Friday, 6 December 2019

wrapped in a pink sucker punch

I received one of those Spotify Wrapped summaries today.

It's a kind of sucker punch with the choices it's made (see what I did there?)

It is as if it took the last 2-3 albums that I played and then mixed up the tracks a bit. Here are the 30 second cuts of 'my' top tracks. There's 100 in the jukebox, feel free to scroll or play them...

Maybe I've worked it out. It'll be when I put on some chillout music whilst I'm cooking a Thai curry or something like that. Could it be when I accidentally left the Sonos running and went away for a few days?

The top selections compare very strangely with, where I used to use to track my music choices and which did a pretty good job of name-checking the right kind of bands. Regularly it would deliver a roll-call of the usual suspects. Well, my usual suspects, in any case. Not so with Spotify which must hunt around the streamed edges aligned to a marketing business model.

The wrapped cover art for my 2019 album seems to be Sigrid on a Tory pink album cover. My top track appears to be Beautiful Trash, by Lanu (ft Megan Washington) - though I'm sure I recognise that drum loop from something else?

It seems that others are just as mystified.

Maybe it is all of those long coffee mornings, when I'm listening to a playlist? Perhaps the miles of motorway driving to Absolution and Swordfishtrombone just don't get through to the hit-counter? Even my recent Billy Bragg revision appears to have gone unnoticed.

Or perhaps if it comes from my library instead of me streaming it? I don't know. I just don't know.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

where's mobbutt?

More cynical propaganda from the Tories today. They've arranged postal delivery of a 'You & your family brochure'. It is A3 folded on matt 100gsm and printed in a selection of scorching neon colours and styled to look like a free magazine illustrating what, I assume, PR millennials think boomers will like.

It is so trite and Daily Mail styled that I felt affronted to have a copy delivered to our letterbox. There's miniscule thin writing on the front that announces that it comes from Alan Mobbutt on behalf of the Conservative and Unionist Party, SW1H 9HQ.

There's a need to hunt around the document to find this information, helpfully printed out of registration in a lurid pink section of the leaflet. I doubt whether most people even spot it. It complies with the law but hovers right on the thin edge.

Then try to find this publicist of the Conservative Party; does anyone know him? I reckon he is in hiding. Not in LinkedIn, Twitter or on Google. An incredible act of self-erasure. Perhaps he is ashamed?

Wednesday, 4 December 2019


Well, the season of Christmas Parties has started and I found myself at my first Xmas lunch during the week.

A subtle change. We still had Xmas Crackers, but this year they were low-carbon-footprint eco-friendly ones. That meant, inside the exploded cracker was a joke and an interesting fact. Also a paper hat, but no small gift.

Instead, a picture of the small gift (which could be a thimble, a fake moustache or a conjuring trick). The picture included a description of the original item and an explanation as to why it was bad for the planet. Ah, the nostalgia of a Fortune Teller Fish...

Anyone who has ever attended an office party will recognise the paperclips, mini staplers and staple extractors, pencil sharpeners, mini-biros and packs of coloured pencils that formed the bulk of the cracker content. Like a short raid on the stationery cupboard. Here's a few of the jokes. Feel free to print out and cut up.

And of course there's always:
  • What do you call a fear of climbing down chimneys? SantaClaustrophobia.
  • or
  • How do you make Lady Gaga cry? Poker face
  • or even
  • Why did the protester let of steam? Because he was kettled
  • and perhaps
  • Why did the chicken cross the road? Because it was walking to work as it could no longer afford the train fare.
I'll leave the one about the difference between a foot spa and a bad drummer to your imagination.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Nam June Paik at Tate Modern - it's a mass age

I wonder if there's a way to summarise the Nam June Paik exhibition at the Tate? I looked at the beginning of it. A Buddha, looking at a TV showing a screening of the Buddha, filmed on a small camera. How very Zen. Or maybe how very X Factor?

The majority of this show builds from this simple idea, which I did find somewhat monotheistic. A kind of 'god is in the television' which I couldn't help supplanting with an 'Idiot's Lantern' viewpoint.

For me Nam June Paik's theme was worried around, in some cases, it was deconstructed. For a while, it was blended with the playful interpretations of Joseph Beuys, and then, at the end of the sequence, it showed a kind of modern information overload. Noisy and multi-dimensional.

I could understand what Nam June Paik was trying to address, but this might be a case of "the medium is the message" stretched to breaking point.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Le Mans '66 - a 7000 rpm movie

I wasn't sure what to expect with the Damon/Bale movie about the Ford Shelby car construction. I didn't know the background except that Le Mans is where people drive round and round for 24 hours. To be honest, I'd got it mixed up with Nurburgring in my mind.

But the movie was fine. Gritty car action with a playful relationship between Christian Bale attempting a Brummy accent and Matt Damon attempting a Texan one.

The directors added Typhoo tea swigged from an enamel mug for Bale to boost the authenticity and a JR hat for Damon, but really, it didn't matter. The storyline was simple and un-nuanced. America needed to invent a car to trounce those troublesome Italians. Hence the `US name for the movie: Ford vs Ferrari.

It all played out predictably, including some epic car races, which really benefitted from all the immersive sub-woofers and surround sound available in the tiny 40 seater cinema. The crowd in the cinema actually cheered when Ford won the Daytona 500.

Sure, there was referances to bits of cars in it but it was playfully hot brakes and jamming doors that created the drama rather than ECU remapping. And I now know what the 40 in Ford GT40 stood for. And what the wooden wedges were used for.

Indeed, the whole movie was delightfully analogue with dials, buttons and small clock sized stopwatches.

A Saturday morning picture for the boys. Vrrrroooomm.

Friday, 29 November 2019


I'm in a room tonight with blue lights flashing past outside the window. It's London, and I'm used to a certain amount of first responders going about their business.

Tonight it's different. It's once more because of another murderous terrorist incident in London.

As one of many, I've walked past the bustling area where it unfolded around five times in the last few days.

Like most Londoners, I'm used to the heightened state of awareness. The messages on public transport, "See it, Say it, Sorted," and the frequent and sudden disappearance of rubbish bins from train stations. That shared look on the Piccadilly line for the silly tourist that has left their airport luggage unattended. Bomb alert prompt scripts in the workplace.

When the last knife attacks occurred around Borough Market in 2016, I could scarcely believe it. Then we had the truck driven down the pavement on Westminster Bridge. I realise I'm getting used to it again, like when we used to get evacuated with IRA bomb scares.

Like many others, I've watched with casual interest as new safety bollards are added, and smiled that some streets get special flashy protective bollards styled like the ornate masonry such as along Parliament Street and Whitehall.

I'm used to seeing flatbed trucks carrying portable barricades around and dropping them onto a pinch point. There was plenty of that type of action for the Olympics in 2012.

And as I crossed over the road by St Paul's Cathedral the other day, I cast an eye along the road to one of the old blue Ring of Steel control points left in the road but unmanned since the end of IRA bombings.

It's almost impossible to predict this cowardly terrorism, but fortunately proud London's spirit is uncowed.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Dora Maar - strangeness and charm

I visited the Dora Maar exhibition at the Tate today. It was one of those occasions when I was struck by just how many excellent photographs she had created. I could hear my inner photographer saying "nailed it" time after time as I walk around the early rooms.

Maar moved from assignment photography towards surrealism later, and then across into painting, when she was also famously a lover and muse of Picasso. Born as Henrietta Markovitch, she adopted her well-known name around the time that she went into an association with Pierre Kéfer, a set designer and painter.

Then flows a series of portraits of the good and great of the French scene, all well-lit, posed, angled, focussed and cropped - hence my frequent thoughts of their good quality.

Later Maar went through a reportage phase using a Rolleiflex waist height TLR camera, before the eventual move towards surrealism and ultimately into painting.

It was the early works that stood out for me at the exhibition. It looks as if she developed and printed the majority of the pictures herself which explains their consistently high quality. Whether a stunning photograph for a fashion magazine, a street scene from London or Barcelona or a rabble of painters playing cards in a smoke-filled room, she captures the essence.

Maar brought an artistic sensibility to her technically clever pictures, filling the frame, using the lens to its full potential, so that whether the picture was targeted for a wall or a page in a magazine it would create an impact.

The middle section of the exhibition deals with the surrealism, which some would say she is most famous for, having worked with, for example, Picasso and Man Ray.

I'm less certain about this middle era, and even notice a small drop in her amazing technique on some of these pictures. But I guess I look through modern eyes and at the things that can be done with layers that Maar pioneering to represent with double plane negatives. I suppose 'Bravo' would be my better response.

Then, via a few portraits of herself, sometime self-portraits sometimes the work of Picasso, we arrive at her painting phase. Here she eschews the camera, but we can still see the compositional sensibilities in her artwork. Picasso's head was turned, with this his intriguing awkward picture of his partner Marie-Thérèse Walter with Maar, in The Conversation. Rememeber that portrait in Fleabag II? Possible homage?

And then, finally we see the mixed use of paint and photography. Elusive, mysterious and challenging. Elemental.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

a bulk delivery of boris one-lie-ners

Today I received my personalised mass-customised letter through the Royal Mail from Boris Johnson. It felt like opening one of those Black Friday offers. It opened with a lie about getting Brexit done and then waded through many more one-lie-ners about other topics. There was small print too, where it said it had been sent to me via DJ Jupp, who I think is the aspiring replacement yes-man for the county.

Mr Jupp, if that's how you start, then rest assured I will never ever vote for you. You realise that Boris will weaponise the cream tea if it is in his interests?

Slightly disturbing was that the letter referred to the fact that I was a postal voter. Somehow Boris knows I'm a postal voter and is able to mechanise postal mailing lists accordingly. Smacks somewhat of State monitoring?

I haven't chased this down, but according to The Mirror I see I the Conservative Party has been hoodwinking voters into visiting their website by paying Google to place links above official advice on registering for a postal vote. Naughty-naughty, it's like something gangsters would do.

Maybe the Tories are harvesting data from people trying to even register for a postal ballot? Curious because my postal vote is a long-standing arrangement.

More sinister is the way that the Conservatives are chopping up the demographics to facilitate sectarian campaigning. Back to Black Friday again. Special offer 50% truth.

Black Friday sales came the day after Thanksgiving and was named because the downtown traffic was bad, but was soon urban mythologised into the first day of the year that stores moved into profitability, hence black instead of red. That's the kind of repurposing that the Tories are looking for with Jupp's suspicious letter from Boris, with the equivalent of a built-in 'Up To' and 'From' sprinkled around the offer percentages. Brexit done? Nope. Only just started...

I'll be more wary of Tory stealth tactics with mystery personalisations bubbling from the slime of their deception-filled cellar.

Instead, give me the lost days of Filene's Basement anytime. Before they closed in the wake of the internet, they used to run a store in Boston, with an all-the-time sale, but it was straightforward. 25% off for 14 days, then 50% off for a week and then 75% off for another week. I got a great coat there.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

nanowrimo 71035

There's been an interlude in my writing for Nanowrimo.

Today I hit Compile for the first time on Scrivener and it's turned out a Word unproofed 300 pager. Time to sharpen the pencil now for an edit.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

London's Calling at the Museum

You can't go around on the tube at the moment without noticing the London Calling adverts. It's a small Clash exhibition at the London Museum (Who'd have thought it?) and I thought I'd go along for a look.

It's a free-to-enter densely-packed exhibition, with various posters, clothes and other artefacts from the Clash, redolent of London. The's the original Pennie Smith photograph of Paul Simonon bashing his Fender Bass, and artistically in front of it, there's the guitar relic itself.

They've positioned them in such a way that it is possible to capture both together in an iPhone snap. Then there's the lyrics. Scribbled into anything and equally fascinating to see with corrections and reworks, there's the original Ice Age, which includes many London's Calling lyrics, partly formed.

And, the album cover itself, adjacent to the Elvis album from where it borrows typography and general design.

Still poignant.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

wanderings through Highbury and Islington

Some times plans don't quite work out.

Keda and I considered meeting at the Braggster gig, but ticket availability wouldn't allow it. I had tickets and was still heading there, but in my mind I had a particular venue selected. Union Chapel, with the Library (pub) opposite as the perfect meeting place.

Julie & I came out of the tube. "Look," I said, "That's the queue!"

It wound around the corner and off along another street.

We joined it, having abandoned ideas of the pub altogether.

Eventually, we reached the main entrance.

I showed the computer tickets from my iPhone - I was already thinking about the sneaky side stairs to reach the balcony.

The man looked blank. This gig is "Show of Hands," he eventually said.

I looked at the little electro-ticket on my phone "Assembly Hall," it said.

"Oh, dear," I thought, as we started the 4-minute walk to the second venue, where another long queue ensued.

The irony is that Show of Hands is a popular local folk band, that is, really local, they come from back home in Topsham, Devon.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Billy Bragg in Islington

Time for a topup of Billy Bragg at the Islington Assembly Hall. As luck would have it, this was the middle day of a row of three, during which he played from his 'chop and clang' repertoire, which comprises all the songs I know best and can sing along.

So, it would seem, did much of the rest of the audience gathered, and Milkman of Human Kindness and New England were largely crowd assisted.

Billy Bragg's banter with the crowd was as fine as ever and he did that thing of bringing an immediate new and newsy item to the stage, when he told us about Jeremy Corbyn's latest election pledge, which most of us would have missed, being in transit to the gig.

Then we were treated to an express train of his songs, accompanied on the shiny guitar, the green Burns Steer and the acoustic, all three of which he's played on for much of his gigging time, even sporting the same straps.

In between, he speaks with conviction and fervour about the state of the Union and which side are you on? (clue: vote tactically) The largely London audience were suitably contemptuous of their ex-mayor and some of those little fibs he's been spouting.

A glorious evening of entertainment, with Billy's tunes still ringing in our ears as we made our way back to the tube.

I didn't take pictures, instead here's waiting for the great leap forwards from Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, where Billy blends some racing handlebars into the lyrics.