for the uninitiated, he is the former editor of Punch and Radio 4 stalwart, a proper national treasure, who died in October 2007. In a prolific forty-year career Coren wrote for The Times, Observer, Tatler, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Listener, Punch and the New Yorker, and published over 20 books including The Sanity Inspector, Golfing for Cats and The Collected Bulletins of Idi Amin. This is a good jumping-in point for burgeoning comedy writing looking for some lessons in technique and good old fashionable wit and japery from one of the best. Thank the high heavens for Canongate this year.
We've been excited about this film for a while now. It's the new Danny Boyle film, based on a great book I read last year ('Q&A' by Vikas Swarup), starring the annoying one from Skins. It couldn't be better. And it was about one of my favourite places in the world, the maximum city of Mumbai. It's so life-affirming it's attracting Oscar-buzz already. It's so well put together you can enjoy it even though it exists outside of the confines of a conventional filmic timeline. Simply put, this is the first best film of 2009, and certainly the second best film I saw in 2008 (stand tall 'The Dark Knight').
Based loosely on the novel, its premise is thus: Jamal is one question away from winning the top prize in India's version of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' He's from the slum. The police want to know just exactly how he's come to know all the answers. Is he cheating? Is he a genius? Was it pre-destined? The weighty themes of fate and destiny, of the tiny things in life bearing importance later on all pitch in. After a brutal torture sequence, we find out that Jamal knows the answers fair and square, and as he tells us his life story, we find out just how he came to know the answers to some of the toughest quiz questions there are.
He was born in the slums, lived a hard life, his mother was killed in Hindu-Muslim riots. This section of the film takes a colourful hopeful look at slum-life. Jamal crawls through his slum's shitheap (literally) just to meet Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan. The children actors in this section is vibrant, alive and playful, so adept at tweaking your heartstrings, so alive and well-picked. The film takes a darker twist as they find themselves at the fate and whim of evil Moman, who seems to be running a mission for homeless children. The truth is far more disturbing and involves one of the harder-to-watch scenes of the film. Boyle's strength is his ability to switch between fable and fact, so the grit and grime of slum-life is interspersed with moments of hope and humour, moments of fantasy and romance. And this works. Boyle is not re-making 'Salaam Bombay' (Mira Nair's gritty film about kids on the streets of Mumbai), he is making a fable, almost in the tradition of Bollywood, where the underdog wins the day, and the masses need an underdog to take them away from the grit and grime of their slum-lives. Jamal soon becomes an unwitting and unlikely champion for the oppressed, impoverished and disenfranchised. Even the policeman, played brilliantly by man-who-needs-more-Western-film-work, Irfan Khan, softens to him as he relays his story. Jamal, by the end, is almost empty, quiet and sedate having been through everything to get to where he is, and this is played subtly by Dev Patel, a long cry from his demented idiot savant from Skins. Jamal is unlikely and unwilling to be the people's champion because he is doing this for a girl. Yes, this is a fable based in Bollywood, and there always needs to be a girl. She is his childhood sweetheart who is taken away just as he gets closer to her. Look, I won't ruin this anymore, just go and see it when it comes out in January. If you want to see Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor play a creepy disgusting oily quiz-show host to perfection, if you want something life-affirming and beautifully shot, full of life and verve, a love letter to the most insane city in the world, one that is sprawling and busy all of the time, if you want to see a modern-day fable, or just the new film by the Trainspotting director, you will not be disappointed.
Wow, Videowallah and Avocado Picker are now award-winning film-makers. Our short film (see it on www.360degrees.tv or a few posts ago) won best short at the 4th Annual Asian First Films Festival held in Singapore this week. Check it out here: http://www.asianfirstfilms.com/award2008.html
Even though they shamefully left off the name of the director who put in the most work (Videowallah) it's still a great honour for both of us. Amazing stuff!
I just watch season 3 episode 6 where they discover ye olde virus that can destroy Cylons because of their lack of antibodies... Now, what I want to know is, and this may be explored further down the line, but what is the ratio of human to robot? I ask because Helo stops the Cylon genocide by suffocating the Cylon prisoners and taking all the air out of their cell... BUT if they're robots, why do they even need air?
For the uninitiated I bet this post is a bit like when I was 14 and phoned my friend Nim for help getting through the RPG game Day of the Tentacle and his mum had to listen to things like, get the broom head and put it on your head like you're a woman, now flush the tin can down the toilet so it can become a time generator...
I should be editing my book instead of writing this. When I'm not editing it and fixing it, I'm thinking about it and feeling guilty that I'm not doing it. So when I'm walking down the street, concentrating on other things, reading things I've not written or watching television, I'm filled with guilt.
I needed to take this weekend off and remember myself, remember the 'I' in the book and who that 'I' is. I was going a bit mad last week, living on coffee and diet coke and sleepless nights listening to the same three albums over and over again (for the record, by Sparklehorse, Grandaddy and TV on the Radio) and writing like a man possessed. So this weekend, when I stopped the writing, just to catch up with myself. I found all I wanted to do was drink beer and watch television. I didn't really want to see anyone or do anything. The cocoon of my flat became a battleground for Cylons, a verbal sparring match for David Duchovny and a motivational speech by Alec Baldwin. A weekend of Battlestar Galactica, Californication and 30 Rock was how I unwound. And when I felt like I needed to head out of the house for fresh air, I went to the cinema. For more visual stimulation. Christmas is coming and the winter is drawing in and so am I. I watched Starbuck and Colonel Tigh get bitter and self-destructive after their New Caprica rescue; I watched Baltar acclimatise to his new home on a Cylon homebase. I learnt about having no regrets, about remembering the past and not being shackled to it. About how to keep fighting, even when defeat is mostly inevitable. Watching Californication, I learnt about the playfulness of language, watching Duchovny throwing around quips and pop culture references. I learnt about good writing and what it's going to take for me to be better. Watching 30 Rock, I learnt about writing good comedy, about pacing and characterisation, about how to unfold plots in 30 minutes and how spread out the jokes should, how to orchestrate hilarity in quips and plot structure and character. Man alive, I wish I was Tracey Jordan.
I know not everything needs a life lesson and most of these things may seem cheesy, but I feel completely relaxed and television may be the drug of a nation but it was my university.
Here are my 3 favourite songs of the weekend: Lightspeed Champion - Galaxy of the Lost
Sparklehorse - Piano Fire
Emmy the Great (:swoon: - her debut is the first best album of 2009)- MIA
TV and music saved me from a pit of reflective self-loathing this weekend. Right, tomorrow, back to the book. I promise, agent, cos I know you're reading this- I'm carrying on with chapter 6 tomorrow, and it's a corker...
I am stood, crushed into the sprawl, reading a comic.
MAN: Darling move aside, the gentlemen wishes room so that he may entertain himself with his comic. WOMAN: Oh sorry. A man reading picture stories, how quaint. I do love coming to London. MAN: Me too, in this carriage, pushed up against all these people, reminds me of why I'm alive. WOMAN: I concur. I mean, out where we live, it's so empty, so lifeless. MAN: Middlesex is not known for its charm darling. WOMAN: I wonder what that gentleman has had for dinner. His breath is incredibly interesting. MAN: Smells oniony that's for sure. WOMAN: Maybe a hint of basil. MAN: I wouldn't say so. silence MAN: Darling that tal black gentleman is listening to that song that Evie likes. WOMAN: Yes, so rhythmic. Really so very rhythmic. MAN: I can see why she likes it. It must really help her focus her tic. WOMAN: I wonder if you should ask the gentleman who it's by so we can buy her another CD. MAN: Sir, sir, I was wondering... MAN 2: What? Is it too loud? MAN: Oh no, I was wondering who sang that song you're listening to. You see, Evie, our daughter has a palsy and she finds that listening to your sort of music, not black music, but rap music, really helps her palsy. MAN 2: It's Dizzee Rascal. MAN: Excellent thank you sir. Apologies for the intrusion. WOMAN: Good work. Now darling I don't mean to alarm you but I think we may have missed our stop...
Ahh, the age-old question: film adaptation vs original book. This time, the source material in question belongs to Chuck Palahniuk, the visceral author who gave us 'Fight Club' which spawned an excellent film, largely down to a stellar cast and auteur director David Fincher at the helm. This time, Choke, another Palahniuk diatribe on dysfunctional families and parents f***ing us up, rests on the shoulders of solid Sam Rockwell, whose vacant face and slightly kooky wirey demeanour is perfect for sex addict in denial, Vincent. See Vincent has a mad mother, who would regular steal him from his foster parents and fill his head with apocalypse information. Now she has Altzeimers and resides in a medical hospital. Vincent has spent his life looking for connections and pushing away any female interaction in his life. Is this the 21st Century model of the American family? Now he attends sex addiction meetings so he can bang the girls, he pretends to choke to make connections with new mums and dads who will support him financially and emotionally throughout his life, and fund his mum's care. His best friend is a serial masturbator and he works in a colonial village as a tour guide. This all sounds great and Palahniuk's imagination is never in question, able to pull together disparate strands and slowly attack your suspension of disbelief, so when the pay-off question about whether Vincent is a messianic immaculate conception, you're with him. The big questions, how did Jesus get to be who he is, was he supported by loving parents or was he alone from the start, are also explored.
The problem is, much as this sounds great, and is a brilliant concept, scathing and seething, hilarious and maddening, it's lacking. There is something quite unsubtle about the film. Where Fight Club was an atmospheric sensory assault, this is played like an indie slacker comedy, and the laughs aren't framed properly, the action isn't zippy, and all that remains is a bunch of scenes strung together. Much as Sam Rockwell and Kelly Macdonald put in completely solid performances, there's still a lack of any real suspense or growth. Scenes linger, pacing is lost in aimless voiceover, flashbacks fall out of context. It's simply a mess, a mess of a good idea, made by someone who doesn't understand the message of the source material, so tells the story as literally as he can. At 90 mins, it's the right length, but lacks any zip, pep or fun, instead it's like a Kevin Smith adapation. Choke is one of Palahniuk's most powerful books, and it's a shame that the film version is quite blah and forgettable, and the most fun bit involves a rogue anal bead.
Watching Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe this week was really inspiring. He sat with Graham Lineham (Father Ted, The IT Crowd), Paul Abbott (State of Play), Russell T Davies (Dr Who), Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show) and some others and discussed the art and science of writing. Not just writing for TV but writing in general. The only weird bit was the omission of any female or efnik writers, especially when there are some awesome writers out there who can spin a good yarn. But it was inspiring to see how Graham Linehan writes. Now, much as I find the IT Crowd very hit and miss, I enjoyed how Linehan basically keeps a public diary of everything he finds funny stored away for when these items will seep into his subconscious and slowly work their way into plots. Also, in how keeping an image in your head, if it's funny, and turning that into a story will eventually keep you in the practice of observing everything around you and making that your inspiration, collecting thoughts phrases and images in your bank. Larry David has a small notebook in his pocket that a word or a phrase and a tic will end up being used. The phrase 'close-talker' or 'low-talker' will eventually become a character trait that spirals into a piece of destructive comedy plot. Richard Herring keeps an online diary where he insists on recording a daily funny occurence that inspires him. It gets you in the habit of finding things around you funny and finding a way of conveying that event to a mass of people who weren't there to experience it. Such simple techniques, but so effective. I'm constantly looking for inspiration in all around me and it's hard, sometimes, getting the will to record it all. But, Russell T Davies said it best, 'a writer... just f***ing writes. If you're not writing, you're not a writer.' So thanks to Charlie Brooker for putting aside the caustic misanthropic worldview that peppers his work for one week to highlight the process the mystifies us from a nearly diverse range of writers. The diversity was perhaps in their subjects and remits rather than in who they were. It was still a great programme and worth watching for all wannabes like me. Who knows, it might fire you up, sending you into a meditative state of complete focus for a night, guzzling coffee and getting hypnotised by the tip-tap of the keyboard.
This album is exhausting from start to finish. It’s spiralling unstructured and out there. Yet it’s the man’s most tried attempt at coherent song-writing since the heady spiky days of At the Drive-in. It’s been weird for the Mars Volta boys. Singing 3 minute pop-punk songs with ultimate fervour and energy seemed to have exhausted them and so in the ultimate intellectual move, decided they were too good for such simplistic visions of music. They split the band with Sparta off to write 3 minute pop songs and The Mars Volta off to imbibe mescaline and write prog operas to the stars. And which band is still standing? It’s a testament to The Mars Volta that they’ve withstood critical bafflement and ideas hard to market and brand and gone on to do whatever the frick they want, sprawling themselves across some of the most difficult challenging music recorded for pop audiences. Doesn’t mean it’s any good. Doesn’t mean they need an editor, a friend, a colleague, a producer to stop them from over-indulgence. Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with a powerful 3 minute verse chorus verse epic. So to ‘Old Money’ then. It’s strange that this should be on such an experimental hip-hop label, home to Madlib and Peanut Butterwolf and rap nostalgia when this is punk jazz jamming with barely audible drums. It may be a difficult listen but, the song names are amazing. Probably my favourite thing about the whole release is the sideways sardonic look at politics with ‘How to Bill the Bilderberg Group’ and ‘Private Fortunes’ and much as the old money theme of evil men with bottomless wallets ruling the world prevails in a titular sense, they bear no impact on the actual songs. And I say songs but they are undistinguishable from the next, all bounding along on energy and sheer noise, sometimes lacking structure and coherence, sometimes lacking melody and passion. There are moments when repeated distorted samples build slowly in the background before being brought to the fore, but this is a jazz noodle with a loud guitar. There’s not much to latch on to, and you get the feeling that these are ideas that will be used properly in the Mars Volta canon, rather than existing as a solid body of work here. Which is a shame because there are shades and tinges of genius and talent on here, but they’re dressed up in appositional difficult swathes of fuzz lacking any depth beyond their titles.
More Antipodean drum’n’bass from under the equator as New Zealanders Shapeshifter follow in the crossover footsteps (surely a Strictly Come Dancing move) of Pendulum and unleash their drum’n’bass lite take on the world. This is warm melodic stuff that doesn’t fear straying into heavy duty dnb while straying into worlds of soul, reggae, funk, rock and of course drum and bass, Like Chase’n’Status, variety is their conduit for giving drum’n’bass a global platform. The slightly negative effects of this are that too much genre-crossing tends to dilute the beats and the hard breakneck edge of a powerful band. However, the positives are in abundance as the band manages to do what Hospitality Records has done, write proper songs with the genre and make them follow structures that build and takeaway, move your mind and your feet, often in tandem. Though sprawling over two vast records, there is enough variety in here to sate the most dnb head and the interested parties who like a bit of versatility in their dance music. There are warm moments, dancey moments, moments where you can feel the tide washing your toes on an Ibizan beach, others where you can feel the sweat dripping off the ceilings plastering your already wet hair as you hurl yourself into the oblivion of the dance. While this album of 2 sides could have used an editor, there is definitely set of 14 strong songs on here that pulse and vibrate with the best of them.
Just a heads-up really... Avocado Picker sometimes does the rappy thing all on the mic in other guises and he's on the new Fusing Naked Beats album, on a track called 'The Planets' an interstellar trip through consciousness. It's on the album 'Zenith' which features all the Arabic house, cosmic funk, hip-hop, dance and breaks that people have come to expect from DJ Asif and crew, so go check it out, Pie-holes.
So yes, apologies for the mini-hiatus, Avocado has been finishing writing his book and the Mystery Voice is building his time machine. We have reviews of Choke, Zack and Miri, Entourage season 5, Californication season 2, Omar Rodriguez Lopez, Alela Diane, Dead Residents, Skreintax and Friendly Fires all arriving soon.
Hello and welcome and yeah... in an oversaturated blog-o-glob... we throw our 2 dubloons in.
Avocado Picker: 28, author, journalist... specialist subjects include: the Wire, the post X-Files career of Agent Scully, Bollywood music 1950-1970, Spider-man, Dare Devil, The Sopranos, British comedy 1990-present, the complete works of Chuck Palahniuk and Aniruddha Bahal, Arnie films pre- True Lies, and different uses for cheese in culinary situations.
The Mystery Voice: 30, software engineer, time waster... specialist subjects include: Linux (etc), C++ & PHP (and other animals, yawn), Physics (blah), British comedy past and present (yay), grand master Mornington Crescent (huh?), the incomplete works of Douglas Adams and Bill Bailey (wtf?)