Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Death of The Designers Republic

The monumental, inspiring, groundbreaking design agency The Designers Republic has closed its doors.

For those of you not half drowning in the design industry as myself The Designers Republic (or tDR) were an award winning internationally reknown agency based in Sheffield who did more in their 23 years of design practice to subvert and challenge the creative norms and progress digital postmodernism than anyone. It all started with Ian Anderson designing record sleeves for Age of Chance based around Russian Constructivism. This was the dawning of the digital design era with Mac platforms springing up at most agencies and Anderson rejected traditionalist approaches in favour of a projection of purely digital aesthetic.

This work continued apace adopting many different visual influences from Japanese culture and corporate branding and re-inventing them through tDR's kaleidescopic digital vision. The resulting work for Pop Will Eat Itself, Warp Records, and Wip3out became an instant success due to its complete leftfield avante garde aesthetic compared to the rest of the design industry. The Designers Republic, in essence, created and sustained its own movement. This is the most important aspect to tDR. It created its completely identifiable signiture style and therefore a brand. People would come to tDR for work that looked like it had been made by The Designers Republic. This is contrary to how most agencies used to work. tDR made the first authentic niche in the design industry, lived in it, and expanded it until it broke.

The Japanese elements to tDR's design work are a prime example of how the process at tDR works. The agency raided Japanese design culture, expanded on the most modern and challenging design practices, exaggerated it, and then repackaged and resold it back to the Japanese. I like to describe this work as 'more Japanese than Japan'. And it is. Its a design characture that is extreme and over the top in all the main Japanese design catagories: Minimalism, detail, composition, reduced palette, and coolness. Its Nihon-Hyperbole.

Unfortunately The Designers Republic became a victim of its own success with work for Coca Cola, Orange, and other large corporations beginning to water down the basic premise of tDR. While the company admirably continued to blaze trails and stamp its own design signature on its output the restrictions of working with larger and more corporate clients had a negative effect on the company. This, combined with a number of financial issues during the recession, caused the Republic to close its doors in January but one has to recognise founding member Ian Andersons heart hadn't exactly been in it for the past couple of years. In a recent interview he suggests he will get back to his roots, back to where The Designers Republic was an outsider and a controversial figure, and back to where all the fun is.

So next time you're looking at a new piece of design work that uses some twisted corporate sloganeering whilst ramming some Japanese styled clean corporate design in your face with some hot pink pantones you'll know the designer is just a pretender to the throne recently abdicated by tDR. The Republic is dead, long live the Republic.

Friday, 30 January 2009


In the absence of much to say, apart from the chronic fatigue I am immersed in, here are ten things I currently really like:

1) Micachu and the Shapes’ debut album- a swirl and mesh of avant-garde pop, concise and tight. Just when songs sound like they might fall away, they’re brought back from the brink, flip-flopping through two or three different songs at once. Micachu’s punky lyrics and scuzzy child’s guitar whirr away at the epicentre of glitches, bleeps, boops and high-calibre electronics and grime riddims from The Shapes. Album of the year. I heard it in January but it’s been pushed back to April. Essential.
2) Jack Bauer- his dedication to his country and his album to be the best he can be all the time is truly astounding. In episode 6 this week, seconds after he’d buried an FBI agent alive, she was rescued by Bill and Chloe. Forget the scary darkies and the wetbag president- it’s all Jack all the time.
3) ‘Something to tell you’ by Hanif Kureishi- I met him last year and he revealed himself to be pompous in the face of adulation. And this book is complete wish fulfilment for a middle aged man. In the book, Jamal (clearly Hanif-a-like) is a 50 year old shagging stoner who is cool and sophisticated and able to relate to his teenage son by calling him ‘dog’ and ‘wha’gwan’. It’s not realistic and the plot is thin like slivers of ham, but the easy style and sardonic wit are all vintage Kureishi.
4) ‘The Bird Room’ by Chris Killen- he’s younger than me and has written an amazing debut book on Canongate, all filled with love, lust, technology, self-esteem dramas and a complete disregard for happy endings.
5) The Amazing Spider-man’s ‘character assassination’ arc. We’re only one issue in but we’re promised by the end, another shake-up to the status quo, reveal of Menace and who is the Spider-tracer killer? So far, we’ve been given a red herring in Vic being caught with a bag of Spider-tracers under his bed, but seeing as this is part 1 of 6, I’d say it’s misdirection.
6) Adam and Joe’s 6Music podcast- Stephen!!! Just coming!!! They’ve always been a firm favourite but recently they have been on fire, as have Answer Me This (with special guest Josie Long). But Adam and Joe’s podcast is funny, poignant and so easy to squeeze through with a massive grin on your face. Recent highlights have included the song wars about Australia; Stephen; a dissection of the Songsmith advert and Adam’s pirate radio stings.
7) My mate Dallas Boner’s new album. He’s awesome. Go gogogogo and seek him out on myspace. He is truly special.
8) Twitter- I’m just getting the hang of tweeting or twittering or twitting and it’s hugely more exciting than Facebook.
9) Bhangra Pistols- a new band coming from me and BuzzLightBrown this year, just as soon as we sit down to record. Let’s Hug It Out Bitch.
10) Kabaddi- I’m researching the sport of kabaddi for a film and am immersed in its lawlessness and insanity. Essentially, it’s a mixture of wrestling, skipping and swimming underwater. It’s patronised by burly Sikh warriors and wiry slumdogs. It’s amazing.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Death to comics

I just came back from my new local comic shop, having gone through the painful rigmarole of switching allegiances. My old shop was a special place. We chatted, we geeked out, they let me take some album shots in there, we were on first name terms. But timetabling sent me somewhere closer to home. I immediately like the guy in the new place. He’s a soapbox defender of the universe, an angst-ridden old man who is watching his industry die before him. We’re seeing it all over. The advent of online shopping has killed independent retail outlets dead. The only survivors are the monopoly-builders, like HMV or Waterstones or Forbidden Planet. Forbidden Planet exists on many levels- it has a thorough website for online shopping; the latest comics and back issues; DVDs; books and merchandise tie-ins, rows and rows on them. They’ve got a prime spot at the end of Covent Garden and they are helping to kill off the independent shop. So what, you say, it’s capitalism and it’s comics. Comics exist in that same sphere as records do. It’s the conversation, that High Fidelity-esque spirit of sitting around shooting the shizz on that difficult third album or the latest Deadpool arc. Now with online shopping and forums, this is growing sparser and rarer. I’m hankering after old ways. But the comic industry is dying. The masses want the films of these characters, now the effects can deal with them. The masses want films not comics. Only nerds want comics. And those nerds are all twirty upwards to fifty-sixty. The die-hards. The youngsters want the films and the games. We want the original, sealed, packed away and delivered with a conversation about who was the best Green Lantern.

The monopoly in comics goes higher. There is now only one distributor within the industry that takes the comics from DC and Marvel, the two biggest houses, to deliver to our shops. And they can do whatever they want. Because if you don’t like it, where are you going to get your comics from? Hardly ethical. Hardly for the love. Obviously comics is a cash industry. And Diamond knows that ultimately the fans will still buy the comics no matter how much they’re dicked around. So they had an extra surcharge for delivery worldwide, and we pay it, and the price of each comic goes up, and because the dollar is so victorious against the pound, the comics go up. This new comic story owner told me all this and then said he wasn’t making any money off new comics. To ensure repeat customers, he was selling them at the price he got them for from Diamond. He has backrooms full of unwanted back issues that no one wants, and Diamond ain’t taking them back or won’t recycle them. No way no way. We’re stuck with them.

The evils of business. I was born too naive for this world.

In the coming weeks, I’ll interview this eloquent new comic store owner and get the full lowdown on the last scraps of a dying industry.

The joys of networking reloaded

‘What is your connection to the event?’
‘I’m an up-and-coming author.’
‘Ooh, look! Canapes. Excuse me...’

Who do you think initiated that conversation last night at a book reading in a swanky agency’s conference room? Sadly, it was me. And I threw the poor peer of mine to the curb as soon as I realised he could do nothing for me. I didn’t care that he could inspire me and mentor me and perhaps be a good creative friend, someone to share experiences and advice with, someone to bounce ideas off. I was a shark, and he was a guppy. We were both there for a single-minded mission. I left him to it.

What have I become?

It seems years ago now that I stood in an awards ceremony’s reception and repeatedly embarrassed myself in front of the most important agents and publishers in the industry. Now I was a stone-cold tiger shark predatory machine ready to impress myself on people. Except I wasn’t. I just wasn’t being nice about it anymore. I was still awkward and embarrassed hovering in the centre of a room alone not knowing anyone. A friend and I had agreed to attend the event if we both spoke to 3 possible contacts each, independently of each other and people we, well she, knew. Thusfar we had both hovered and talked to each other and stuck to her merry band of friends. Awkward. Everyone around us was in a whirlwind of buzz and conversation, making deals and discussing up-and-comers and setting tastes and tones for the year. Neither of us would be on any of their lists on their lips as we were a bank of nerves circulating round the room like carbon dioxide tinged with red wine.

I became the tiger shark predator thing. And that exchange happened. And as I was crushing a mushroom vol-au-vent in my mouth, suddenly thought, ‘I am such a nerd. Come on, man up. Do what you came here for.’

I talked to Jack, incidentally an agent who looked like Jack from Eastenders. He was suave and Scottish and insisted on talking about The Wire, which much as I love, meant everytime I tried to clunk in another reference to my work, it was lost in his reverence of televisual melodrama. I talked to Helena who had become an agent to further her own writing career. Like me and my job, she’s attacking from within. We got caught in a loop of being able to help the other out as a writer but ultimately more concerned about ourselves, like selfish mirrors dancing with each other in a surrealist’s jelly forest.

Eventually, I latched on to Joe, a poetical uberwunderkind who was reading that evening, a sparkling talent full of thoughtfulness and interest. We talked for a good hour about writing and the ‘process’ and as we parted in the train station, felt like we had both connected on a spiritual level. I shook his hand. He gave me a friendly hug as if to say we were on a journey.... man so don't worry. I stood on the escalator listening to two drunk girls enthuse about The Mighty Boosh, and thought, I wonder who that writer I fobbed off was. Cos when I actually started talking to a peer about creativity and writing and not an agent with the sole purpose of selling myself, I felt like I actually had something worthwhile to say.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Smugson and son

I got my dad a job. And he smiled. For the first time in months. And I got to smile back like a smug son. I had done good for my pa. I had found him a job. Where I work. Hold on a minute- where I work? What the frak? What the dealio? I suddenly panicked about stupid superficial things like, what if he overhears people complaining about me? What if people don’t like him? Do I have to have lunch with him every single day? Will I still want to come home and visit my folks if I see my dad? Now we’re equals, will I think differently of him? Then I stopped... saw his smile and stopped being selfish. In an instant I had helped to heal a heartbroken man and nothing else mattered.

His first day was spent reading up on the organisation and familiarising himself with new people and new systems. He seemed to take to it, looking completely absorbed everytime I went to check on him and make sure he was coping. The commute is quite far and I was worried about his energy levels. Luckily, he was just happy to be not worrying about money for a bit. He was happy to be busy and to be working and to be immersed in something he clearly loved. People reacted as expected, a little weirded out but ultimately loving his affable smiley personality. They don’t know the backstory, they don’t know why I would ever consider getting my father a job in the place where I work. It doesn’t matter anymore- he’s part of the team and the background and I feel like a good son, I feel like I’ve helped my father who helped me all those years. A friend wondered whether this was going to be bad for me. It won't. I don't begrudge spending time with my dad. He doesn’t have the relationship I do with my dad. Kenya changed us, quickened our steps into synchronicity. I understood him and I appreciated his struggle and nothing I did for him and with him after that was born out of tedious family obligation, it was born out of pure love.

Last night, I willed my brain to work. I have an idea and I’m waiting for it to come to fruition. It’s a good idea and potentially the one that makes me, as most ideas seem to be at this stage of abstraction. My brain wasn’t complying with my silent frustrated squeals for ideas. They weren’t fermenting or bubbling, they weren’t coming. I fell asleep tortured and dreamt about streams of Twitter text falling down the page like lines of green Matrix code, a disturbed sleep with the dull hum of electronic noise pulsing in the background.

This morning, listening to Micachu and the Shapes’ amazingly electric album on my way to the post office, in the rain, my mind lost to images, those ideas came, streaming into my brain falling down my mind’s eye like lines of green Matrix code. Finally, we were cooking with fuel, fired up and with a mixed metaphor in my step, I set about rushing through the rest of my chores running the ideas through my brain repeatedly till I had a chance to write them down. I now have an ending. Funny how the brain sometimes works.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

I gotchu open

Open mics bring out the crazies. And you’re left with a stomach churn of unease: either this is so brilliant and avant-garde and my pretensions aren’t sophisticated to appreciate this or this guy is batshit crazy. Yesterday was a prime rib of good bad open miccing, all with the spirit of comraderie and community that makes squat parties the ultimate in self-indulgent democratic free-spirit dross, all with the blessings of the oneness of our souls. First up was a Dutch pianist, or was he. The long drawn out corridor feel of the place wasn’t amenable to his quiet sparse humour and heavily-scripted inability to improvise- surely a comedian’s core tool? He would occasionally launch into context-less plumes of vaudeville piano. Pity we couldn’t hear him. A carefully prepared and reworked set of material based on an unfunny idea was suddenly rendered useless by its lack of crowd-engaging dynamism. This was followed by a man in a Mozart wig and General Haig moustache, a tuxedo and a fat suit underneath. He was pretending to be French.

‘Zis,’ he announced...
‘Zis is ‘ow yoo bowl an egg...’
‘Zis is ow yoo bowl an egg.’

People were giggling. I was missing something. What was I missing? I was infuriated at my inability to penetrate this thick slice of avant-garde comic poetry. This slick meditation on our lives and times and the inner complexities of our souls. Before I could even begin to pass through the mist of material, it was over. He was replaced by a guy gurning with attitude and street smarts, he was bare bad an’ting ya get me. He grabbed the mic.

‘Yo, we’re about to get live in here. This is real life, ya get me. I’m gonna bring it to you straight cos y’all play it safe and cushty in your nine to fives... you don’t know about real life. This first song I’m gonna do for you is about a kidnapping gone wrong. Cos sometimes, things go wrong, especially when you’re doing a kidnapping. That’s real life...’

At this point, I’m thinking- if this is his real life, does he kidnap a lot of people? Might he hold us all hostage if we don’t buy his mixtape after the gig? How many kidnappings has he done? How has he done enough kidnappings to know what a kidnapping gone wrong feels like.

‘So yeah... drop the beat...’ A two bar sample over a four bar drum beat comes in. ‘This is about a kidnapping gone wrong. It’s called “Wrong Kidnapping.”’

He launches into a scary yet faintly ridiculous story about kidnapping a schoolgirl to make her dad pay up and falling in love with her. It’s gone wrong. But ultimately he triumphs and gets the cash and the girl. Cos he’s real. Once he’s finished laying down the foundations of truth on us, he asks us to hush so he can spit bare truths to us. He reveals he is in his mid thirties. And he’s coming up. And he’s selling his 23rd mixtape after the show.

‘This song is about social apartheid, about how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It’s called “Rich Get Richer.”’

At which point, I’m thinking you don’t need to explain your songs to us. They’re hardly complex. Especially if the explanatory bit is in the song title. There’s this false importance about explaining yourself. Sure some things may need a backstory but ultimately, your stuff is going to exist on an album with no explanatory notes about what it’s about (unless you wish to write the most informative and dull liner notes ever) so don’t over-explain. We get it: ‘Rich Get Richer’ hmmmmm possible about the rich getting richer.

After my set, which goes down a storm just by the context and comparison of my peers, a drunk squat-poet ambles on to stage. He lets people chat to themselves for a few seconds. He then harangues them for talking. Instead of drawing them in, he pushes them out, firing off a soupcon of polemical lines about being an agent of revolution, about how everything’s rubbish and how he, because he is conscious and politically aware, more important than you, the audience, the audience he failed to charm into listening to him. He’s replaced by a beatboxer. Beatboxing as an artform is NOT a one-trick pony. It is not a surface art. It has depth and possibility and amazing potential. Nathan 'Flutebox' Lee and Shlomo have taken it to the dizzying heights of its potential. And now everyone wants to be Flutebox or Rabbi Shlomo. Get your own tricks, beatboxers, there’s millions of things you are able to do with the artform. Whether Flutebox or Shlomo are pioneers or just well-known practisers, it doesn’t matter, they’ve become synonymous with rapping and playing the flute, and indie cover versions, and amazingly, they’ve moved on. You don’t need to copy them for an easy impress.

And that beatboxer, sadly, was then replaced with an angst-ridden busride home, worrying about my art. Open mics are a great leveller, the ultimate democratic creative privilege, a place where you grow, a place where you go to impress your peers and meet people and win over crowds of actual strangers. Open mics have built me, improved me, hurt me, grazed me, wounded me, made me want to be better everytime. Last night, on the bus home, I wondered if the open mic had changed or if I had changed. I’ll never be above open mics and using them to train and get better with my material. But I wondered if, somehow, once again, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Chris Killen - The Bird Room (Canongate 2009)

‘The Bird Room’ by Canongate’s newest signing Chris Killen is indicative of why they’re the best imprint around. Their ability to source the newest and best writers around knows no bounds. ‘The Bird Room’ is a contemporary look at love and lust in the grimy underbelly of an information age city. Trysts and solicitations are made online, furtive texts are sent and the boundaries between your ‘dream-relationship and your ‘dream’ relationship blur into a vague grey complexion and 4 day stubble. This is a funny, dark and potent book, minimalist in its description but with characters rich and interesting and all suffering from low self-esteem as they navigate the confines of their own consciousness. Will used to be best friends with Will. Will is unemployed, paranoid, jealous and hanging on to his girlfriend Alice out of obligation and fear of loneliness. Will is a suave, charming, rock’n’roll artist, prone to speaking his lecherous mind and making everyone fall in love with him. Which Will has Alice fallen in love with? Across the city is Helen. Except Helen is not her real name. She wants to be an actress, but in this city of broken dreams, there is only one regular source of steady acting work. As all paths converge, the dual narrative of Will and Helen’s lives bring them both slowly to a raw shocking dark conclusion that is both explosive and implosive. Killen cleverly takes the staid subject of love and lust and all in between and turns in a strong compact book that is every inch contemporary and classic, while visceral and well-written. This is the stuff that makes you sit up and want to be better at what you do. ‘The Bird Room’ is a quick and easy read but its dark heart and inherent bleakness about repeating patterns of behaviour and habit will stay with you for months.

A perfectly normal time...

The most off-putting thing about a bar or pub is seeing a bunch of girls waving a huge inflatable willy above their heads in the line going in. We were lost in Bristol and decided this was not the pub we wished to return to. So far at the pub, where we had been sat a few hours before, I had fallen over twice in the same trip, stumbling over nothing more than my own limbs; there had been a disagreement about tattoos; a drunken friend trying to impress her new paramour by trying a new ‘cool’ personality and mentioning everything to be ‘cool’; finding a stopwatch and having timed competitions involving weeing, rolling cigarettes, and getting crossword clues. We had left and decided to return. Unfortunately, the sight of said inflatable willy was enough to turn us away into the rain. We headed to a rocker pub, oozing with sticky surfaces, lightly-freckled beers and the old-man feel that tricks you into an Arcadian vision of the 60s and 70s, with Jimmy and Jimi and Jim all sprawled in the corner drinking bitters and discussing their doors of perception, man. Upstairs, we heard some noise-jam happenings and dismissed it as noodle-bore rock. It was only when one of our fair heroes ventured upstairs to grab an old friend that he discovered the noise: a bilge of crashing cymbals, droned repeated notes and scuzzy fuzzy were all coming from one man. We met Theo, local Bristol insaniac journeyman. Yes, with the use of a loop pedal building up his guitar loops, harmonics and fuzzed-out bliss-chords, he would then push his guitar behind his back, balance his plectrum between his teeth and bash out thunderous riotous rhythms. Once we realised it was one band and not an over-indulgent band, we were all suitably impressed and watched him for a bit. Ahh, the fickle flip-flop of the easily impressed. We headed to a rave with lasers and bass speakers the size of Jabba the Hut, with quivering teenagers sucking their thumbs in the corner unable to cope with the low-end rumble of a subwoofer. The floor was wet and slippery with the tears of those too young to rave first time around realising they’re now part of the nostalgerati; the sweat of the pilled-up; trampled in rain; and beer. Why people can’t confine beer to their mouths and own clothes I shall never know. It was strange being one of the three only undrugged-up people in the room. We danced and whenever we stopped out of tiredness or the repetitive rhythms getting too much, we were pounced on as slaves to the dopamine-overload begged us for more, confusing us with dealers. Moments felt like the sequence in Peep Show where Mark wants everyone to think he’s taken an E and is asking Jez for advice on how to act pilled-up. ‘I’ll be having a perfectly normal time while you’re all off your faces on drugs.’ People approached and grabbed our necks, screaming about loving it; feeling it; being at one with it. Meanwhile, we were having a perfectly normal time while they were all off their faces on drugs. It was nice to be at an unironic unpretentious rave though. Where the drum’n’bass bits were honest revisitations to my childhood folklore of jungle and not part of the nostalgerati’s time-machine tracks attitude. People actually seemed to enjoy themselves, not just pretend to because nu-rave is the new thing. Later, we were sat round while drug counsellors snorted up MDMA while we continued to have our perfectly normal time. They raved about their jobs and the desperate youths, bloodthirsty babes they dealt with everyday. Obviously, they knew enough about their jobs to be able to partition recreation and addition but it seemed like a strange paradox. I fell asleep, having had a perfectly normal time with beer and meatballs, waking up the next day to a good ol’fashioned hangover and a craving for banana milkshake.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Travel tips

Yesterday I appeared on Nihal’s breakfast show as part of his ‘Roots’ item to discuss going travelling around India. We dispensed all the generic advice about jabs and mosquito pain-relief, and asking for rooms at the back of hotels to avoid suicide bombings. It got me to thinking about my own travelling and the lessons I’ve learned along the way, regardless of the location, because all travel advice has the same linking strand of wariness. I have tempered them to be specifically about India because now you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire, you’re probably thinking about heading there to rescue some street children.

10) If a man called Vinod, who has a strange jutting-out lump his stomach that looks like it might be a concealed weapon waiting to be gouged out and used against you, is giving you directions to somewhere you’re trying to find because you’re lost, go in the opposite direction. He will be waiting for you on the other side of the wall gouging out a concealed weapon from his stomach lining. He only wants your make-up and spare socks though.
9) If you are offered a ‘special lassi’ on a train, make sure you have a sober friend standing nearby with a warm salty glass of water to help rehydrate you, and to stop you jumping off the train because the Ribena babies are chasing you begging for slimy cuddles. And they haven’t told you what slimy cuddles are. Basically, ‘special lassi’ is code for hallucinogenic sweet yoghurt drink.
8) If you go around restaurants asking for steak medium-rare with a soupcon of pepper sauce, they will get most upset. It’s well done or nothing.
7) If you’re sent down a back alley to a warehouse to buy your beer and told to knock on a small window on its side, pretending you’re a cop in prohibitionist-era America on a bust will not go down well with the locals.
6) Don’t fall in love with the daughter of any importer/exporter of cars. The father tends to be mob-related and will not take too kindly to a tourist taking his daughter on the town when actually he would rather try and set her up with his protégé, as they have an unspoken father-son bond, and you’re just a foreigner on your jollies. He may feed you to his fishes. This is the opposite for women and local sons of gangsters. The fathers will appreciate the passports.
5) Be sensible. Never ever ever keep your money in a money belt. You look like an idiot with a trumped-up bumbag/fannypack.
4) If a lady called Mama Labamba asks you to take a package back back with you on a plane, do it; she pays handsomely, and all she is doing is sending Indian Vogue magazines back to her nieces.
3) If a family called the Followethers ask you to dinner. Don’t go. Mary Followether can’t cook.
2) If you see zebra-striped mosquito, run. Aside from their malaria-ridden bodies, they are the fashion-victims of the mosquito world. So essentially it’s like being infected with malaria by a Shoreditch hipster. Want to tell your grandchildren that?
1) Eat street food. It’s cooked there and then on the day and therefore about 30% less germs than the frozen and defrosted stuff in the freezers of restaurants.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Dad Men

My dad, having lost his job before Christmas, is back in the job market for the first time in twenty years. Times have changed but his memories of his old profession still remain the same. Since 1988, the advent of computers and the internet and paperless offices and hotdesking and outsourcing and freelancing and consulting have all entered the sphere. The type of profession my dad used to do has expanded exponentially to the point where the new young bucks doing the job he used to do are the ones reaping half a million pound bonuses and gentrifying places like Spitalfields. The old ways are dead. This parallels with Mad Men, which I’ve been watching recently, about advertising men in the 1950s and 1960s. Part of the charm of the show lies in its depiction of old office life in a high-flying environment. The typing pools; the hand-drawn presentations- it’s all so different. It feels like history, like an antiquated vision of the past. Computers and the internet have been changing the office environment so much in the last ten or so years and more change. What now for my father? What can he do? He certainly can’t go back to his old high-flying life. That world has passed him by and he’s gotten older than his previous young buck self. He’s an antique. A relic of the 80s. With English as his third language.

I’ve been helping him get updated. We go to the pub with a laptop and we go through the job markets today. I show him websites to sign up to, how to sign up, how to write a semi-flashy CV and how to sell himself. And most importantly, how to write emails. Dad hasn’t ever really had to cold-contact people on email. He hasn’t ever had to really write email after email. He doesn’t really know how to cut and paste the same generic text and be mindful enough to change the appropriate contact details. He is working out of an office that has been resigned to nostalgia-porn on television. I worry. I receive emails from him on a daily/hourly basis asking my advice on certain things to do with the job application process. He writes to me in a formal manner, making his requests in full sentences with proper sentence formation, signing off ‘With kind regards and best wishes’ like he isn’t my dad. I continue to worry.

No one takes his calls. No one knows why a guy who ran a failed small business for 20 years and is 5 years from cashing in his pension and is overqualified for the simplest of tasks in his profession wants to get back into lower level work. No one even looks at his CV. There is an ageism going on here. People don’t want to take on someone close to retirement, because he’s only a commodity to them. The last thing a recruitment consultant wants is a commodity with a definite lifespan.

Last night, I sat with a friend and we talked about our fathers, both reminiscing on trips we had taken with them to revisit their humble beginnings, how they had worked so hard till their fingers bled and their heads throbbed to ensure we were comfortable as children. My dad was working class so I didn’t have to be, he always told me. And he gave me the best possible start in life. Now I can only help him so much. He is still broken after the business failed and I don’t know how to mend him and where to begin. I don’t feel duty bound or honour bound to help him heal but as his son it’s the only thing I want to do. I’ve taken to applying for jobs on his behalf.

Modern Reviews - Grand Theft Auto IV

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past four years scrabbling about in the muck, excreting mud, and eating rotten larvae you should be fairly familiar with the juggernaut of Grand Theft Auto. Since GTA3 Rockstar basically invented the sandbox game and much mouth drooling anticipation lay in store for the new generation GTA4. This possibility of epic faildom really had me worried before the games release but in the world of game development games generally get better the more numbers they have behind them.

GTA4 does not disappoint. Rockstar have managed to create what is generally heralded as a masterpiece game. Giving you free reign of Liberty City, a chopped up version of new york, you really have to explore the environment yourself to truly comprehend the vast and intricate work done here. It's a fantastically believable environment and genuinely mind boggling.

You're alter ego in Liberty land is polish dishwasher Niko Belic no doubt straight off the boat from Britain where he ran an unsuccessful brick laying company. Actually he's an ex-soldier who's been convinced to sneak into the US of A by his cousin in search of a better life and a spot of extremely cold served revenge. This adds some credibility to his absolute knowledge of armaments, explosives, and helicopter piloting. NO REALLY. The title sequence is interjected with this grand entrance into Liberty harbour where your barely cognisent cousin picks you up. Much in the same way as all the other GTA games you start with nothing, get introduced to people, and begin building an empire of hookers and blow. Or money and guns. Unlike the other GTA games the main character, Niko, is entirely cynical and reluctant to become this money hoarding killer which added more depth to the experience. There are a number of moral decisions to make which generally involve who will die and who wont in much the same way as Bioshock. It's always satisfying to shoot a pleading victim in the face. Like most other sandbox games you lurch around from mission to mission to complete the game and gain upgraded weapons and much like other sandbox games there is a slew of irritating collection and delivery side quests.

Outside of this the world of Liberty City is your oyster. Slimy and smelling of fish. You can, and a friend of mine did, stand in front of a magazine booth throwing tin cans at the owners head. For 24 hours game time. He also spent at least 6 hours in real time trying to land a helicopter and jump into the rotorblades. This was eventually achieved to much lulz and satisfyingly flung us over a number of nearby buildings. Dead.

There are a number of new introductions from a slightly crappy cover system to TV channels, pigeons, video games... much joy to be had.

There's much to do in Liberty City from strip clubs to burger eating. Stealing cars to shooting pigeons. I would have liked to more intereactivity with non-standard game elements such as building interiors or perhaps a few special roaming characters from the radio or TV channels.

There is an incredible level of detail to the game not just environmentally but also in the ample destruction that you can wreck. There's not much i can fault GTA4 on. It's a must have title and worth every penny or whatever local equivalent you use.

Let the rampage begin.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Che (Verso books 2009)

You know his face; you may even have had the poster up in your student bedsit as a symbol of revolution, empowerment and putting the world to rights. You may not know his entire history. You may just know the film, Steven Soderburgh's two-part focus on two of Che's major campaigns, in Cuba and Bolivia with a tour-de-force performance from Benicio del Toro. You may not know the politics. You may even think he's Cuban (he's not- he's an Argentine son of the Peron regime). This graphic novel is a simple and well-layed out introduction to the icon and symbol of revolution and peoples' rights that is Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. Starting with his teen years and moving swiftly through his time during the Peron regime and his mother's politics, he soon leaves on his famed journey across Latin America, which he diarised (and was later turned into a film) in 'The Motorcycle Diaries'. The drawings are simple and paint freezeframe motives for the snapshots of text that offer a bitesize view of Che's life. As he becomes immersed in the liberation of Cuba as a guerilla with a young and undictatorial Fidel Castro, he becomes a figure, a background presence full of stoicism and polemic as the action focuses on the guerilla army's growth from 19 ragtag soldiers to a full complement of freedom fighters. Spain Rodriguez's telling of Che's life, particularly his travels and attempts to broker a kind of Latin American communist utopia paints Che exactly as history did, as a symbol and a figure, to the point where we don't get into his psyche too much, we learn little of his personal life (apart from an affair and mentions of his children) and exactly what built him. 'The Motorcycle Diaries' are an amazing source material in that they accurately describe the personal growth of the man from laddish man about town to revolutionary, seeing how people are treated and how wrong it is, how people need rights and those rights need to be recognised. It's an ambitious piece of work trying to cram in all the work he has done and his final campaign in Bolivia that led to his death is glossed over a little. But this is no real bad thing. This is an introduction. If you like what you read there is an informative article at the end and many more books about Che you can read. This is a perfect ease-in for students and the like, immersed in culture who may have the posters and may have seen the films. The format is interesting too as the graphic pictorals of war and guerilla life are intricately told in classy black and white. Ultimately, Spain Rodriguez had a difficult task on him in taking on the story of Che Guevara but in the end has delivered a perfect jumping-on point for reading behind that all important face that is claimed to be the most widely reproduced photograph in the world.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Battlestar Galactica: Final Cylon revealed...

This is a great review of the new Battlestar Galactica episode that aired last week, revealing the Final Cylon. It's a thinker, and a shocker. Don't click the link if you don't wanna know...


Gone tomorrow

Everytime I go into my barbers for a haircut, I expect some sort of royal treatment. I’ve been going there consistently for ten years so always half-expect them to remember me. But they don’t- they have a huge turnaround of staff and there are always new additions there. I started going there over ten years ago in my student days. There was a pretty lady cutting hair. I would go and hope to get served by her and wow her with my flimsy student banter. Each time though, the fates intervened and sat me down in the chair of a stoic silent bald German barber with tattoos all over his scalp. He did an impeccable job. I kept coming back and the same thing kept happening. Fate would drive me to his chair and he would do a sterling job on my hair while I looked on longingly at the good-looking one. It didn’t matter really because he did such a fine job of sculpting my quiff. One day though, hubris decided to show me a ‘what-if’ scenario, an alternate universe and sat me down in the good-looking girl’s chair. She proved to be positively conservative and scarily eerie and did a really bad job of doing my hair. The fates had spoken to me- always go for the tattooed German guy. Everytime. In any situation.

Soon, he moved on and I stayed loyal to the barber, going out of my way each time to get to it as it’s in a strange location for where I live my life. The stoic silent German guy would never speak to me and just get on with doing the hair business; after a while he didn’t even have to ask me what I wanted done. He did it instinctively. But he’s moved on. And I stayed. Since, the barber has opened up a chain and become a nomadic hub for travelling migrants with a trade, passing through London in 6-12 month bursts with a ready-made skill to apply to the world. Not one person cutting hair in that barbers is English, which makes a multicultural melting pot dream. The richness of accents and the wealth of styles are luxuriant in their unique diversity. For example, a Russian male barber was giving an English businessman that classic Russian block-buzz look that made 80s KGB film actors so irresistible. Whereas the diminutive Japanese girl was the one to guy to with suggestions for something bizarre and out of the ordinary. I always seem to end up with the silent stoic one though, the one who’s happy to receive instructions and get on with it. I look around month after montha, oozing with jealousy at the banter around me. The conversations, the ‘how was your day’, the ‘have you seen this film?’, the ‘I work in adversiting ya-ya’ and I think, do I have a miserable hairline that makes people not want to talk to me? Or maybe I’m so used to the meditative moments I used to spend with a bald German tattoo-headed barber, while he went about sculpting quiffs to perfection as I dreamily looked over at the object of my teenage affections. Even though it was over ten years ago now, I can remember it so clearly, and it’s affected my hair-cut experience. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that I’m missing out on banter- I’m used to the German way... efficient, clinical, schnell.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Michael Holden - 'All Ears' (Alma/Guardian books 2009)

It is a testament to this book's brilliant compilation of a truly indispensable column, a weekend staple of hilarity and insight that I managed to finish it in a day, and wish I hadn't squandered the pages. All Ears is the Guardian Guide's brilliant found and overheard conversations section, one that consistently makes you think... no... he's making it up. In the introduction, Holden says that real-life conversation is more entertaining than the movies and he is constantly asked if he embellishes; he doesn't for the most part. This is a quick easy and fun read, bristling with humour and snapshots of the versatile British public. What's most creepy is that this unknown unseen journalist could be listening in on everything I say? He could be anywhere, the location notes at the end put him in some of my known hang-outs. I'd better be careful. Usual culprits on display here are people overheard on their phones; late-night drunken revellers; and yoots at the back of the bus. Each takes their turn to indulge some of the most ridiculous thoughtless stupid and charming conversations known to man. One of my favourites involves a guy so traumatised by a non-descript childhood experience with celery, the thought of it makes him nauseous. A yoot at the back of the bus tries to act as a human GPS to two friends meeting up. Obnoxious businessmen are pitted in close proximity with members of the public and subject them to phone conversations and revelations of startling nature. A mercenary discussed job percs and drawbacks with his drinking buddies. A kebab shop owner is harangued for a phone charger. And, my favourite, a man tries to return a soft drink he bought a month ago. What's the problem? He still has his receipt. Each of these bitesize anecdotes reveals a hidden truth about Britain and its hidden fringes. Britain becomes a mess of drunken banter, inane stupidity and oodles of self-delusion. Yet, each anecdote is so truthful and achingly funny it's hard to realise that these people walk among us, they're not sitcom inventions. I gave my fiance one of my favourite columns to read and she said it wasn't funny; she could imagine it happening, and that's the beautiful truth about 'All Ears'; we're all guilty of these beguiling conversations, we'll probably have one later on tonight, and they're so close to the bone that the old adage that humour is often found in our surroundings rings so true. You couldn't make it up.

Virginie Despentes - King Kong Theory (Serpents Tail 2009)

This manifesto from 'King Kong not Marilyn Monroe' Virginie Despentes is as much an assault on our conscious as her films. She's famed for the ultra-violence and proper sex of 'Baise-Moi' which caused an uproar for its 'pornographic depictions' of sex and the thought that two women might want to indulge in some ultra-violence. God forbid. This book, over a curt 160 pages, gets to the crux of Despentes and her feelings on feminity, feminism, women and sexuality. Once the victim of rape and having worked as a prostitute, she astutely dissects the guilt that leads women into prostitution, she explores pornography and its treatment of women. She is candid, clear and provocative, while entirely personal and conversational, through an effective translation and her erudite self-reflection. Feminist theory sheds its fusty image and takes on a punk mentality as Despentes claims that sisterhood explodes our belief in feminine perfection and creates a space for all those who can't or won't obey the rules. This is brutal and honest prose, and as a man reading it, I felt like I was given an insight into feminity and feminism that doesn't seem to be discussed in the fluffy 'independent woman' of Sex and the City and Destiny's Child. This is real-life with real experiences, not empowerment of the female middle classes. This is a fierce and fearless book and I suggest men read it, and women too, because Despentes is a punk rock tour de force of opinion and honesty.

Chick Whittington

The streets of London are paved with golden nuggets of chicken, torn carcasses and bones. The squalor we allow ourselves to live in defies all convention on human rights. Every day I get out of the tube and walk towards the bus stop and hear a :crack: and stumble a bit before realising I've trodden on a chicken bone. I wipe it off my sole and walk on to :rip: another chicken wing destroyed under my size 10s. I once came out of the tube and saw a yoot in a ubiquitous hoodie munching on chicken. He dropped his finished bones on the floor, flesh hung from his mouth. An old do-good lady approached him and told him to pick up the chicken. He laughed and spat the flesh hanging from his lips on to the floor.

She pulled out a hankerchief from her pocket and picked up the discarded flesh depositing it in the bin. She looked at him mildly, as if to mentally tut without making too much of an aggressive fuss. He laughed at her and upended his chicken box on the floor, laughing and giggling and looking to an invisible crowd that might side with him against her stupid eco-mindset. What was she going to do now? Look at all the chicken I've dropped, she's going to clean up after me like my mum. She shook her head and picked up the pieces of chicken and the box and put them in the bin. He laughed at her. She offered the soiled hankerchief to him. He asked what he should do with that. She motioned to the ketchup on his greasy lips. For that split second he became a boy again, quickly wiping away his dirt with the back of his sleeve. The situation diffused, the streets cleaner, she walked away proud of her surroundings, wanting to keep the chicken bones off the floor, because under that grime and dirt and soot and grease, maybe there was gold, and the more we cover it up with our filth, the less we stop to appreciate our surroundings. She was my hero for a day, silent with the authority to refuse a yoot to child; the willingness to clear all the scum off the streets; and the stoicism of a general going to war knowing that in the end they're fighting a losing battle against chicken bones.

Jeff Lewis on Barack Obama

24: season 7= batshit crazy (spoilers within!!)

So 24's back for season 7... spoilers within...

1) So Tony Almeida is alive again, and terrorising the US. Or is he? Mysteries abound. But first of all, hold on, didn’t he die tragically and lovingly in Jack’s arms at the end of Season 5? How is he alive again? I thought only Jack Bauer: Super Soldier had the facility and suitable training needed to cheat death. Now he’s back, complete with a shaved head and scars to show that he’s now (or is he) and cold, but secretly conflicted. He and Jack still converse in that gravelly voice that Spaced and Duane Benzy mocked so much.
2) Jack is on trial for breaching those pesky liberal human rights laws. His country has turned against him and his methods of extracting information. Yet, suddenly, he cares about saving a country that doesn’t want him to employ his risible methods of torture and man-alone-maverickery. He is happy to jump back into the action for no other reason than someone asked him, 'For queen and country...' Should he care? It doesn’t matter. Jack’s back and he’s saving the free world.
3) Janeane Garofalo, that bastion of snarky sarcy geeky comedy and liberal aesthetic: what are you doing in this neo-conservative muddle of a programme? Admittedly, you admitted that you were unemployed and thought ‘screw it’ but it’s weird seeing you in this situation. From USA Today: "[I was] initially very reticent to do it, because I heard about the rightwing nature of [the creator's] politics and the torture-heavy scripts. And then I thought, 'I'm unemployed!'"
4) For that matter, now Garofalo is in it, they’ve introduced a new element of comedy into the proceedings, usually a role filled by Chloe and her pissy child-like asides. Now Garofalo, complete with plinky-plonky comedy plucked strings, gets her own comedy moments where she acts nervous and silly and doesn’t really get what’s going on. Which is completely consistent with the aesthetics of 24.
5) Speaking of out-of-place actors, Rhys Coiro is in. He was the inimitable Billy Walsh in Entourage, a spiky unpredictable vicious precious and nasty artisan. Now, complete with his Brooklyn curtness, he's playing a computer tech whose worried wife is caught up in the middle of the terrorist attacks. I keep expecting him to flip out and say ‘go f*** yourself, suit’ to his square FBI boss before telling Janeane Garofalo 'nerds in f***ing glasses turn me on b****.'
6) We all know the politics behind the programme and the suspect views of its creators so, with that as a given and with the focus (in the first four episodes) shifted away from middle-Eastern brown men, there’s still a lot of dodgy politics on display. What’s especially grating is the nationalistic national anthem-esque music played everytime someone celebrates the idea of what democracy truly is and how great America is at practising said perfect democracy.
7) 24 predicted a black president, and he was good and kind too. Now we have a female president, one prone to having domestic issues with her husband. She should stick to the kitchen...
8) Speaking of which, why do all the presidents marry batsh** crazy spouses. In previous seasons, they have either been insane or depressed or both. Now, our presidential spouse is on the edge and depressed and investigating the suspect suicide of his son.
9) The vice president is always one to watch. They’re usually the dodgy one or the cack-handed militant one. In this case, our vice president is played by Bob Gunton, who has made a career out of playing creeps, bad guys and militant by-the bookers. He was the evil warden in The Shawshank Redemption for lord’s sake... don’t trust him. It’s those cold grey eyes. He’s one to watch. He’ll be challenging the president’s abilities shortly.
10) ‘A superpower has to act in its own best interests’ – said by the vice president. Thus the manifesto of 24’s political agenda is laid out wide open.
11) Time means nothing anymore. Obviously initially it was only a device, a contrivance in early seasons. But now, it means nothing. Entire weeks are played out in an hour. Thusfar, in four hours, Jack has attended a senate hearing, brought down a terrorist cell, broken someone out of FBI headquarters, met up with old colleagues and gone into deep cover, raiding a diplomatic building with big guns, before tearing a wall apart to discover a reinforced concrete panic room. That’s a lot of stuff to do. The contrivance of the hourly clock doesn’t work anymore. To the point where you don’t even notice it.
12) Jack, the last time you raided a diplomatic house, it didn’t end up well for you. Learn from your lessons. Want another 2 years in a Chinese prison? Want to have to fake your own death again?
13) Speaking of old colleagues, CTU, officially disbanded, is working in secret to bring down another :yawn: (stop me if you’ve heard this one) conspiracy in the government. But they’re on their own. They are working outside the law. It’s just three people. Chloe (thank god she’s back) and Bill and Tony (sorry, spoilers)- question: where do they get their money? Don’t these people need jobs? And how are three grossly unemployable ex-government agents able to access super-fast broadband?
14) Jack breaks out of an FBI building using some earplugs, a car and a fire extinguisher. Good work man.
15) Nerd faceoff: There is a hilarious split screen moment when Chloe and Janeane Garofalo have a cyber face-off as one hacks and the other blocks and they both squeal sardonic asides and insults at each other. It’s the best scene in 24 ever. Maybe it’s cos my geek-o-meter was going haywire. Ahhh, Larry Sanders... no flipping. I expect Hank Kingsley to emerge in episode 20 and say ‘Hey now, I’m a despot.’
16) The neo-conservative creators have got to realise they aren’t doing the US government any favours by constantly appointing liberal nice presidents and then filling their staff with backstabbing evil conspiring shady men who are working to their own monetary agenda ‘for the good of the country.’
17) Jack has a new mirror, Renee Walker. She isn’t appalled by his torture methods and even employs them herself. The torturing becomes an in-joke constantly referred, but never laughed at, especially by Jack. He finds nothing funny. Except foreign military ineptitude. Jack also hardly says ‘damnit’ in the first four episodes. Renee Walker does. She’ll eventually side with him.
18) Sangala... Sangala Sangala. OK, three points about this African nation with military civil war and evil general genocides. First, this new 'enemy' is just a device to show how horrible those Africans are, cos we can’t talk about Arabs anymore cos everyone complains so instead, Africa... hmmm... they can't keep their countries in check. They hate democracy. They're uncivilised. They can be bad guys for a bit.
19) Sangala is a metaphor for Sudan and Darfur, that liberal cause du jour for lefty celebrities. Essentially, 24 is saying this is how it should be dealt with. Invade and keep the peace. Sod the benefits and the heartpouring and the fundraisers for aid to Africa. They don’t work. Force is needed, you wimpy communists. Sangala is sadly resigned to the same African default stereotype reserved for all celluloid experiences with African politics.
20) But thank god for the American peace-keepers. Policing the world. This is the crux of 24’s political focus this season. This is an apologist, an excuser for America going into other countries, invading them, replacing the regime and starting their own martial law. Cos these nations need America’s intervention. The subplot of America invading Sangala to restore ‘perfect democracy’ to their streets is symbolic of their work all over the world, because, and this is mentioned a few times in snitty asides, the UN isn’t working. So, Sangala, you representative of Africa on film- prepare for the military smackdown.
21) So far, only episode 4 allows Jack to change into standard-issue black top and black trousers. No sign of a Jack-pack yet.
22) Jack’s memory for retaining old CTU codes, protocols, informants, files and passwords is uncanny.
23) Bill Buchanon is now a stone-cold silver fox.
24) It’s been four episodes (4 hours- including some 6-7 minute ad breaks I noticed) and the closest Jack has got to torturing anyone has been to ominously wave a biro close to someone’s eye as if to gouge it out. Any other torture is offscreen. The creators aren’t excusing the methods employed to extract information but are now being sensitive about presenting it, for our benefit. And anyway, the guy who Jack threatens to torture has an accent so irritatingly undefinable (Scottish or German or American or Welsh or Mongolian) that you're secretly willing Jack to slip the biro into his eyeball and eat it like an olive.

I may have become desensitised.

Four episodes in and I’m hooked, in spite of the above. Charlie Brooker wrote a better version of this article.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Tibor Fischer - 'Good to be God' (Alma 2008)

Tibor Fischer is one of those writers whose name gets bandied about by your literary friends who insist you ‘simply must read his work. He’s hilarious’ :guffaw: Your eyes glaze over as they try to recount one of his more scatological scenarios and thrillingly bitter putdowns so steeped in the comedy of misdirection and least expectation, and you probably sigh, thinking ‘I’ll never remember that name in three hours time. I’ll be drunk... and I have short term amnesia... and I’m talking to a frog.’

That was a bad attempt to try and sell you this country’s most under-rated and under the radar comedic authors. Tibor Fischer has bravely put out book after book of imagination and wit and thrown every known writing convention out of the room. He has written a novel from the perspective of an ancient antique vase. He has written a novel where all the action takes place in the flat below. He wrote a collection of short stories called ‘Don’t Read This If You’re Stupid.’ Narrative is nothing more than an irritant to Fischer, who is able to find comedy in the most abstract of concepts and most varied of expositional coincidences. Each book creates its own universe with its own set of rules and parameters, and sometimes language. But what of ‘Good to be God’ his new novel on the superb Alma Books? Well, this is as conventional as Tibor Fischer has thusfar got, a linear narrative within a chronological timeline, still bursting with wit and invention, but somehow a bit more refined and normal than usual.

Fischer’s protagonist is the strangely resigned and pragmatic Tyndale, the ultimate loser’s loser, willing himself into retirement and death, no use for the world that has no use for him. On the wrong side of divorce, redundancy and the poverty line, he meets up with an old school-friend. They mutually convince each other than as Tyndale needs a change of scenery, he should go in his school-friend’s place to a handcuff conference in Miami. Once there, living the life and running amok with insane coppers, Tyndale decides to stay in sun-kissed paradise, not return to the dreary reality of his depressing nothing-life back home. How will he stay? He decides to convince the people of Miami he is a deity, worthy of their worship and patronage. It won’t be easy. As he descends into the Miami underworld to try and source the nefarious ne’erdowells who will help him in his quest, he meets Dishonest Dave, whose only crime is being ‘dishonest about his dishonesty’; two body-obsessed idiot DJs desperate to make their way in the underworld for free; and the Hierophant, the inconsistent spiritual leader of the Church of the Heavily Armed Christ.

So, Tyndale embarks on a series of quests, fighting fire with firepower, helping the church congregation in their problems, trafficking the local cocaine, keeping the idiot DJs busy and working out his great act of convincing the world he is in fact, God. While hilariously funny and wildly entertaining, this book feels less imaginative than Fischer’s previous work, and this isn’t a bad thing, as it is head and shoulders above what else is out there. It boils down to a sequence of funny events and well-coloured characters, all full of ticks and irrational behaviour borne out of twisted logic and thought-processes. As it charges full-speed to a crucifying finale, the laughs get thicker and heartier as desperation take Tyndale to places his loser-mentality never thought he could achieve; but then, if you’ve got nothing to lose and no one cares about you, there’s no obvious line to draw. Fischer is essentially writing about that class of nothing men, emasculated by their lack of ambition and prone to settling for fourth best. There is a lot of humour in loser-comedy and this reinvents the idea that we try or we fade away by showing that if you think you’re aiming for the stars, unless you’re aiming to be god-like, you’re falling short in the ambition stakes. So, while this is a disappointing Tibor Fischer book, it is still hilarious, wittily written, full of jokes and wild non-sequitor comedy, one-liners and bizarre descriptions. It is still head and shoulders above any other comedy book you may read. Tibor Fischer on a bad day is still Tibor Fischer, the best comedic writer you haven’t heard of... yet.

Two visions of the weekend

Vision 1:

Someone advertises free books on Freecycle. I respond, asking if they’re still available. They are, the book-keeper says, and she’d be happy to drop them around on Saturday morning. Leave a number and an address.

AM- No one comes. I email the person to ask what time they will be arriving but receive no response. I leave for the afternoon to go and have some fun. I return in the evening, fire up the PC and get back to the editing. Saturday night’s the best night to edit, residences are quiet, everyone is distracted by the illusion of freedom. The person I’ve been conversing with about the books has, thanks to GChat protocol, added to my chat box. She pops online about 11pm. I politely ask her what the deal is with the books and receive no response.

Fifteen minutes later the phone rings. It’s her. She apologises for not coming round with the books. I tell her it’s no bother, she’s doing me a favour. I can come to her in the morning. She tells me a situation has arisen.

HER: So, yeah, I’ve had a situation arise in Norwich so yeah...
ME: Well, it’s not a problem, they’re only books. Deal with your thing and maybe we’ll speak when it’s all resolved.
HER: You don’t understand. A friend needs money. I wouldn’t normally do this because it’s free recyling and stuff, but there’s 100s of books. Will you give me money for them. I hate to ask but my mate needs money and I’ve promised her I’ll get her it.
ME: I don’t really feel comfortable given the nature of the free recyling programme. Also, I have no money, which is why I signed up.
HER: Yeah, I understand that. But this is a good list of books. I mean, it has all of Barbara Cartland’s releases; it has A Guide to Cutting your Own Hair; it has Twenty Ways to Ice a Cake. It’s good stuff. And £100 isn’t much seeing as they’re free.
ME: But if I give you £100, they’re not free.
HER: Yeah, I get that. Quite a situation. Look, my friend desperately needs the money. She’s stuck in Norfolk.
ME: Sure, listen, if you need money for the books, there’s a second hand shop in Notting Hill that’ll give you cash for the books.
HER: Are they open 24 hours?
ME: I doubt it.
HER: Look I really need the money desperately. My friend is really drunk and fell asleep in a taxi. She lives on Norfolk Close but the taxi driver thought she said Norfolk, so he’s driven her there and has locked the car doors and refuses to let her out till he gets the fare.
ME: Is this a wind-up?
[She bursts into tears]
ME: I’m sorry- it does sound far-fetched.
HER: I know, I’m desperate, I really need her to come home.
ME: I can’t help you, I’m sorry.
HER: I understand. Sorry for dumping my troubles on you. Listen, I just signed up to Facebook. Are you on there?

I hurried her off the phone, deleted her from my Gchat and considered changing my number. Surely a wind-up? Is there even a Norfolk Close in London?

Vision 2:

I am stood in a second hand record shop in Soho on Sunday, catching up with my friend Tom, who works behind the counter. We are interrupted by this following exchange.

MAN: Do you have the TV series Blue Grace?
TOM: Sorry, what’s it called?
MAN: Blue Grace.
TOM: Sorry, never heard of it. When was it made?
MAN: I don’t know. I just heard of it, very good quality.
TOM: Is it US or UK?
MAN: Quite varied I think. They made a lot of series.
TOM: And it’s called Blue Grace?
MAN: Yes. Blue Grace? Blue Greys?
TOM [to sneery colleague]: Have you heard of a TV show called Blue Greys or Blue Grace?
TOM: Who’s in it?
MAN: I don’t know but it got lots of critical praise. Sony said it was ‘high definition’.
ME: Wait, do you mean Blue Ray discs?
MAN: Blue Ray... yes!! That’s it. I need to buy Blue Ray.
TOM: Blue Ray is a type of disc like DVD.
MAN: Oh... really? I was wondering. It was too good to be true, a TV series starring Indiana Jones and Batman.
TOM: Is this a wind-up?
ME: Are we on The Sunday Night Project?
MAN (angry): Look, I’m embarrassed enough as it is... don’t take the piss too...
He then storms out.

London is officially full of weirdoes.

Amazingly, at the moment, I am reading ‘All Ears’ by Michael Holden at the moment, a collection of ‘overheard conversations’ that has its own column in the Guardian Guide. Maybe through reading this, I am tuning my ears into the weirdest conversations London has to offer.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire and the inevitable backlash

The knives are sharpening for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. In the last week, I have read articles pertaining to the following:

-The author, Vikas Swarup, is a diplomat, and spent an entire article being diplomatic about the film of his book. Neither for or against really. He understood the changes made to his original text. He was dubious only about one thing. In the film, Jamal’s mother dies because of Hindu/Muslim violence. He wonders how that will play to Indian crowds, anxious to sweep such racist atrocities under the carpet. This makes his diplomatic nerves flurry a bit. Apart from that, thanks for the changes including the name of the character to make him less everyman; the dramatic structure; and the name, which contains a theme now. It brings poverty and the slums to the fore, in a way an oxymoron that transforms the piece into a something magical.
- The great Amitabh Bachchan blogged about how this piece showed India in a bad light. He said, "If Slumdog Millionaire projects India as a third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations," adding "It's just that the Slumdog Millionaire idea, authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a westerner, gets creative global recognition.” I think Bachchan misses the point. This is a good thing for Indian cinema and if anything, adding Western grit to these magical tales makes them more palatable to a Western/wider audience not au fait with saccharine stories of middle class India having slapstick problems. Incidentally, Big B, I now subscribe to your blog and if anything, I think it’s mighty rich of you, an arrogant man with a god-complex apparent in your entries, to complain about the negative portrayal of the slums. Aby Baby, you live in a bubble. People actually physically worship you. You tried to do Western films but you don’t have the chops. Sorry man, you were amazing in the 70s but now, you’re an institution that seems to have transcended basic humanity.
- The fractuous Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal, ashamed of his race at the best of times, weighed in with an article about his embarrassment and contempt at Bollywood and how ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ could only have been made by a Westerner. He says: ‘Bollywood producers, fixated with making flimsy films about the lives of the middle class, will never throw their weight behind such projects. Like Bachchan, they are too blind to what India really is to deal with it. Poor Indians, like those in Slumdog, do not constitute India's "murky underbelly" as Bachchan moronically describes them. They, in fact, are the nation. Over 80% of Indians live on less than $2.50 (£1.70) a day; 40% on less than $1.25. A third of the world's poorest people are Indian, as are 40% of all malnourished children. In Mumbai alone, 2.6 million children live on the street or in slums, and 400,000 work in prostitution. But these people are absent from mainstream Bollywood cinema.’ Nirpal, even though you’re ashamed to be Indian and yet use your Indianness to get you articles where you’re the poster-boy for institutional racist attitudes, I can’t help but agree with you in this instance. Bollywood would never have touched ‘Slumdog.’ Look at Mira Nair and how she has made films in India yet existed outside the mainstream, being lauded in artsy crowds up and down the lefty liberal middle class of the West, same with Deepa Mehta. Both making arty films about real-life. Deepa made one of India’s only films dealing with homosexuality. Mira Nair made the ultimate film about Bombay slum life, ‘Salaam Bombay.’

Which brings me to the crux of the matter. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is not the accurate realistic portrayal of the harshness of Bombay life people think it is. If you want realism, check out the aforementioned ‘Salaam Bombay.’ All ‘Slumdog’ is is a masterful triumph-over-adversity tale, if anything, it’s akin to Bollywood in that they both have an aspirational storyline that will unite people in wanting to have it happen to them. Bollywood exists on this plane where people covet the life. ‘Slumdog’ is about that life being possible to even the biggest down-and-out everyman. Thus it exists in fable and fantasy. The film relies heavily on coincidence, a magical conceit. Let’s not forget, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is an amazing film of magical proportions that touches on the subject of poverty but never really grapples with it as it’s an expositional device for the character to literally go from rags to riches. Danny Boyle doesn’t feel it is rooted in realism either. It is a fable. It could only have been made by a Westerner, yes, and much as it is a wonderful film, it is a fable set in an exotic location, one we’ve never really seen in the Western world, which is why everyone’s so anxious to jump on the slum bandwagon. Ultimately, this is a film about triumph over adversity, and I hope it triumphs over the naysayers who seek to knock it down because of its success.

Because we here at Geek Pie are NOT homophobic

Throughout the years, Wrestling federations have toyed with the idea of Gay wrestlers, be they for comedy effect (although gayness isn't funny)or just to push the boundaries..... here I list some of the most famous Gay wrestlers....

EDIT: Remember kiddies, they weren't really gay, just the gimmick they portrayed.....

Adrian Adonis -

"Adorable" Adrian Adonis was one of the first outwardly gay wrestling characters portrayed on national TV. The gimmick saw him bleach his hair blond and begin wearing pink ring attire, as well as scarves, leg warmers (a la Flashdance), dresses, women's hats, and clownish amounts of eye shadow and rouge....lookin good big man! Also, he was the Roly Poly band circa '75....
Sadly, he died in 1988 after swerving off the road in a Minibus carrying other wrestlers....he was trying to avoid a Moose......weren't we all Adrian, weren't we all!!

Kwee Wee

Kwee Wee....or Alan Funk, or "The Funkster".....either way this dude was proper Gay....he showed up in WCW before it folded and portrayed a character that was basically Gay...... then he had a Jekyll and Hyde persona where he'd get mad and become Angry Allen....sometimes I wonder if these storylines were sritten in Crayon....
If playng a massive Gayer in WCW wasn't bad enough, he then went on to TNA where he was part of the Rainbow Express.......seriously Gay


Rico Rico Rico....... What started so promising (1991 American Gladiators Champion) ended up as a pile of hot steamy man fat, sat at the bottom of a sloped floor in a dark club somewhere in the depths of Soho.....errr......or so I've heard.... Rico actually modelled himself on Adrian Adonis, and was for the best part of his career, looked over, as he was actually quite entertaining, especially his part in the angle that had the Gay and Lesbian Community up in involved the two below...

Billy and Chuck

You may recognise Billy as one half of the New Age Outlaws, the most Dominant Tag Teams from the Attitude Era.....Unfortunately for Billy, after they split, he just wasn't that good....and he was teamed with Chuck Palumbo and they formed this massively Home-Erotic Team....called.....Billy & Chuck..... but they had headbands and did super gay warm ups....and then it was announced they were gonna get married to eachother on Smackdown. The Society for Gay and Lesbo's supported it as they HONESTLY thought that the WWE was being supportive of their cause, however gay it was.... anyway, they didn't get married, it was all a publicity stunt (*SHOCK*HORROR*) and the Gay and Lesbo group were more than a little pissed off for being made to look stupid.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Paul Sinha

Arnab Chanda

Aziz Ansari


Today pop culture and politics collide as Spider-man gets Barack Obama to the inauguration on time. As an aside before continuing on my hilarious banter, what is the verb for giving someone an ‘induction’ at work. Do you induce them? Anyway, Spider-man and Barack. I love that this charming nod to Barack’s admission of collecting Spidey comics has been beheld by the strongest team behind Spidey in years. They’re writing him so well and even though he exists in an alternate reality to our own, there are knowing asides to real-life politics and worldwide events. There was a beautifully written issue about superheroes helping to find dead bodies in the Twin Towers. In the run-up to election 08, there were Colbert for President signs dotted around the Marvel universe. Every now and then there is some clunky nationalistic propaganda, like the recent issue where Flash Thompson is an Iraq war veteran, which was murky in its thoughts on the war. It was hard to read as a ‘support the troops in spite of the war’ situation as it descended into ‘shoot the brown guy’ histrionomy.

I spoke to my local comic emporium yesterday about grabbing the special Obama cover. Tim answered the phone, I told him who it was and he said that if I was phoning about the Obama cover he’d hang up. He was furious, he said. Ever since Metro and a few papers had run stories on the Obama cover, not that he cared for politics he reminded me, loads of non-comic readers had come out of the woodwork and demanded the comic, driving its price up to £40 on eBay, for a comic that isn’t even out yet, for a comic where the main 24 page bit is some filler guff with Betty Brant. He ranted at me about the lack of respect people in the real world had for comics thinking they were a commodity because of Barack Obama. And what, he wondered, had Obama done for the world yet? Whereas Spidey was changing lives all time. I stifled a laugh, allowed him his seat of ignorance and resolved to preach from the political pulpit when I visited him on Thursday to buy my Obama/Spidey team-up comic.

Meanwhile, in the real world of fiction, I’m coming to the end of my latest draft of the Kenya book with the definite feeling that I want to move on creatively while my agent submits it. I need a creative breadth of fresh air. Even though each edit is carefully studied and thought about, I have read the source material about 400 times and I’ve existed in this book’s universe for so long that it’s draining me. It probably does still need some more work, but maybe it’d be nice with an editor. I’ve been racking my brain for the fragments of a new idea to come together, ploughing the fringes of my conscious and subconscious mind for strands and webs and links to come forth and claim a surface film of a plot and turn it into a world-beating collection of important thoughts, weighty themes and awe-inspiring events. It didn’t come. I made furious notes on my thought process. Notes that didn’t really mean anything. The notes comprised sets of linked unanswered questions that if I had the answer, I wouldn’t be stuck trying to hang the plot together. The more I re-read my notes for inspiration, the more the unanswered questions took hold of me, made me feel inadequate.

So I went out. Between putting off an edit of the final chapter and not quite having the idea for the new project there, the best thing to do was leave the house and get some fresh air. In a pub. With a beer. And some stand-up comedy. From a comedian I really admire, so much so I scared them by running after them down the street to say ‘what up, I dig your material dude.’ Not a good look. Obviously, a month of being tugged in with a laptop, a dying Mac battery, TV on the Radio’s back catalogue and a hot water bottle has destroyed me. I just about managed an awkward exchange with this stranger and they left feeling perplexed bemused and scared. I left feeling elated at talking to someone who’s talent I admire about nothing much, having a two pint beer buzz and the sultry allure of fresh air.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009


The biggest failing of any writer is to be too precious about their work, to be the superior wordsmith, in love with every semi-colon and flowery metaphor, not able to give anything up for criticism or comment. And I’m on that journey, learning anew everyday to take it, to suck it up and accept the comments and the criticism. Some will be valid, others will be down to taste. I’m learning to be grown-up enough to accept it all and filter through to the feedback that does matter, that does hold up. I won’t always agree but it will always be worth considering.

What makes me so ridiculously seething with blind anger and bile is when darlings of the mainstream publishing industry inform you they’ve sat down with your manuscript and a notebook and make extensive notes on everything- :gulp: are you ready for the onslaught? Can you handle the pain? Will you have a thick skin, porous enough to absorb the cavalcade of criticism and commentary?- and it becomes abundantly apparent they haven’t read past the first three pages. The feedback I was given yesterday involved the person in question questioning my motives for writing the book, saying that the focus was entirely wrong. I told her what I thought the focus was. She told me that she had then misread the entire thing. I told her that the focus of the book is discussed at great length on page 4 of the book. I had it in front of me. She claimed to have it in front of her. She pretended to leaf through a manuscript till admitting she didn’t have it in front of her. She told me that I was lying, that these paragraphs weren’t there and all she had read was pages and pages of a man seeing his girlfriend after 3 months apart. I told her that last for 4 pages. She accused me of lying. I wanted to accuse her of not actually reading the manuscript, of not actually making the notes she had claimed to have made. But I can’t. She’s the hand that could feed me. And when this publishing network exists on the ties between friends and lovers, an old boy’s home, prejudiced, exclusive, insular and narrow-minded, unfortunately, I have to play by their rules. I told her that she could have just told me she didn’t have time to read my manuscript. She didn’t need to show so much interest. She didn’t need to make a show of how much time she had spent with it if she hadn’t. She was hardly Ari Gold and I was hardly seduced by her bullshit. But she didn’t. She strung me along in case I was the next Martina Cole or Ken Follett. Sharks, thieves, liars and arseholes. The lot of them. I’m considering becoming a monk and freeing myself of this stupid desire of mine to do anything vaguely creative with my life. The salespeople who act as our tastemakers are nothing more than walking advertisements for illuminate biscuit games.

While we’re on the subject, the BBC closed the doors on its Asian Programming Unit, the delightful little enclave that secured me two spots on BBC2, that nurtured talent like Goodness Gracious Me, that turned down my sitcom with enough feedback for me to go back and work on it till it was better. Is it good or bad that there’s no more Asian Programming Unit? Did we sign our death knell for Asian arts with all this funding to increase diversity, with our own programming unit? Neither of these endeavours have managed to produce artists that have set the world alight. Asian Dub Foundation put together with the English National Opera, a hip-hopera on Gaddafi, only to have it panned for being an Arts Council experiment gone awry, and it disappeared quickly. The Asian Programming Unit hasn’t produced another Goodness Gracious Me ever. In fact it hasn’t produced a single sitcom or drama with an Asian focus. Why? No talent? I think it’s because having these enclaves, these ring-fenced bits of diversity funding brings artists through but only presents them in a way that segregates them further. They’re pushed into the diversity experiment box, meaning that people view their work with a certain baggage. However, the truth is, there’s no other place for them. I don’t know anyone who really watched Desi DNA, the Asian culture magazine show on BBC2 that kindly featured me twice, but it certainly pulled in the multiculturalism stats. What is the result? We end up segregating ourselves further, forming cliques within cliques and niches in niches. Through a calamity of genre-defining, I ended up the spoken word poet of the British Asian music scene, a niche within a tiny niche, neither of which with any particular fanbase other than the other artists producing the work. Also, the Asians didn’t really have any interest in Desi DNA. It was aimed at white people interested in the non-cheesy aspects of Asian culture. Unfortunately, there are hardly any white people interested in the non-cheesy aspects of Asian culture. The Asians either go to ZEE TV for their ethnic programming or stick to ratings saviours like ‘Desperate Fishwives’.

Now they’ve closed the Asian Programming Unit, is the Asian arts experiment over? I haven’t got as much knowledge of African Caribbean arts and telly funding so excuse the focus. Is it doom and gloom for Asian Network, who have now re-mainstreamed themselves after the niche/underground music on main playlists experiments ended in backlash. Did we squander our lot? Did we try and please an audience that wasn’t there instead of using the funding to bring through ethnic artists with major voices and an eye on writing something that didn’t pander to ethnic stereotypes, something that wasn’t for ethnics about ethnics, something that was for the mainstream? Cos we’re certainly not going to get those chances again. We’re out in the cold. We ballsed up our only chances. Now there’s nothing left other than heading over to ZEE TV with our ideas. What if I was sitting on a Mighty Boosh or a UK The Wire, just so written by an Asian guy starring Asian guys in a brave non-colour casting manoeuvre. What now and where next? I don’t know but all I know is that the recession may be spelling doom and gloom for the arts, but the cutbacks the arts is making is phasing out all the ethnics. Time to be DIY, self-sufficient and existing outside of the mainstream on your own terms. If Riz MC can do it, so can we all. Good luck and go forth and make things, make products, think wide and think big. Don’t go small, reach the widest audience, don’t dilute your voice, don’t change your name and be heard... if nothing else, be heard. Cos no one’s going to be knocking on our doors much anymore.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Mike Bones - A Fool for Everyone (Vice 2009)

For the record I really like this album. I can’t understand the cover though. It’s bad. I’m not concerned so much about the nudity, just the lack of imagination. Oh well, it’s a pithy comment to make when the music itself is pretty damn good. Mike Bones is a lyricist full of angst and the earnest passion of his belief in putting the world to rights sets forth a pathetic almost teenage character, naive yet impassioned and this is his greatest feat, because at times he sounds like a young Bob Dylan. It’s magical. From the nervy loss of ‘Like a Politician’ that deals with the duality inherent in such a job, to the bittersweet love and infatuation of ‘What I Have Left’, he peppers his couplets with sheer visual imagery, so forthright in their imagination. The music is a worthy force too. With a lustrous backing, he creates palettes of texture and depth. ‘What I Have Left’ starts gently before building into a string-laden crescendo. ‘A Fool for Everyone’ brings an attitude worthy of its spiky lyrical content. The guitars duel and clash and spiderweb over your ears like multi-layered layers of sound and melody. The songwriting is pretty sharp throughout and the mixture of styles from straight out rock to the folkier quieter moments all show a breadth of experience and a diversity of influences from Dylan to Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen. All adept at writing political songs and long songs imbued with sardonic wit and a dark turn of phrase but a full heart and a body leaking with passion.


The Wrestler (2009)

Like ‘There Shall Be Blood’, ‘The Wrestler’ is the sum of its central performance, an intense character study of ageing dying wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson. Mickey Rourke plays his part well and brings to the table a beautifully nuanced performance, so delicate and rough round the edges, sad and tragic. The film is ultimately a parallel of Rourke’s own career, and this, ‘The Wrestler’ is his last attempt at the big-time, his last shot at legendary status, and much like The Ram, lives in a bubble of his own ego’s construction, one that is as brittle as his bones and thus, where Rourke ends and The Ram begins is a blurred line. No matter, as this is a powerhouse of a film. It’s a departure for Aronofsky too, certainly the most linear film he;s done. In the past, Pi and Requiem for a Dream had a distinctive visual style, all fast cuts and repetitive imagery, one that Edgwar Wright has parodied many a time. This isn’t as visually arresting, instead less drum’n’bass video and more arthouse morose lingering. There are still Aronofsky ticks in the way he plays with time structures and flashes between scenes but this is more delicate than his standard fare, and all the better for it, because it never takes the spotlight off Rourke’s powerhouse of an ageing wrestler. Randy the Ram has been through it all, he’s got a hearing aid, he’s living in a trailer, no one comes to his table at ageing wrestler conventions, he’s on all kinds of medications and steroids, he wears reading glasses, his hands are broken and he is growing a flab. Yet he’s obsessed with his body and we see him prepare for little wrestling tricks, like hiding a razor blade to open his standard cut, tanning and perming/highlighting his hair. He plays old Nintendo games where he is the star. He still cares about his costumes and about the spirit of wrestling and ultimately, the rush and adrenaline of a crowd all screaming his name wildly. He works in the warehouse of a supermarket. He’s estranged from his daughter, who cares little about his life-affirming heart attack as he’s an absent father. In an effort to woo her, he strikes up a friendship with Cassidy, an ageing stripper (an excellent and beautiful Marisa Tomei), also obsessed with her body and the lack of dances and compliments she now gets, as she gets older. They form a strong bond that plays between her position of sexual allure over him and their platonic similar situations. Rourke is truly brilliant in this film, as is Marisa Tomei and the heart-wrenching beauty of the story is simple yet so touching. He’s going for his last big score but can his heart keep up the journey he needs to make. Can he ever leave the ring? Will he make amends with his daughter? Aronofsky and Rourke’s slam-jam of a film is surely a contender. Brilliant.