About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Sunday, 21 April 2013

In orbital love

After many weeks dithering, took the new (and slightly bigger) version of the old little train from Wandsworth Road.

A bright Sunday lunchtime. Somehow elated after finding some bargain CDs at the local charity shops (Traffic, Pink Fairies, Bowie, Dylan, etc....) I shift from my default depressed mode to my default manic mode and almost run to the library to borrow something to read on what I expect to be a long train journey. I boorow a Flann O'Brien book and a biography of Man Ray.

The nearest station is now Clapham High Street, so that's where I head. People are up on the platform looking like normal travellers. In the past I remember  getting stoned right here on someone else's skunk fumes.  These were popular dealing and skinning up spots, in the very recent past.

Not any more. Perhaps. All has changed. Perhaps. It's now smartly branded "Overground" with the orange roundel and orange everything, and the trains are brand new - and quite disconcerting at first as all the seats are placed lengthways along the walls of the carriage, and you can see all the way up and down the train (unless it's going round a very tight corner).

But - it all seemed wonderfully efficient.


Am I beginning to thaw, to actually start loving the modern world, the post-modern, post Olympics, Boris Johnstonian London - the thing I sort of assumed I would hate, I must hate, I had no alternative but to hate?

Maybe. This is the old line but , once past Queen's Road Peckham you realise you're being transported into a shabby version of a brave new world, or at least a shabby old-new London.

Instead of humbly shuffling itself into London Bridge Station (having passed the Milwall football ground and that big waste-burning power station) it shoots off into the docklands, Surrey Quays, Canada Water, the fast-fading shine of that deeply depressing Canary Wharf business area - and then links back into the East London/North London Line.

It plunges into and out of cut-and-cover tunnels, flashes past some of the most fashionable spots in the the city (Hoxton, Dalson Jct etc) and rattles you through so many views of the Shard  and the Eye and Hawksmoor, and Brixton market, and and and and St Pauls and so on....you swear the whole thing was a London tourist board commercial.

So I suddenly find myself passing Wapping (christ, wish we'd had this  service when I was at TES) and then Whitechapel.

The marathon has been run but the streets are still full of beaming spectators with their souvenir bags, they're crowding up Brick Lane, I just want to find the old bike parts market further up towards Shoreditch.

By the time I get there the stalls are being dismantled, so I make do with 3.2kg of Cyprus potatoes for £1 and a couple of sacks of very ripe tomatoes and trundle on to Canonbury....

Yes, I am falling back in Love with London, and it's not just the weak sunshine that's repsonsible.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

We loved to hate her

Listening to Wah!/Pete Wylie's  The Day That Margaret Thatcher Dies (A Party Song) and quite enjoying its mash of Wild Thing and Get Off Of My Cloud. Was this how they imagined it would be?  It was a cold evening for those death-day parties in Brixton, Bristol, Glasgow and other places that said lady's policies hit so hard back then.

Then thinking about that claim, that old Maggie would be delighted so many old lefties were doing what she wanted everyone to do at the end of the Falklands war: rejoicing.

As I staggered out of Brixton's 99p Store (around here we can't afford Poundland) I saw "The Bitch is dead" stencilled onto a wastebin and then saw the smashed-in window of the Barnado's charity shop, and I had to stop to think about what I was thinking.
Anti-Thtacher graffiti appeared all over London the day former PM Margaret Thatcher died: this one seen in Brixton, London SW2.
Seen in Brixton High Street, the day after
Mrs Thatcher died

 Yes, I hated Thatcher, I lost my first and best job within 6 months of her getting power (yeah I worked for one of the hated quangos, and educational film outfit) because of her policies, I felt only elation as I wandered around the Trafalgar Square area on the night of the Poll Tax riot, I smelt that same heady burning smell as on the morning after the first Brixton riot of 1981 (I was not there, only cycling through Brixton to work  the morning after, when the ruins were still smouldering).

Since then, we've seen Thatcher defeated, we've seen her ageing, struck down by dementia, we've seen iron lady become sad old lady. All my instincts were to think, what about forgiveness? And I thought, why? Well,  she reminds me strongly of some of my own relatives - aunts of the same sort of age, and of Thatcher's same social background - with the same scrimp and save and stand on your own feet  philosophy - and I can't deny part of me feels, let her people have this day, the funeral etc.

But it's a very precarious feeling. Especially when you start to think of "her people". Mark? Carole? Sir Bernard? Jim Davidson? Tebbitt? That bastard who used to edit The Sun?

Next day i cycle to work in Kensington, along streets lined with hideous lumps of metal on fat tyres - things they call Chelsea Tractors, although that is truly an insult both to tractors and even to poor hijacked Chelsea. I see these beautiful old houses being gutted, turned inside-out  to create revolting palaces for the beneficiaries of the latest global crises - the hedge-fund-fuckers and their like, the legit money-launderers of city-boy united who are the natural heirs of M T - and think, no, her poison is still very much at work in the body politic.

The absolute polarisation of London  - super-rich, desperate poor - is so obvious, so tragic and so dangerous, and so much the legacy of that decade, that you can only wish, not that she should burn in hell, but merely that she should never have existed.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Spinning yarns at thirty-three and thirds revolutions per minute – Vinyl life, or "There is such a thing as society"

And so to The Social, a very modern bar of sorts in the scary hinterland of BBC, for a strange evening of talking heads and vinyl.

It was really a glorified PR event arranged by Faber, a smart way of giving three of their authors an airing to a group of would-be authors and musos critics and their friends and their friends of friends in this delightful venue - a place that is so much on the cusp that you feel that is nowhere near the cusp, even though you are approx three times the age of their ideal punter. In truth, a pleasant drinking spot.

Apart from good beer, there were good words and good things to learn. For example, I never knew  that the 33rpm/45 rpm,  LP to single divide was the result of an early audio format war - CBS vs RCA -  which was resolved to everyone's benefit by simply accepting both formats. Nor did I know that Lonnie Donegan's "Rock Island Line" was originally just a last-minute filler for a Chris Barber LP because Chris had not realised how much music you could get on one of these new-fangled vinyl things.

This came from an erudite and quite nervous young writer called Travis Elborough, who illustrated his rather beautiful lecture with examples of rare LPs he had brought with him in an old record case - each time, fumbling to pull out the cover he needed. It went well, though. He won a lot of hearts, I think, in that young and brainy audience. All those nuggets of vinyl history. If I was a Faber PR I would be pleased in the certain knowledge that at least half a dozen of the audience will buy his new book, The Long-player Goodbye.

A certain Prof Simon Reynolds then held forth; he is already famous, and his specs had even thicker black frames than anyone else's, it seemed.

He read from an A4 notebook. I was reminded of a slightly more detached Geoff Dyer, as he described a visit to some US dance music festival; he became almost apologetic when he had to describe the teenage girls wearing only semi-translucent glittering underwear at an EDM festival somewhere in LA. I wish I could remember  his excellent metaphors on the inferiority of this new US digital sound,  the way it made this hollow massive crashing sound.....and  how much better our own rave/ecstacy-fuelled bands using only the crude instruments of 80s techno - 808 state etc - had been.

But....I have forgotten them all. I will have to wait until the release of the updated edition of his 2008 book on the whole rave thing, Energy Flash, but of course by then I will have entirely forgotten the whole evening.

The event was beginning to seem a bit like a flashback to the early 80s, those  earnest post-punk polemics, the NME, Scritti Politti etc...until along came the lovely Pogues accordion man with his shiny pate and his lyrical prose. Name of James Fearnley,  he's written a memoir of his times with the Pogues in their heyday called (and where did we hear this before?) Here comes everybody, and as soon as he started reading i thought of ....our old punk poet....it was  as though he'd signed up for a 10-week course on public reading from John Cooper Clark, but had dropped out after the first lesson... but loved it all.

And of course, Peter Paphides in the flesh!

We had already enjoyed his intro mixtape dj set - a jewel of unimpeachable taste, the perfection of the blend of white and black music, or should I say musics?

Paphides. The name, which had buzzed around my brain for oh decades - there he was, exactly as you'd imagine him, the erudite, north London rock music Guardian writer (did he ever work for City Limits? No, surely too young). I was reminded of a precursor, Charles Shaar Murray, who we kept bumping into at IPC chapel meetings in the 1980s....It's that English Lit rock criticism thing, the seven types of ambiguity somehow underpinning the cooler-than-cool writing styles, the smart-arseries and the self-effacement that didn't quite efface the self.

In fact the best comments of all came from the vinyl man, the man who used to work for Rough Trade and now does the record shop thing. His name was Spencer Hickman and he had the only really acceptable argument for the infinite superiority of vinyl over any other audio format. It was better, he said, because, well, it was just obviously better.

I agree.

Oh lord, will you forgive me ever?