About Me

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

Thursday, 20 June 2013

A pox on your blaring horns!

The not-so-sweet sound of Chelsea tractors: should Range Rover horns be replaced with the sound of a bleating lamb?
Warning: this vehicle's horn can damage your eardrums.
A pox on the bullying drivers of London (especially, I notice, the drivers of the most horrible postcodes: SW4, SW11, SW3, SW6, SW10  and W8) who cannot resist blasting everyone else with their hideously powerful car-horns at the slightest sign of a hesitation or a missed gear-change.

These fat cats in their bloated-people-carriers seem to have forgotten that is an offence to sound your horn other than in emergencies.

The police seem to have forgotten this too, although their helpful website, AskthePolice.uk,
spells it out:

"A horn should only be used when warning someone of danger, not to indicate your annoyance at a manner of driving.
A horn should not be sounded when stationary on a road at anytime, other than at times of danger due to another vehicle on or near the road.
A horn should not be used on a moving vehicle on a restricted road (basically a road that has street lights and a 30mph limit) between the times of 2330hrs and 0700hrs."

If only these rules were enforced in London's plumpest suburbs, where the residential streets are thickly populated with big fat shiny vanity-wagons, each packing a heart-stopping sound-blast with more wattage than the Rolling Stones had in Hyde Park in 1969 (it seems).

No, I  wouldn't mind if all the car horns were 1960s style poops and honks and beeps.

But, as with engines and headlights, the power of these devices seems to have undergone a dreadful inflation. So often now a bladder-emptying, over-trebly, eardrum-piercing blast emanates from even the smallest, meekest and most modest looking of vehicles.

Of course as a hugely prejudiced anti-fat-cat cyclist (as well as fully piad-up motorist and pedestrian) I am most offended by the noisy, arrogant horns of the posh set in their  hideous Range Rovers and Audis and BMWs and so on. These vast, shiny vehiclkes with their exaggerated comic-book angry face chrome grilles, they are caricature ugly. But how how can they be so noisy? The way they sit in stationary traffic, hitting the noise button, as though that will do any good.

All it does is make the rest of us highly likely to drive like lunatics to get away from them, or better still to switch off our engines, get out of our cars, find the sledgehammer in our car boots, walk calmy over to said Range Rover or Mercedes or BMW - the shiniest, biggest one of the lot - and make a large dent in the most sensitive crease of its obese body-panels.

Oh, sorry.

Back in the 70s I remember people used to pay extra for something called an "air horn". Is that what they use now, or are they some  sort of fiendish digitally enhanced devices? Who knows.  All I know is that there should be some sort of horn tax. And perhaps the chance to avoid that tax by paying heavily to buy a hooter-tone that precisely subverts the machismo of your motor.

In my ideal world, there would be an inverse law, so that  the biggest, fastest, ugliest, most testoserone-packed cars would have to have the most ridiculously meek and mild and silly horn-sounds. One of those huge muscle-bound things -  are they Humvees?  - would, for example, be legally required to play a Pink and Perky number whenever the horn was sounded.

All Rolls Royce and Bentleys would have "Buddy, can you spare a dime" fitted as standard before being allowed out of the factory.

Most 4 x 4, SUV style wagons would have to choose between various British comedy actors' voices of the 1960s and 70s, especially the really camp and nasal ones: "OOOoooh, you are awful! ( but I like you)", "fancy yourself do you? "; "I say!"  etc and so on.

I would have a reverse law for small, pretty cars. Genuine Fiat 500s, for example could have full-blast snatches of Pavarotti (or better still) versions of Nessun Dorma at twice the dciebels of anyone else. Just becaue they are lovely little cars with small...

A beautiful little Citroen 2CV could choose any chanson it eanted, and I wopuld npt object. It could even play Serge Gainsborough if it wanted, or  Edith Piaf, or even Charles De Gaulle himself.

Smart Cars, I am afraid, would need to leanr some humility: I would have them utter only  very basic sounds at their moment of need: "Doh!": "You what?", "Uhhhh?"

And Beetles? Will I be banned forever for suggesting that original VW Beetles might be allowed a little stridnet Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries, etc - but anything post 1999 would have to take a 5 second loop from certain Kraftwerk and Can tracks.

Which just leaves the middle market. What would be the ideal, the approrpriate hooter-tone for  your Ford Focus, your Vauxhall Astra? It would have - in the spirit of this experiment - be something incredibly rare and exotic. The last cry of ecstasy from some endangered species, the call of the - what?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Hey, Jude! Don't make us sad...

What a strange weekend in London. So many contrasts - beautiful warm sunshine on Saturday, icy wind from the east and overall cloud on Sunday. So many contrasts, and so many confrontations, as always in this curious patch of Thames-side mud. Huge dirty city-settlement, big rats abound. Little rats come out to play and are splattered, all over the streets.

We - us, me and you, the gutter-rats of this joke-metropolis – we call on some other, higher power (maybe who, or maybe what, the world president himself, Fela Kuti? Is he really dead? Bob Dylan? Yes, the old bastard really does need to come down and do some work at the grass roots.)

 But probably the other Big Bob would be more likely to act in defence of these beautiful nether parts of a once hated building. It was his music, along with that of Big Youth and Prince Far-I, blasting out of a sound system, that attracted me and hundreds of others to this unnatural, perfect amphitheatre beneath the South Bank Centre.

So, one of the Bobs, please tell Jude Kelly that it's not a good idea to turn the undercroft of the Queen Elizabeth Hall (part of the South Bank Centre, which also includes Festival Hall, Hayward Gallery, BFI etc) into more coffee shops and restaurants.

Thank Bob that there's a really tough group of campaigners fighting to save this space for the people who appropriated and cultivated it, in the best traditions of the English squatting movement. Long Live Southbank are taking the great, good, publicly funded arts organisation to the courts - it's a bitter and really very sad battle, but i support them.

This whole area has played a huge part in the lives of millions of people, not just Londoners, and in any other circumstances I would be shouting at anyone trying to attack Jude Kelly and the organisation she heads. But this time,  I just can't believe  what is happening. There's no plainer example of a direct clash between the two definitions of culture - popular versus elite or corporate.

Skateboarding doens't appeal to me at all - when my son was hooked onto it, all I did was worry about the fractures. But the way they've transformed this space is something quite rare, at least in our proft and marketing-driven culture. Its more in the spirit of the Watts towers.  Yes, it is on this level -  a very fine example of a rare species - a real cultural space that has grown entirely out of the work of an almost invisible community. 20 years back this was an ignored space beneath a building that was loathed by architectural critics, neglected by its owners, and unnoticed or even feared by most of the public walking past.

Now it is the sort of spiritual home of the UK skater community, one of many loved places for this worldwide subculture.

But, largely because of its strategic position, across the Thames from  Parliament, the Savoy etc, on the site of the 1950s Festival of Britain, they that run this world are always wanting to prettify this prime plot of north Lambeth. Luckily they usually fail to agree on a plan, or they run out of money. It almost seems that this weird amalgam of 1950s optimism and 1960s concrete brutalism has a last come into its own and won some place in the affection of the arts-spending segment of the tourist population.

So, they want to change it all again.

Jude Kelly, we've never until now heard anything bad said about you. You are a modern-day artsworld Jeanne D'Arc! You fought and fought for good theatre for the people of Yorkshire, good everything for the people of south London and all London and all the arts-loving world, you deserve your OBE, etc.

The Southbank Centre works so hard, it is almost painful to criticise an organisation that has so enriched lives - well, certainly my life, what with all those Robert Wyatt and Lee Scratch Perry curated Meltdowns, etc, ecc.

My god, I was 16 when the Hayward Gallery had an exhibition of Henry Cartier Bresson photos - this chnaged me and my life.

But - that article in the Evening Standard,  7 June 2013? You say these skateboarders should  what?
Should "budge up"?

Into some space under Hungerford Bridge? Well, nothing against this Bridge, but - please excuse me - wouldn't it be more in keeping with rules of civility, etc, to build the new education and children's centres in this space "under Hungerford bridge"? After all, these kids will not remember a dearly-loved space 200m to the East.

Forget all my words, just think - if some great and revered artist, Leonardo say, or Banksy, had set up in the undercroft and painted these frescoes and a shrine had developed - would you butcher it in this way?

If the need to raise tons of money is really, really so great, why not lease out one of your concert halls to Tesco or Asda? There's not a decent supermarket within 10 minutes walk of this ghastly cultural desert!

Remember too that most of the biggest recent tourist attractions in this venal city on the Thames' mudbanks emerged from conflict and appropriation - old Covent Garden market, saved by campaigning hippies in the early 1970s. Camden Market, created by hippies in the 1960s, saved by fashion and music and art in the 1980s, now almost completely appropriated by commerce which may or may not have roots in those earlier, idealistic days. Punk rock, created by ex-hippie-capitalism in the 1970s, folded on on itself.  Virgin Airways!

Steady on, I am now arguing against myself. As usual.

 And then I look at Brick Lane!  I look at Broadway Market. I look at Brixton Market. I look at Portobello Market. I look at the sponsorship of almost everything we used to regard as anti-capitalist, by capitalists!

Jude, I understand this dilemma.

It is horrible.

But please, whatever happens to that QE Hall undercroft, don't allow Costa Coffee to have a branch there. Please!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

A Saturday in London

World Naked Cycle Ride 2013 reaches Waterloo Bridge
Get east, get out of this south-west airbubble, go and breathe some city air, head east.

Run into trouble if you can. But no , the only trouble was avoiding the publicity seekers - the good, honest demanders of justice, the shiny-eyed, pink-arse-cheeked, body-painted-blue-and-gold naked cyclists, the angry Turks, the oppressed Zimbabweans, the ones who protest on behalf of the hungry of the planet.

Reach Waterloo, wander to Thames, South Bank side, find kids on boards and bikes putting on shows, hear sounds of strong music, hear the great Big Youth chanting so loud and clear, like he's still alive, over the wandering crowds of tourists and culture-vulture folk, the London eye people, the festive hall people, the National Theatre people, the BFI people, the arty ones. But this music rings so clear, and it's another protest.

The kids under the Queen Elizabeth Hall are protesting, because the Arts Centre Folk are going to fill in their dangerous skating place.

The big South Bank plans do not have room for this only - this ONE and ONLY bit of real folk art, of real local art, or real art - in this absurd, now almost completely ersatz zone.

The tragedy is so clear, once you visit South Bank. All those dear old 1950s and 60s  buildings - Hayward, QE Hall, RFH - have been glossed over with a whole lot of 1990s public-funded arts initiative stuff. Words written on banners. Bright splashes of Central American colours, a vain attempt to do something about the death-dark grey of the stained concret casts, the cladding.

As though they needed to do anything to these buildings which have hosted so many of the greatest artists on this planet over the past five decades!

They try so hard to do this.  Why do they have to?

Will it ever work? No, not while it's basically just a ploy to sell overpriced fish and chips to tourists.

Oh yes, thing like Meltdown are marvellous for the 35-55-year-olds who can afford the tickets to listen to the radical artists of their collective younger selves. Themselves now worn down and only too happy to pick up a late cheque or two.

Art? It only worked it's magic in this strange undercroft that the skaters and BMX kids took for themselves, they  were uniquely qualified to make huge things out of those  hostile angles and geometries, which to most seemed like some sort of medieval fortifications, warning you of the depredations of the art within. Fuck off if you don't appreciate what we  appreciate.

So, I cycle away from this place for a thousandth time, I cross Westminster, where already large beer-bellied fellas on mountain bikes are striking out to score another hit for public nudity. I see hundreds of old men, naked on their bicycles, their tired genitalia bobbing and bouncing on the crossbars.

Why am I not joining them? I too should be inflicitng my ghastly nakedness on this Saturday afternoon audience of theatre goers, tourists, lost fans of the Royal family, people on the look out for a better demo, we are all here for some reason, or no reason.

Next year if I am here and they are here I will do the ride, although I doubt if the day will be as good as it was today.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Thoughts from a body-bag

One hour inside a white plastic body-bag, lying on the cold slab stones of Piccadilly Circus, just outside the tube exit, supposed to be a dead body.

An hour was quite enough; you begin to understand, in this curious position, just how Edgar Allen Poe's buried alive character might have felt, if it had not been foe the coffin and the weight of the soil.

Oh, well I suppose I could ays that once again I am fulfilling my destiny, that is to act the corpse.

And yes, once again at the behest of Belarus Free Theatre.  If ever you've seen them you'll know why I was happy to get up at 6am and cycle to central London to be one their bodies.

And if you haven't, read this BBC article on Belarus for an introduction to the techniques of a government which seems not to have noticed the passing of Joe Stalin.

It was meant to be warm today, but at 7am there were low clouds and an icy east wind buffeted central London The coldest place of all was at ground level.

 I couldn't quite fit into my small to medium body bag. It felt like a useless sleeping bag, too short and too wide and too thin. But, as the marvellous Belarus Free Theatre's Fenella said, the main thing was that they were breathable.

Not that it would've made much difference to me, as half my face was sticking out into the freezing air.

Apart from that, each bag really made a little cocoon for each of us  - the 10 or so volunteers, at this location, many more in the more high-profile spots, Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square -  who for whatever reasons had chosen to lend our bodies to Belarus for a couple of early morning hours.

Last year, we gave our bodies, naked on the ice-cold concrete paving of Hammersmith's Riverside Studios for Fuck Realpolitik.

This year, we were part of the Belarus give-a-body-back campaign.

Our carcasses were there to represent the bodies of  Belarusians who had died - no, who had been executed - in Belarus, and whose bodies had never been returned to their families.

Each time I meet or see or listen to any of the BFT people, who are always so delightful and friendly and appreciative - but I se in their eyes that there are dreadful,  urgent matters to be dealt with, they are driven - they are driven because in many cases, their friends and partners and lovers and family and colleagues and neighbours have already become victims to what is now (again thanks to BFT) widely known as the last dictatorship in Europe.

By comparison, being a corpse for an hour was easy stuff. Or so I thought.

The trouble was, once zipped up in your bag, you could see nothing but the vaguest shadows of passing people. Voices came and went. In the first few minutes, loud male scorn seemed to be pouring in - "oh dead bodies, but are you really dead?" "you're going to get very stiff  mate - watch out for piles", they said, on their way to god knows where.

After that, a strange silence descended - punctured ever few mintures by the voices of our supervisors, trying to interest passers-by in the demo. Sometimes you'd hear the clip-clop of high-heeled shoes getting closer, and closer , and about to stamp on your face - and then they'd pass. Office boys and office girls on their way to work, gasping on their last fags before the working day began. Lost tourists failing to meet he people they'd wanted to meet, phoning, texting, cursing. A few vaguely amused arty types on their way, perhaps to some gallery or auction room. "oh my god, dead bodies! Cool!".

Then again just you and your aching, freezing body. It is June but there is a cold East wind coming in over the back of my head and my legs are about to walk away from all this on their own.

 Feels like it's blowing all the way from Minsk, just for us.

Have I been here long now? Is it half-time yet?

Then - amazingly, the voice of our friendly organiser: "Volunteers! Ten minutes more."

The last 10 minutes seemed much longer than the first 50 - nothing but white and grey shadows to see, and disembodied voices to hear. And then, oh thank god, the 9am call, the tricky unzipping, staggering back to vertical, staggering past Eros to reach the bit of the square in sunshine.