Sunday, April 29, 2007

All art is quite derivative

On the advice of Patroclus and LC, I've signed up to Very Short List, an e-mail service that offers a daily suggestion for one's cultural edification. It's a fantastic idea, and in the space of less than a week they've introduced me to several new avenues that sound enticingly cutty-edgy and chinny-strokey. And they've also annoyed me, but, hey, all great art should set out to be provocative and spiky and disruptive and potentially annoying, otherwise you're left with cultural Horlicks like Jack Vettriano and Dido.

My particular beef is that one of VSL's daily picks is the French photographer Denis Darzacq, who depicts Parisian breakdancers apparently falling through space:

which is lovely and all that, but surely it's something that's been done to death, not least by one of my favourite artists, Yves Klein:

and also by Philippe Halsman, with his hugely popular 'jump' pictures:

Now, none of this means that Darzacq's stuff is bad, and yeah, it's all very postmodern and maybe there's a subconscious hommage to Klein and Halsman and there's no copyright on shutter speeds and it seems that there's a political edge to Darzacq's work that YK and PH missed (something about the 2005 Paris riots, apparently) and yada yada etc, but c'mon guys - are there no big new ideas left to have? And if there are, shouldn't VSL be picking them, as opposed to these amusing but inessential retreads?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Prison break

One more thing about my new environment. Near the entrance to the development, there's a communal area, with a lake, a small playground, even a gravel strip for pétanque. And there's also a tall column, topped by a three-faced clock. It's the sort of thing you might expect to see overlooking a factory in a 1960s kitchen-sink drama, and when it shows five o'clock, a whistle blows, and the workers (played by Norman Rossington, Bryan Pringle and maybe a young James Bolam) come streaming out on their bicycles. Except that this clock has no hands. Which, for some reason, reinforces my hunch that I'm living in The Village.

Unrelated, except that it also happened in Bangkok, an exchange overheard today in the Bamboo Bar at the Oriental Hotel (they do excellent mojitos, and a former resident pianist was on the FBI's Most Wanted List): an American couple come in, visibly suffering from the heat and humidity.

She (to the barman): Where's the coolest place we can sit?

He (before the barman can reply, and for the benefit of the whole bar): Wherever I am!

I think it's a tribute the the exquisite manners of the staff that they didn't throw the pair of them back outside.

And, if anyone other than Valerie cares, Chasms of the Earth has reached Chapter 33.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Silly willy

In the past, I've been accused of a certain level of intellectual snobbery for suggesting, among other things, that people who buy Jade Goody's autobiography and then don't finish it might not be the sharpest shuriken in the banned ninja movie.

But it cuts both ways, of course. (Do you see what I did there?) Through the wonders of Radio 4's 'listen again' function, I was listening to the none-more-bourgeois music quiz Counterpoint this morning. If you haven't encountered this narcotically cosy show, it's aimed at the sort of people whose blood pressure is only raised by an argument over whether Asger Svendsen might be a better bassoonist than Per Hannevold. However, some functionary in Broadcasting House has clearly decided that a quiz all about classical music might not be inclusive or accessible enough for a 21st-century media operation, so the remit has been expanded to encompass occasional nods to jazz, rock and other dangerously populist genres.

Accordingly, in among the Mahler and Monteverdi, we were graced with a clip of 'Always On My Mind'. The task was to identify the performer. Now, I can accept that someone who gets turned on by fat mezzos might not be able to identify the sandblasted tones of Willie Nelson, and the contestant did admit that he was offering a pretty approximate stab in the dark when he offered his answer. But Robbie Williams?

Now, I suppose a grudging nod of respect should go to someone so deliriously out of touch that he thinks the world's most famous Port Vale fan might sound like a septuagenarian outlaw country legend. But it does raise a question - if we snicker at people's ignorance of high art, should our laughter be louder or softer when someone shows such comprehensive dimness when it comes to the lowbrow end of the spectrum?

Sunday, April 22, 2007


One of the joys of blogging is its transience. It's immediate, it's spontaneous, it's constantly changing. This is why the idea of making books from blogs seems so odd (which doesn't mean that such books are necessarily bad - but a good blog does not necessarily make for a good book).

Inevitably, as new blogs appear, others bite the dust. In recent months, we've said bittersweet farewells to Molly Bloom, and Pashmina and Realdoc seem to have eased into semi-retirement. But I got a particular twinge of regret when I saw that Spinsterella has chosen to hang up her bitter, twisted, endlessly entertaining sword. She (along with Bob Swipe, Patroclus, Slaminsky and a few others) was one of the first people to take notice of my self-indulgent ramblings, and without her encouragement, I might not have carried on. Thanks for the memories, Spin, and I hope you come back in some shape or form.

In the vain hope of filling a Spinster-shaped gap, Chasms of the Earth returns to satisfy all your deconstructing-mediocre-genre-fiction needs; Valerie dips a toe (and more) into the latest internet craze; and did Paul Morley just identify Morrissey as the world's first blogger? I think he might have done.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Shop talk

I went to get my hair cut today. The barbershop was quite busy, so I went to the bit where people were waiting, but there was nowhere to sit. An American customer in classic preppie dress-down garb - blue buttondown, chinos, deck shoes, no socks - pointed to the other side of the shop and said: "There's additional seating over there."

"Additional seating"
? That's not something that people say; it's something that appears on notices. You say "more seats" or "other chairs". People who talk about "additional seating" wear millinery on their heads and hosiery on their legs and refer to their friends and family as "personnel". But maybe not wearing socks makes you talk that way.

Newly shorn, I went to get my laptop sorted out. It's been making worrying noises, and takes an age to start up. As I was waiting for the man to do his techie magic, I browsed the bits and pieces of kit for sale, paying particular attention to sound gear. One speaker system had multilingual packaging, so I learned that the French for "subwoofer" is "le subwoofer".

Now, I may only have a mediocre O-level in French, but I've read enough Asterix to know that animal noises change identity when they cross the Channel. The French for "cock-a-doodle-doo" is "cocorico"; "oink" is always rendered as "groin". Thus, a French subwoofer is surely "un subouaouaer".

And if it isn't, it blimmin' well should be. Zut alors!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The shelf-ish gene

Well, another one of the moving rituals is completed; all the books are unpacked. Every time I do this, I have the righteous intention of organizing the books into some kind of sensible order. And every time, I get about 80% of the way there and then give up because there aren’t enough large format hardbacks to justify raising that shelf one notch higher, but there are still too many books about Morrissey.

It all goes to show that I'd have made a lousy librarian. Not for the conventional reason, that it's a dull job: I've never quite understood that idea. Casanova was a librarian. And then there are those twin titans of creative curmudgeonhood, Philip Larkin and Bob Swipe. And our school librarian, Mr Middleton, who sounded like Geoffrey Boycott but looked like Martin Sheen, which is a pretty memorable combination. No, the reason I'd fail to match these splendid wielders of the date stamp is that I lack the ruthless devotion to method and systems without which the whole thing would fall apart. Librarians; brain surgeons; conceptual physicists; contract killers.

So, each time I fill the shelves, I come up with a new method, one that pays lip service to Dewey, but also tips its hat to that greater god, "seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time". In this, of course, I'm only following in the footsteps of Rob Fleming, the hero of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, who rearranged his record collection at times of emotional turmoil. Although I could never hope to adopt his signature method - autobiographical - because I can never remember which of the stories I've told about my reading habits are true. I know for a fact that I read Less Than Zero at the age of 18 on a night train from Montreal to New York; but did I really read Zuleika Dobson at Magdalen College, Oxford, the night before my admission interview? I told someone that I'd realised the reality could never match Beerbohm's fantastic vision, and was thus reconciled to my ultimate failure. But that sounds like bollocks, and it probably is.

So, this time round, I set aside two shelves for the dozens of books relating to Asia that we've acquired over the last - gulp - four years. Thailand on one shelf; general and others on the one below. All fine so far. Then a shelf for cookbooks. And that's where the problem starts. What about Asian cookbooks? Asian fiction? Asian books about Morrissey? Maybe this is the essential difference between Mr Middleton and me: his mind was constructed as a rigid, hierarchical pattern of sets and subsets; mine is like a bloody great Venn diagram, decorated with Post-It notes and flecks of Tipp-Ex and occasional toast crumbs. And pencilled marginalia about Vietnamese cookbooks. Do you have a system? Or a conscious lack of one? Do let me know. I'm sure everyone will find it fascinating.

Still on a vaguely bibliophile note, a fellow writer has flagged up a new way for me to torment myself about the performance of Welcome to the Machine. Rather than keeping tabs on the yo-yoing Amazon ranking, I can see at a glance the relative stock levels in every branch of Waterstone's. Which just makes me wonder why the buyer in Newcastle upon Tyne has more faith in my ability to shift units than the one in Burton on Trent. Unless of course they each bought the same number, but a few people in Burton-on-Trent actually decided to buy one. See what I mean? Torment...

Further afield, I don't have sales figures for LA, just anecdotal evidence...

PS: More about Waterstone's here, not that I'm obsessed or anything.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Inspect a gadget

I've got a guilty fascination for those videos they play in kitchen and DIY shops. You know, the ones plugging ingenious whatnots with 97 attachments that will sand down doors, cut pipes, make yogurt, remove unsightly hair from the bikini area and do your tax return. Simultaneously.

Yesterday I was out buying drill bits, or some similar nadir of tedium, when I was transfixed by a TV screen. All the components were present and correct: jaunty music; soothing yet authoritative voiceover; middle-class couple doing mundane tasks with smiles on their faces, thanks to miracle gadget with vaguely Teutonic name. They didn't mention the thing that gets stones out of horses' hooves, or vice versa, but I'm sure it was there. Lights, camera and pastel knitwear were in place to ensure an instant, impulsive sale. Until the narrator (who sounded almost, but not quite, like the sainted Martin Jarvis) uttered with the killer line: "It's the most universal tool on earth." Which put me into such a linguistic, metaphysical, not to mention geographical tizzy that I've clean forgotten the name of the product.

PS: Yet more examples of the latest craze to hit the blogosphere: from Orange Anubis; and the meta-megamix from Murph.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Happy New Year (again)

It's Songkran, or Thai New Year, as opposed to Chinese New Year (dragons and red t-shirts) or farang New Year (bombs). Songkran is the one where passers-by get doused with liquid clay and buckets of water, although since the rainy season appears to have started early this year, the effect may be muted.

Now that we've moved from the fleshpots of Sathorn to the quiet suburbia of Patanakarn, celebrations will probably be a little less raucous this time round. The most exciting things to have happened in recent days were the appearance of a couple of mynah birds on the balcony, and the nice lady next door giving us a bag of mangoes fresh from her tree. And, of course, the discovery in the local mom'n'pop store of a new brand of sugary biscuits, called "SWEETY CRACK".

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Delays on the Tube

I'm feeling lazy, so I was going to cop out and post something ludicrous from YouTube, although there's probably a bloglaw against that. In any case, I couldn't post a clip, for reasons I discuss here. And if you've come here from the link there, you're now reading a post that links back to where you just came from. How delightfully meta.

Elsewhere, yet another manifestation of the being-photographed-reading-a-book-about-defiantly-middle-class-pop-stars phenomenon. If this thing wasn't so nice, it could get embarrassing...

Sunday, April 08, 2007

From our sports correspondent

It's not often that Portsmouth and Bangladesh get mentioned in the same sentence, except maybe when it comes to comparisons of heroin addiction and poor diet, both of which indicators tend to suggest Dhaka is a more salubrious environment (and you can go here and here for variations on that theme). But high fives to both teams of unfancied, underprivileged urchins for yesterday's sporting upsets, which have injected an unexpected double dose of uncertainty into the latter stages of the Premiership and the Cricket World Cup respectively.

Odd to think, though, that 20 years ago, if we were celebrating an obnoxious, fascist pariah getting a bloody nose, it would have been the humbling of South Africa that provoked the widest smile...

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Reviewing the situation

Many is the time that I've been sniffy about Q magazine over the years, dismissing it as tedious, boorish, obsessively inoffensive, up Bono's arse, the print embodiment of rolling up the sleeves of one's jacket, the sort of thing Ocean Colour Scene would do if they were journalists, the music mag for people who don't really like music. But maybe I'm mellowing in my old age, and starting to realise that it is, in fact, the premier popular music periodical on the planet. This has nothing to do, of course, with the fact that they've awarded Welcome to the Machine four stars in their current issue, describing it as "highly readable", "provocative" and "seductive". Crikey.

With that, and all the nice things various bloggers have already said about it (even to the extent of posting pictures of themselves reading it - no, really, they do, I thought there was a law against that sort of thing) I'm quite a happy little hack. I can even overlook the views of one 'qwerrie' who suggested on the ateaseweb Radiohead fan site that "Tim Footman's new book will definitely sucks (and his previous one -- Radiohead Documentary -- suxed, too)".

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

welcome to your home from home

(Partly a response to Annie R, Paul in the Village, etc, who asked for specifically Thailand-related stuff a few days ago.)

Well, we're now in our new abode, and thank you for all the nice messages sympathising with the ordeal of The Move. It's a stressful, soul-destroying experience, but you can always learn a few things. In this case: a) the best soundtrack to a move is mid-'70s funk (especially Kool & the Gang and Rick James), played on a rackety old gehtto-blaster; and b) my brother-in-law, who used to occupy the spare room at our old place, appears to be an avid collector of surreally erotic Italian graphic novels.

Chez nous is now a little further out of the centre of BKK, in a self-contained residential development. It's a peaceful place, with an air of gated community about it. There are private security guards, and apparently we will be issued with flags that must be flown on national holidays. Everyone smiles. There's a running track, a little playground, and even a stretch of gravel for boules. Taxis don't tend to venture in, so there's a fleet of bicycle rickshaws that can ferry you to the main road.

It's a bit like living in The Village. But in a nice way.