Saturday, 30 July 2011

warts and all?

this is my england has more than once articulated deep dissatisfaction with goings on behind the scenes at QPR, the football club I've followed since I was a nipper.

Of course I'm pleased to see the Superhoops about to ply their trade back in the Premier League after an absence of fifteen long, long years, during which I've travelled all over the back roads of the English game, having been to away games  against the likes of Wycombe Wanderers, Port Vale, Grimsby Town, Plymouth Argyle, Barnsley, Swindon Town, Chesterfield, Rushden & Diamonds and Scunthorpe United.

Promotion, though very welcome, is not enough to dispel feelings of real antipathy towards some of the club's owners and toward its bungling Chairman, Gianni Paladini - crass, vulgar men who treat long-suffering fans with barely disguised contempt. 

Now, it seems that the owners in question, Messrs. Briatore and Ecclestone, will be selling shares in the club to Malaysia's Tony Fernandes, the team principal of Formula 1's Team Lotus who was  also responsible for reviving the fortunes of a previously ailing airline. It seems, according to recent reports, that Fernandes will end up with a 51% stake in the club, leaving Ecclestone and Briatore with the smallest chunk of equity, in third place behind Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian-born multi-billionaire steel magnate. Surely it is to be  hoped that the conclusion of this transaction will finally spell the end of Mr. Paladini's time at the club. Paladini was to blame for the QPR spending the back end of last season under a cloud of suspicion over an apparently illegal player transfer. The great British media crowed endlessly about the possibility of a points deduction large enough to cost the club the promotion that manager Neil Warnock and the team had worked so hard for.

For me, it beggars belief that Paladini kept his position when it became apparent that it was his recklessly negligent behaviour that led to the club being dragged before an FA hearing. Although no points were deducted, the matter was resolved in farcical circumstances, with supporters only hearing the good news on the morning of the final game of the 2010-11 season. A hefty smack on the wrist was administered, however, in the form of a fine of over £800,000. It is my understanding that this fine was paid by the club and not from the pocket of the man responsible for the debacle. I think it's safe to assume  that I'd be booted from my job if I cost my employer's company (which turns over a lot more than QPR F.C., by the way) £800,000 and weeks of bad publicity.

So, the prospect of a new era of potentially better management of the club is to be welcomed. 

Just as that prospect is looking a distinct possibility, it now seems we may get a closer-than-ever look at the club's inner workings. It appears that for the last few years, a documentary film crew has been getting privileged access to the people responsible for the crazily rapid turnover of team managers and all the other headline-grabbing madness that has defined QPR in recent times. Despite suggestions on some Rangers messageboards that the resulting film may have been crafted to cast Mittal's man on the board (his son-in-law, Amit Bhatia) in a favourable light, I'm looking forward to any new insights that the documentary may offer.

Here's the trailer:

my tribe

These are my people, and this little film from Tara Manandhar is wonderfully evocative of the streets around Loftus Road on a Saturday afternoon:


sod the bin men

Owen Jones's Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class, a recently published exploration of class hate in Britain has, as discussed in a recent this is my england review, really just given more structure to feelings that have been building in me for many years.

Jones's tour of Britain takes us through the smashing of industry, the dismantling of working class values and institutions, and the tightening grip of privileged people on jobs in the media and politics. The middle class takeover of the Labour Party and the resulting abandonment of a traditional Labour ideal is also covered - that ideal being a desire to better the conditions of all working class people rather than encourage them to aspire to bourgeois values, tastes and attitudes.

Along the way, representatives of our country's trades unions are quoted, notably Mark Serwotka of the PCS. For me, though, Jones's enquiry into the vilification and mockery of the British working class leaves a significant stone unturned. Under that stone is another middle class takeover - the takeover of large chunks of the union movement for which Serwotka speaks.

In my recent review of Jones's book, I wrote about how my maternal grandparents lived largely happy and always productive lives without ever aspiring to home ownership or to acquiring the trappings of the more affluent. My grandfather, though, was once offered a route to a much bigger wage packet.

Some time during his long career delivering and then sorting mail, my late granddad was given the opportunity to work full-time for the union of which he was a member and for which he had been a shop steward and branch secretary. He declined the offer.

Some time later, his younger daughter's husband (my dad), who was working as a gardener for the Greater London Council Parks Department, and who was also a part-time union official, was made the same offer by the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE). He accepted. This was the catalyst for a very dramatic change to my family's material circumstances - from a council flat to home ownership; from holidays in the Wales and on the south coast to chunks of summer spent in Languedoc. A fairly lengthy treatment of how this sudden shift has informed my sense of identity was part of a long ramble I wrote in June, ostensibly meant to be about the place of Queens Park Rangers F.C. in my affections.

From 1977 to the day he retired during the first decade of the twenty-first century, my dad worked hard for NUPE (and later UNISON), having joined the ranks of the full-time officials not long before Mrs. Thatcher's determined assault on  the union movement. Trying times. A majority of the members whom he represented were low-paid public service workers - street cleaners, highways workers, school and hospital cleaners, hospital porters, ancillary nurses, school dinner ladies, refuse collectors. In many cases, these people ceased to be employed directly by the public sector as the services they performed were put out to compulsory competitive tendering under the Tory Government. It was a constant battle to try to maintain the already tough conditions under which they worked. Private contractors sought to offer lower wages, longer hours and less secure contracts. My dad was among those fighting their corner for many years. It meant long days, heated arguments and mountains of paperwork for him. But he struggled on.

As the years wore on, though, he found he was increasingly isolated in his determination to keep the wages, conditions and dignity of our country's lowest paid workers at the heart of what he was doing. One by one, an old guard of full-time union officials was retiring. Like my dad, these were people who had made the transition from shop steward to branch secretary to full-time officer. That they were paid more than the members they represented did not lead to such union officials losing touch with where they had come from. On the contrary, having experienced first-hand what it means to be poorly paid and badly treated, these officers were superbly equipped to understand their members' concerns and ensure that their grievances were adequately articulated at the negotiating table.

As that breed of union official began to retire, though, their replacements were coming from quite different backgrounds. University educated middle class people began to pop up more and more commonly in the role of full-time trade union official, having never done any of the jobs their members did. In the area of public services unions, this development really seemed to pick up pace from 1993 onwards. That year, NUPE merged with the Confederation of Health Service Employees (COHSE) and the National and Local Government Officers Association (NALGO) to form a giant new trade union, UNISON.

Although a NUPE man, Rodney Bickerstaffe, was the first ever General Secretary of UNISON, my dad quickly complained of a NALGO cultural takeover at the regional level. NALGO had represented largely white collar public sector workers and, as such, more of its members and its officers were middle class people.

By the time my father retired, he was a rare example of a full-time UNISON official who had once been a subscription-paying member of one of its predecessor unions. His younger colleagues had university educations, different backgrounds and, it seems, a lack of empathy for the least well-paid and most vulnerable members.

Well into his sixties, an age at which, in many jobs, employees can perhaps be expected not to do the most physically demanding work, my dad was getting up in darkness to meet groups of disgruntled bin men at their depots in the early hours before their shifts started. Why? Did no one think that tasks like that might be more fairly given to younger colleagues still earning their stripes? The problem was that my father's younger colleagues did not like being sworn at by men angered at the constant erosion of their pay and frustrated at the union's efforts to defend them. The new breed of officers did not like going to smelly refuse collection depots on cold, wet mornings. They felt more comfortable in meetings held in town halls and at a more civilised time of day - and in conversations with white collar members whose salaries, backgrounds and culture more closely resembled their own. So they didn't volunteer to sort out the actually more pressing problems of the more badly treated men who empty the bins. They left that to old timers like my dad.

Now my dad is a few years into his well-earned retirement, I wonder who at UNISON or with other major unions really feels like focusing their efforts on the poorly-paid members who need the most help and support. The middle class takeover of the Labour Party may be more widely understood than what has happened to some of the unions, but it is no more serious a betrayal of the people for whom both institutions were founded.

Friday, 29 July 2011

zone ends

finicky

out there it's all
eat the boneless banquet for one,
teeth screeching
through the fat tumour on the chicken's thigh,

right, so it's all
shredded flesh and lettuce,
skinny lemon,
dark secretions,
clam shell burger box,
and a trillion magazine triangles;

yeah, and it's all
empty the dog where
urchins boot balls, where
bonkers barefoots sup cider and
ask for exactly ten pence;

yeah, but up your mum's it's all
take your shoes off,
don't touch the walls,
keep your fiddly fingers off,
disinfect everything,
take pride in your rim block,
plug in the freshmatic refill
and
never touch a germy soap pump again.

jog on

half a pretty face

At the start of this month, this is my england readers were invited to zoom in on a little patch of white paint on the outside wall of the Camden Housing Office on the corner of Eversholt Street and Crowndale Road. I bored on a bit about the fast-changing graffiti and street art scene going on around the whitewashed rectangle. 

Today: a new development - the addition of a sticker. It shows roughly half of the face of quite a pretty young woman. A brunette. Dark-eyed. Possibly wearing a jacket with fairly elaborate lapels.  She has covered up the last part of the URL of the voyeuristic Frederick's Bench site. Here she is:


south of the river


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

you're a beautiful thing

melodyne mixing clips of crown court,
lost in non-Euclidean geometrical
cross-hatching
of a dark little city,
I type vicious
while they laugh about someone called, like, Johnny and say:
"being confident, sexy and well-dressed doesn't mean I lack emotional depth", but
we go:
"kill your darlings, dangerous men will hurt you",
and the Lord's Resistance Army can kidnap
the French ambassador's lovely daughter because
the most awful bastard in the world cuts out coupons
to save a few pence
on his favourite mayonnaise, or else
always keeps his tidy slippers in the same snug place;

hell is still empty,
all the devils are here,
billions of bilious blue blistering
blank screen generation are like:
"I cant live here. I hate you."

so tell them:
"Take the Voight-Kampff test because
no one believes you're real,"
and sing:
"with a taste of a poison paradise,
I'm addicted to you,
don't you know that you're toxic."

Monday, 25 July 2011

I don't know whether to laugh

Regular readers will understand that this is my england is not the place to come for a fix of either mockery or bile directed towards the British working class. I daresay that this could have been inferred from a number of earlier bits of writing, but yesterday's review of Owen Jones's book (Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class) must have really rammed the point home.

I am, then, not somebody who gets his jollies by visiting the odious Chav Towns website, which I notice has now added Jones's name to its tagline. This now reads "What Estate Agents, Local Councillors, Polly Toynbee, Owen Jones & The BBC don't want you to know." That Jones is not a fan of the site is something which is made pretty clear in his book.

Intended, I gather, to be amusing, the site features a collection of highly unflattering descriptions of Britain's population centres. These descriptions routinely cover features such as unattractive buildings, poor town planning, lack of amenities and limited entertainment options in the places profiled. Also, no Chav Towns profile is complete without a sustained and generalised attack on the character of the residents of the location in question.

Some recent examples:
  • Ilkeston, Derbyshire: "Teenagers and even the adults seem shameless and I would even go as far as to call most of them a devolved sub human species." 
  • Selby, N. Yorks: "God, what can one say, it is a culture shock, to anyone from Wiltshire or somewhere decent. This is probably the biggest shit hole on the planet. The knuckle scrapers are in the majority, and thick as doggy doo..."
  • Ossett, W. Yorks: "These people are so stupid they think that they probably think [sic] that Descartes is an I phone [sic] application. The place has more thick Northern cliches per square mile, than one could wish to meet."
  • Goldthorpe, S. Yorks: "If you are 13 years old and still not a parent then you are not the sort of person fit to live in Goldthorpe, its [sic] important as a young parent that you teach your ratboy or ratgirl the basics of survival."
One view I've heard expressed is that the coverage of the derogatory term 'chav' is actually quite narrow - that it continues to be used only to describe certain kinds of working class people, namely the most aggressive and vulgar ones, or those exhibiting certain behaviours such as chaotic, and dysfunctional family lives or a lack of engagement with education and employment. So I daresay some proponents of that argument would take a swipe at Owen Jones and accuse him of conflating scorn for very particular sorts of people with a more general vilification of all working class people. Some might suggest that  he is doing that to serve his unashamedly left-of-centre political agenda.

I have to say, while I was pleased to conclude yesterday's review with a recommendation to purchase Jones's book, I do think his case might have been improved by taking more time to dig into the origins of the word 'chav'. He could then have presented a larger body of linguistic evidence to support the contention that the widening of this nasty little word's meaning has been indicative of a growing and more general class hatred.

None of this prevented Jones's book speaking very directly to me, however. 

I felt particularly in tune with Jones when reading his accounts of how the feckless chav has become a mainstream figure of fun in the entertainment world. Examples he raises are  Lauren, Catherine Tate's surly schoolgirl character, and Matt Lucas's Vicky Pollard. Call me a miserable sod if you like, but I didn't find either of these very funny for very long.

So, what are we to make of two skillfully created video mashups  and music pieces that I stumbled upon this week? A fully paid up member of the PC brigade like this is your england needs to know whether it's acceptable to enjoy them or not. Much depends on who is being mocked, and why.

Of the two videos, one is much easier to analyse than the other. Here it is:


This is the work of Alex Ross, a producer based in the southwest of England. The rather beautiful and quite mournful music seems to go well with the blighted lives of the Jeremy Kyle Show guests into which we glimpse during this short piece.

Kyle, it may not surprise you to learn, is another target for the ire of Owen Jones, who is not the first to round on the chatshow host for offering up the experiences of particularly unfortunate people as sources of entertainment.

So, while I can enjoy the Melodyne and composing skills of Alex Ross, my full enjoyment of this piece rather depends on whether the joke is on Kyle or on Kyle's victims. Perhaps this is a case of it being better not to know, given that my gut response as a music lover is to find the work very satisfying.

The second Alex Ross piece requires even more by way of mental gymnastics if you intend  to be sure precisely where the joke is aimed, other than the very obvious target of the confused young man whose interview is rendered into song.


Here, Alex Ross has reworked a notoriously incoherent interview with a member of the English Defence League, a far-right protest group that has attracted far more publicity over the last couple of years than you might think possible for a mob which probably has fewer than a couple of thousand active members.

The EDL organises marches against what it perceives to be the real threat of Islamic extremism spreading in England and the idea that the country may some day come under the influence of Sharia law. The group seems set to be the subject of a lot more publicity in the coming days, given that the lunatic who committed Friday's atrocities in Norway has alleged he has links with the EDL.

In Jones's book, there is mention of liberal middle class Brits characterising chavs/the 'white' working  class (make your choice - see the conflation-of-terms argument above) as racists fearful of immigration, difference and change. The existence of the EDL, visibly made up of working class men, would seem to be emblematic of that idea. But these are just a couple of thousand blokes, remember. Can they said to be representative of millions of people?

Another idea, that EDL members are representative of a particularly unintelligent class of people is certainly given a boost by the interview performance of the young man featured in Alex Ross's musical piece. Should you be in any doubt of just how inarticulate this interviewee really is, and should you suspect that Ross's editing job turns a previously more coherent argument into a confused mess, consider the original clip that Ross was working with:


On one level, of course, it can be useful to laugh at extremists and trouble-makers. To take them seriously is to risk adding to the little credibility they may be able to build up. So it's easy enough to join in with the mocking of the person in this clip and the ideas he fails to explain properly.

But is it a cheap trick? Are we really to believe that of all the people that could have been interviewed, this visibly confused individual is truly representative of the crowd in terms of their ability to express themselves? I am minded to suspect that the interviewer spoke with a number of people and selected the least articulate and least convincing speaker as the one whose response would be used in a TV broadcast.

This actually seems quite obviously true to me, given the identity of the channel which carried the interview, namely Press TV, the English language global news network funded by the government of Iran. It's rather striking that the mouthpiece of a state founded and run by Islamic fundamentalists manged to stumble upon the most pathetic interviewee imaginable when covering this EDL march.

So when you laugh at the guy stumbling over his words and his barmy ideas, keep in mind that the gag was set up by the lackeys of that well-known liberal and all-round good guy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Complicated, isn't it? Rest assured that any readers who want to accuse me of thinking too much (instead of just having a laugh) will not be the first to do so.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

the poverty of aspiration

At the same time as attacking a couple of novels (including the wonderfully raw Bullshit Bingo by Texan writer Misti Rainwater-Lites, which I reviewed a few days ago), I've recently been reading a commendable book by one Owen Jones - Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class.

This is an exploration of how and why, over the last two to three decades, it has become increasingly acceptable to mock and vilify the working class people of the United Kingdom openly and without embarrassment. Jones finds the roots of this phenomenon in the Thatcher government's "all-out assault" on the institutions, industries, values and communities of working class Britain.

From these origins, Jones follows the depressing tale of how our society has become more  and more unequal and of how even the Labour Party has abandoned the ideal of improving the lives of all working class people in favour of urging them to think in terms of aspiring to become middle class. 

It's cheaper, isn't it? Simply telling people that they should want 'upward' mobility costs nothing, whereas actually improving the lives of every working class person would  cost a lot of money, right?  As Jones observes, however, "not everyone can become a middle-class professional or businessperson" and he makes the obvious point that the majority of people still have to do the less well-paid jobs "that society needs to keep ticking".

If you are British and you consider yourself not to be working class, ask yourself to come up with completely honest answers to the following questions:
  • Have you ever looked down on the people who empty your dustbin,  sweep your streets, clean your office or work at the checkouts in the supermarkets where you buy the fancy foods that are part of your middle class lifestyle? Have you ever described any of these people as 'chavs' or cracked a joke with your friends about the way these people speak, dress or behave?
  • Have you ever referred to any of these occupations as 'dead-end jobs'?
  • Would you like to live in a country where nobody empties your dustbin, sweeps your high street, cleans your office or sells you your groceries? If you wouldn't like to live in a country like that, can you really consider those jobs to be so without merit that the people doing them should be derided?
I would have thought that an obviously moral position to adopt is this: If it is essential for these jobs to be done in order to preserve the well-being of us all, then these are occupations which have real value and, by extension, the people doing this kind of work are valuable contributors to our society.

But it doesn't seem to work like that in the country that Tony Blair told us back in 1997 is a "meritocracy". 

Jones flags up the irony of meritocracy being a core concept of the New Labour project, reminding us that the word was coined in 1958 by a sociologist and social activist who had been a major contributor to Labour's election manifesto of 1945. Michael Young's The Rise of the Meritocracy was a "satire meant to be a warning".  As Owen Jones points out, Young warned about the  unpleasant side-effect of creating a society in which those with the most talent rise to the top - that is to say, a society that remains unequal but with inequalities reflecting differences of ability.

I would not be surprised to learn that most people reading this would take issue with the idea that there is something wrong with that kind of society. The concept of meritocracy has been so widely advocated by mainstream politicians and social commentators for so long now that I'd guess its rightness is taken to be axiomatic by a great majority of British people.

Owen Jones does not buy that argument and neither do I. Jones observes, rightly I feel, that meritocracy "can end up being used to argue that those at the top are they because they deserve to be, while those at the bottom are simply not talented enough and likewise deserve their place."

It is this kind of assumption that underpins any thoughts you may have had about social mobility always being a very obviously good thing. This kind of assumption is the foundation on which you might have built the idea that it makes sense to think in terms of it being right for people to want to 'escape' those jobs involving bins, brooms and cash registers. "We frown upon the supermarket checkout staff, the cleaners, the factory workers," writes Jones. They are "slackers who failed to climb the ladder offered by social mobility."

This is a characterisation that I would urge everybody to avoid, but perhaps it's particularly easy for me to do so. I only have to think about my mother's parents.

My late maternal grandparents were among the most decent, honest, caring, moral and hard-working people I will ever encounter. When he returned from his Second World War duties as a young man, Ernest went to work as a postman and remained in the service of the Post Office until the day he retired. He variously delivered the mail, sorted the mail and measured up new posties for their uniforms. He never swore. He always wore a tie unless he was working in the little bit of garden at the back of the flat. He loved classical music, model vehicles, Crystal Palace F.C. and his wife Irene, who served food for a living, first in schools and then in the canteen of an insurance company's headquarters. Their homes were spotlessly clean flats rented from the Peabody Trust, one of London's oldest and largest housing associations. 

Ernest and Irene never aspired to own their home. They never owned a car and never wanted to. They never wanted holidays more opulent than a few days at a favourite B'n'B on the south coast. My grandfather did redocorate the flat every couple of years, but not to keep up with any Joneses or to achieve any 'lifestyle' sold to him by magazines or TV programmes. He got the paint and wallpaper out with something of the spirit of the Peabody Trust, which defines a good home as "a place that is safe, warm, clean, light, well maintained and evokes personal pride." I think he was proud of the fact that he and Irene brought up two daughters in exactly that kind of home.

I assume that Owen Jones wouldn't argue that nobody growing up in such a working class home should be permitted to have the desire and the opportunity to do more highly paid work and buy the trappings of what we would recognise as a middle class life. I would certainly not make that argument myself. 

But not taking issue with some working class people wanting those things is, I think, entirely consistent with believing that there is nothing wrong with those who do not aspire to 'upward' mobility.

My grandparents were very decent people, among the best I will ever know. They were NOT "slackers" who "failed" to do anything. They were comfortable with their useful work and the way they lived their lives. I would not look kindly on anyone who reads this description of Ernest and Irene and feels pity for them, much less anyone who might scorn them for any perceived failure of aspiration.

Owen Jones's book, then, is very much preaching to the converted as I follow its indictment of our fragmenting society, our political establishment and our media. For all that, I would recommend it without hesitation. Aspiration, touted so widely as an unarguably good thing, can be an engine of accelerating inequality and can be right at the heart of creating a culture in which mockery of the workless and the most vulnerable has spread to become, for so many, a wider disdain for the millions  of perfectly decent people who do the jobs that need to be done in order for us all to live in a civilised country. Aspiration on its own, it seems to me, is a rather poor value to put at the heart of our politics and our culture if not accompanied with a determination to move towards equality of conditions rather than just equality of opportunity - not least because it should be very obvious that even equality of opportunity is a chimera on these islands.

Friday, 22 July 2011

mind the artgap

Working in (or close to) to the centre of London can present some elements of downside -  the scandalous cost of commuting in for those based in the suburbs; sweaty, tetchy tube journeys; a dearth of inexpensive lunch options. But it has its pleasures, too. Some of those pleasures are even surprising and free.

I recall without affection two stints of working out in the boondocks. In both Borehamwood and Crawley, there was nothing lovely on which to rest the eyes, nothing interesting to eat and absolutely nothing to do outside the office - apart from going to the gym and pounding a treadmill sandwiched between heavily perspiring IT recruitment consultants. If any readers have anything positive to say about Crawley, I'd be interested to hear it.

Back in the more stimulating environment of Zone 1, one can stumble almost any day of the week on some little diversion. Sometimes it's as simple as seeing a succession of odd characters while walking to or from your place of work. Just the other morning, I was one of the busy bees buzzing past an individual whose stillness was in stark contrast to the nervous energy of the drones surging past him. There he sat on a bench in a little public park: a youngish man with Lucifer's mischievous little beard and a tall top hat around which was wrapped a purplish bandanna. He wore a bright red raincoat and pale blue jeans. He was barefoot and staring through the commuters at some unknown spot in the middle distance. In his hands was an uncapped bottle of not inexpensive Smirnoff Blue Label vodka (50% ABV). Not a little half or quarter bottle that could be slipped easily into the pockets of that scarlet coat. No, this was the full-sized thing. He appeared entirely serene.

As I continued, I passed from the little park onto the cracked paving slabs of the road ahead. I rounded a corner and was almost flattened by a fast moving person whose appearance was also memorable: of indeterminate gender, the creature was tall and thin. The hawkish face was clumsily made up: bright lips, huge daubs of rouge on each cheek, painted eyebrows. It wore a yellow dungaree-style contraption, the lower part of which ended somewhere down the length of the wearer's spindly thighs. The legs were encased in pink nylon and ended in marching kinderwhore mary-janes. The person was carrying what appeared to be a plywood cupboard door under one arm and was visibly on some kind of urgent mission.

Today's diversion was a bit different. 

I found myself at 37 Camden High Street, London NW1. This address is reached by passing through a narrow alleyway. Inside, you will find a high-celinged and whitewashed exhibition space with plenty of natural light. Last week, it hosted one of the numerous exhibitions of the London Street Photography Festival. The place is a welcome oasis of calm in the jumble of frantic action that is the eastern end of Camden Town at lunchtime.

Today, a collection of artwork by London-based Chinese artists, illustrators, graphic designers and photographers was on display. A lot of the pieces were quite likeable and I've made enquiries about something I'm sure my son would enjoy having on his bedroom wall. The price quoted to me would, I think, be in the 'affordable' bracket for most people working a white-collar job in that neck of the woods.


This small exhibition is only on until Thursday 28th July. I'm not sure it's worth a special detour for anyone not planning to be in that part of town, but it's well worth a look if you're  anywhere  around there and if you like simple and probably quite affordable pieces of art - or if you're in the market to commission some young, creative Chinese dude to design or make something attractive that you might need/want for your business or your home.


All of this seems to have been organised by the creators of ArtGap, "the first bilingual contemporary art magazine dedicated to bridging the Art Gap between the UK and China." The magazine, a free copy of which will be handed to you if you have a chat with the fellows running the exhibition, is quite a handsome object that would look nice on any coffee table. Distributed in both countries, "it not only showcases the current best in the world of art, from industry veterans to tomorrow’s innovators, but also provides a unique insight into other sectors in the creative industry with an eye for art. This includes fashion, design, advertising, architecture, cinema, and many more."


So, another little gem of a dicovery on the streets of London. I'd only popped out to get a bite to eat. I bloody hate London sometimes. I bloody love it on days like the one I've had today.

rare july sunshine

Sunlight has been in short supply this pissy, too-cool month of July in the London area. Yesterday the gunmetal sky over Docklands was spitting and stabbing at me as I wandered home from an extreme MSG blowout at a floating Chinese restaurant. This morning, nursing the resulting hangover and feeling the effects of previous afternoon's salt, fat, E621 and alcohol, I was heartened to see a few blessed rays angling my way. It's not set to last over the weekend, apparently. Bummer.

no prospects, no future?

WARNING: this is not a proper football match report. If you want a real report on Wednesday evening's Boreham Wood vs. QPR XI friendly match, I'd suggest you read the one provided by the south Hertfordshire town's local 'paper.

It is not possible for this is my england to offer anything nearly as detailed as that piece appearing in the Borehamwood and Elstree Times. Conditions conspired against even making an attempt to write something of that sort:
  • Unlke at St Albans on Monday night, when Martin Rowlands and Lee Cook both made an appearance (along with sluggish Italian hitman Pellicori, the usually goal-shy forward Clarke and the seldom-seen left back Borrowdale), the QPR side was composed entirely of younger players, most of whom were not immediately recognisable to someone who doesn't regularly attend matches played by the lads coached by Messrs. S. Gallen and M. Bircham.
  • Announcements of goal scorers and substitutions varied in clarity: completely inaudible in the first half of the match; barely audible and often mumbled after the break.
  • The evening at Meadow Park was, for me, as much about having a natter with my dad as it was about really paying close attention to this fairly inconsequential preseason fixture. He had been out of the country for a couple of weeks, during which time a lot has happened: the Murdoch media empire has been under sustained attack from all sides, including by a phantom flan flinger; related indiscretions have shaken institutions as august as Scotland Yard and No. 10 Downing Street;  in his absence, my old man has grown a beard and developed a very healthy tan, the combination of which physical changes provides me with some comedy material as I decide to what degree he now looks like Ernest Hemingway in the later stages of the writer's career.
So, before reading the aforementioned piece in the local rag, all I could really share with any degree  of accuracy was that the QPR XI prevailed 3-1 and that one of the Rangers' goals came from a  fully deserved penalty taken by the man with the captain's armband, Antonio German, the only player we recognised with any degree of confidence.

Beyond those basic facts, I'd take issue with the assertion made in the Borehamwood and Elstree Times that "it was a real value for money evening with both sides contributing to a match of high quality." But perhaps this difference of interpretation springs from my being used to better fare than that usually on offer at the tidy little south Herts. ground.

I found it scrappy and disjointed for much of the time, with the spectacle being no real improvement on what I'd seen at St Albans on Monday evening. All that can be said, I think, was that the Boreham Wood match was played at a higher tempo than the earlier fixture. The white-shirted home side contributed to this element by putting the Rangers youngsters under much more pressure than their St Albans counterparts had managed against an admittedly stronger QPR side. Marc Bircham was in charge in the dugout, and, while not seeming to be too pleased with the performance, didn't really offer much detailed guidance that I could hear - and we were pretty close to the Rangers bench. A lot of what I heard from the former QPR midfielder consisted of quite non-specific criticism of a lad named Jake who played on the right after coming on as a second half sub. I also heard him bellowing the captain's name a few times but was struck that the skipper himself seemed to favour a pretty non-vocal interpretation of the leader's role.

By and large, it seems that the QPR youth system is able to produce players who at least look the right size and shape to be professional footballers. How much more can really be said of our youngsters, though, I'm not sure. A number of them seemed to have a kind of lazy body language and I was not seeing facial expressions or hearing comments that would suggest any of them is very excited to be on the fringes of a newly promoted Premier League side. Perhaps they all realise that their chances of breaking into that side are surely very slim. If this fairly uninspiring kick about is representative of these boys' capabilities, then, with the possible exception of German, I'd be very surprised to see any of them making it onto the Loftus Road turf this coming season.

This is a great shame, given that according to recent comments by QPR manager Neil Warnock, the club is only in the market for free transfers and loan signings and that any monies raised by the probable (?) sale of the talismanic Adel Taarabt would not be reinvested in new talent.

As it stands, a QPR side minus Taarabt (and minus the influential Wayne Routledge, who has returned to Newcastle from his loan spell at Loftus Road) will surely struggle in the top division. While some other top flight sides have also been very quiet in the transfer market, they are better established at the higher level and with squads that are undoubtedly stronger than the one Warnock will have at his disposal. Even if the Moroccan starlet does remain a Rangers player for the time being, the Superhoops look ill-equipped to survive in the Premier League. Sure, the two signings made so far might add value, but both look like a punt to me - Can Kieron Dyer suddenly be transformed into a player able to make it onto the pitch more than a handful of times without sustaining a serious injury? Which Jay Bothroyd have QPR signed? The prolific version of last season (20 goals in 42 games for Cardiff)? or the less reliable version of many of his previous campaigns  (4 goals in 26 games for Wolves in 2007-08; 1 goal in 13 games for Charlton in 2004-05; 6 goals in 34 games for Perugia in 2003-04)?

Much as I'd like to think otherwise, the season ahead looks to be a very tough one for QPR, unless, perhaps, there is any substance to rumours of yet another takeover of the club.

If QPR's current owners have a master plan, its logic currently eludes me. So far it seems to consist of:
  • alienating supporters with crazy ticket price hikes, raising only £3-4 million extra in the process (the 'prize' of promotion to the Premier League is supposed to measured in the tens of millions, remember)
  • selling the best and most exciting player and not using the money to buy replacements
  • targeting ageing/injury prone/inconsistent players who are available (because no one else wants them?) on a free transfer
  • er...
  • that's it
In this context, it does seem a pity that matches like the one we witnessed under a leaden Hertfordshire sky on Wednesday evening suggest that there is little prospect of supporters' worries being alleviated by the arrival of some great new talent from the youth ranks.

room with a view

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

more love from the bearded lady

Emily Isis Vox, the pink-haired supremo of arty writing site Bearded Eloise has been kind enough to include another effort from this is my england at her place. She plumped for the microscopically weeny 'she wore:', a little observation piece written about a month ago. Check it out, as well as all the other lovely stuff served up by the bearded lady.

rangers reserves bag four against rotating saints

Leon Clarke was the sharpest shooter on display at the Clarence Park ground in St Albans last night, as an efficient QPR XI scored four goals without reply. Rangers' margin of victory could have been wider still - a first half effort was ruled offside, apparently without justification.

The first half action was notable for the ball being kept on the ground for much of the time, with the visitors passing it about comfortably and feeling very little pressure from the red-shirted home side. Martin Rowlands was employed as the holding midfielder, playing a little in front of the back four. Another former first team stalwart, Lee Cook, played higher up the pitch, spending much of his time in familiar territory, hugging the left flank. Also on display last night were Angelo Balanta, Antonio German, Gary Borrowdale, Bruno Andrade and young Michael Doughty, with the latter seeing a lot of the ball and seeming to be have been instructed to play in the famous 'hole' just behind the front line.

Supporters of both clubs will be adjusting to league competitions from which their sides have been absent for a good number of years. While travelling QPR supporters become reacquainted with Anfield, Old Trafford and White Hart Lane, Saints followers will be heading for Southern League Premier Division venues for the first time in a while, having spent most of the last few years playing at Conference South level. This summer has also seen a change of manager for the Clarence Park side, with David Howell hired from Harrow Borough by the two directors who took control of the Saints in May.

The half-time mark heralded another kind of change, with St Albans substituting their entire team for a second set of lads, this time wearing the more traditional yellow and blue kit. The new arrivals fared no better than the team they had replaced, with three of the QPR goals coming after the break. Clarke's second was followed by a decent strike from German. A 75th minute headed goal from the slow-moving substitute Alessandro Pellicori rounded off the scoring.

Leon Clarke (no. 8): terrifying the Saints' defence
 What any of this means for QPR remains to be seen. This easy victory is surely unlikely to do much in terms of elevating any of these players into the Rangers first team. The game, though watchable, was played at a leisurely pace. This was the summer's first friendly for the home team and it looked safe to assume that there is some work to do in terms of the Saints' fitness. So the test was not a stern one for the QPR players on show last night, although in the second half the fresher replacement St Albans side found it marginally easier to disrupt the visitors' passing game than their first half predecessors had done. 

Some seasoned QPR watchers may have felt saddened to see Messrs. Rowlands and Cook turning out in this match rather than joining the first teamers for their short series of friendlies in the southwest. If this is a signal that neither is likely to feature in the Rangers' Premier League squad, one wonders what the future holds for the pair, both of whom, of course, have been so important in past campaigns.

This was an enjoyable evening. It was pleasant to roam the compact ground freely, watching the first half from the little wooden grandstand and the second half from behind the goal  which QPR were attacking to good effect. St Albans City club staff always offer a warm welcome and despite the club's recent financial worries, points deduction and relegation, the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. Notwithstanding the quality of the play and the fact that only QPR's makeweights and wannabes were on display, it was also refreshing to be asked to part with just eight pounds to watch ninety minutes of football. As we look forward to the announcement about Loftus Road match ticket prices this week, I am assuming that the seat for which I was paying thirty quid last season will now routinely cost nearly double that.

Monday, 18 July 2011

no bullshit

You're reading and enjoying a book by an author whose work is still fairly new to you. The author references other writers with whom you are much more familiar. It's a comforting and gratifying feeling - shared tastes and influences; you feel a greater closeness to the writer whose book is in your hands.

I experienced this when immersing myself in the small Texan towns vividly conjured up by Bullshit Rodeo, a novel published last year by Misti Rainwater-Lites. Somewhere along the way, there is mention of reading and re-reading Charles Bukowski's Women, a novel whose protagonist is Henry Chinaski, the alter-ego used in four of Bukowski's novels as well as countless short stories and narrative poems.

Bukowski's style seems widely considered to be composed of elements of extreme honesty and realism. So many of his devoted fans find it difficult to tell where Chinaski ends and the real Bukowski begins. While the two do overlap, there are some crucial differences, not least around the matter of isolation. The loner Chinaski keeps the world firmly at arm's length. His creator was a prolific correspondent, answering much of the vast quantity of mail sent to him.

I find myself asking the same question about the Misti Rainwater character captured in the pages of Bullshit Rodeo, a work whose action switches back and forth between Texas and California, where the protagonist heads in pursuit of unrequited love for another writer.

The Misti in these pages recounts a largely unhappy childhood and adolescence of not fitting into a world of church, school, football games and suffocating family life. The narrator recalls numerous false starts -  a rashly entered marriage, an abandoned college degree, an abortive stint in the army, unloved and unsuitable jobs, giving up her first child for adoption. The breadline never seems to be far below Misti, her long-suffering second husband and her only child, a boy for whom she struggles to act as the warm, encouraging mother she knows she should be.

The backdrop to these miseries is sketched quite effectively. But this is done not so much with naturalistic descriptions of landscapes or interiors (these details are generally quite sparse) but by listing the cultural artifacts of the settings. Not least of these artifacts is food. For me, I associate non-metropolitan, non-cosmopolitan America with a diet of sweet, fatty, bland foods with bright colours and  childish names. Misti's Texas is made of buttery microwave popcorn, sprinkled donuts, fried chicken, Chick-o-Stick and McDonald's. This is contrasted with a more sophisticated life of health food, cultural pursuits and affluent ease in  the California for which she hankers:

"Somewhere else that is not here women eat yoga bars and text message their lovers and discuss designer shoes with their girlfriends over cranberry salads".

I wonder, then, how much of the author really is in these pages. Is this a Chinaski-style caricature, created for the sake of sustaining mood, interest and intensity? Or is the Misti of Bullshit Rodeo a faithfully accurate rendering of the writer, making this purely an autobiography rather than a novel? If the latter, it might to tough to empathise at times. By no means everyone will  find it possible to sympathise with the narrator's on-off withdrawal from the responsibilities of parenthood.

Either way, the story takes hilarious turns, not least in its treatments of bleakly unappealing cyber-sex. There is laughter in the dark. Raw, raucous laughter.

I enjoyed this immensely - and the book has done much to accelerate the pace at which I am coming to believe that there is some great writing being done outside the industrial system of the mainstream publishing houses and booksellers. That Misti Rainwater-Lites has had to go down the self-publishing route so far is an indictment of the conservatism of the marketing-led book trade and not any indication of a lack of quality about what she does.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

dickhead

you're not getting off

He needed to go into London on a Sunday but had forgotten that the trains would not be running due to engineering works. What would usually be a nineteen-minute journey into town took the best part of an hour on the bus service offered as an alternative. All he could do was look out of the window as the home counties faded into the edges of the suburbs: he could never read in a road vehicle without feeling travel sick.

Early in the journey, only minutes after the coach had pulled away from the bus stands outside the station, a man near the front asked to be let off. He had changed his mind about making the trip into the city. 

"Seriously? You can't just open the door and let me off? We're at a red light."
"You're not getting off here," said the driver.
"Where can you let me off?"
"You're not getting off. This is a rail replacement bus. You're on the train now. You can't just get off the train when you feel like it, can you?"
"But this isn't a train. It's a bus. Why can't you just let me off? What difference does it make to you?"
"Sit down. You're not getting off."

The man sat down. He made a call on his mobile phone.

"I don't believe this," he said to somebody. "I have to sit on this bus all the way into London. Nineteen miles. Because the driver won't let me off."
"It's a rail replacement bus!" the driver shouted. "You're not getting off!"

the morning after


stimulation

night terrors

standing naked, a full-grown man in the lunch queue at primary school. the only one with his food on a paper plate. it can't take the weight. it folds, spilling peas and unloved lumpy mashed potato everywhere.

only days to go before an examination and with a year of work barely approached.

running, running and with each step pushing higher into the air - higher than treetops and rooftops. your town spreads below, segueing into an endless tangle of ruined heavy industry that stretches to the horizon and beyond: broken pipes; twisted girders; giant, silent machines of unknown purpose; leaning, fatally cracked smokestacks; half-drained dockyards littered with collapsed cranes and ships ripped and gutted (the water is a bitter poison); spills and stains of toxic dark materials.

cramming piles of damp cocaine into nostrils that will not admit it. creamy, wet, precious chunks rolling over lip, chin and shirtfront and falling to a filthy floor. shovel it, shovel it. there's no time. they will be here soon. nothing must be wasted.

a voice so loud and so quiet that it can't be heard: insistently whispering right into your ear the single worst word in the world. it is the truth. it is your instruction. please don't ever let it come for real. it would be the end. the voice and the word have always been there. they are older than you and more important than you. they are you.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

mattresses

Mattresses seen abandoned on city streets are often sordid with bedbugs and night sweats, piss stains and despair. Some are luminous and seem fresher.

Abandoned mattresses: a pathetic architecture. Mute, they speak of sleep, dreams, and sex - memorials to a million private stories going on behind all the doors that will forever be closed to you.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

you dropped your wotsits

winged vermin's determined beaks
descend on crescent gardens'
cheesy wonders
dotting bright green
graminoids grown
where little dogs go
to do their business

disodiums inosinate
and guanylate:
fizzing from gizzards
to the back of your best coat

be lucky!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

please, please be guilty, Piers Morgan

The main reason for this is my england thus far remaining silent about the News of the World furore is just that it's been hard to know where to start. What had been a relatively slow-burning story, albeit a compelling one, for around five years has suddenly exploded, spraying us all with an eruption of filth that for days now has shown few signs of abating. The sheer volume of sordid information has been overwhelming, with further disgusting revelations coming to light on an almost daily basis.

Unapologetically, I am celebrating the demise of News International's best-selling Sunday tabloid. Perhaps all of the hacks made redundant last week were innocent of  specifically illegal activities. But they all earned a crust while working on a rag whose output has contributed to a coarsening and dumbing down of our culture and our public life in this country. So I have no sympathy. I don't care if muck is raked legally or otherwise. It's still muck. It still degrades those who write it and those who read it. Lost your job on the News of the World? Boo fucking hoo. Try to see it as a wonderful opportunity to do something more worthwhile.

We might not all want to read a somber and serious broadsheet newspaper, but it is not to the credit of the United Kingdom that so many of its people choose to buy grubby little comic books that peddle tittle-tattle about the entertainers who are paid to divert our attention from the fact that we are merely units of production and consumption trained from infancy to spend money we don't have on things we don't need to impress people we don't like.

My fervent hope, then, is not just for News International to fail to reestablish its place in the Sunday newspaper market. No, I'd like to see all current tabloids go out of business. After all, how much would the public good be served if former News of the Screws readers are drawn to Paul Dacre's depressingly shrill and bitter organ? I also have no special wish to see either of Trinity Mirror's Sunday titles gain from Murdoch's loss, not least because, if allegations aired today (by everybody's favourite right wing libertarian blogger) have any substance, that group has not been above a little phone hacking of its own. This specific  case was actually raised last week in Parliament by Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders, who claimed that "the Daily Mirror, when under the auspices of Piers Morgan, is suspected of using voicemail interception to reveal Sven-Goran Eriksson's affair with Ulrika Jonsson". That story, as Guido Fawkes reminds us today, was an award-winning scoop back in 2002 when the scandalously overpaid former England football manager was found to have been swapping fluids with his fellow Swede.

As Fawkes points out today, Trinity Mirror has responded to Sanders's remark with a denial. Fawkes, however, gleefully reports how former Mirror hack James 'Scottie' Scott, has long "dined out on the truth", the truth allegedly being that he (Scott) had listened to Ulrika's voicemails and thus stumbled on evidence of her affair with Eriksson and that Piers Morgan decided to credit "the illegally obtained story" to Jessica Callan, a gossip columnist who had long been criticised for failing to offer up drivel as exciting as that featured in Murdoch's papers. Morgan, then, alleges Fawkes, knew of his 'paper's use of illegal phone hacking.

I'd love this to be true and for the consequences to be serious. If any peddlers of soul-destroying crap are to end up in jail in the aftermath of the various enquiries and investigations getting underway, I would be overjoyed for that smug, preening prick Morgan to be one of them. Were further proof needed, anyone who has seen his ceaseless childish baiting of Alan Sugar and Rio Ferdinand via Twitter in recent months would know what an odious little turd Morgan really is. That he somehow got Larry King's former gig at CNN is baffling.

I heard someone the other day talking about the very large number of newspapers that have been shut down by their proprietors in the USA in recent times. It seems that when one title disappears there,  it isn't usually the case that rival publications pick up the failed 'paper's readership. Rather, it appears that the overall market shrinks a bit, with former newspaper buyers looking elsewhere for whatever it was they used to gain from the defunct title.

So I hope to see this pattern replicated here in the UK. I'd like to see the appetite for tabloid fare waning and for the red tops' influence to decline in the months and years ahead. Specifically, I hope for the baleful influence of Rupert Murdoch to be gone from these shores. It is a scandal that successive democratically elected (kinda) governments have run scared of a seedy smut peddler whose activities have been a major contributory factor in making British politics a laughing stock at home and abroad. We're somehow better than Berlusconi's Italy? Are we fuck.

For a collapse in support for tabloids generally to come about, though, the current widely felt disgust for the ghastly antics of the News of the World would surely need to infect other titles. Wouldn't it be something to discover that the Sun and the Daily Mail can be proven to have relied on illegal methods for their stories? I'd love to see a NoW-scale backlash against those newpapers. What fun that would be.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

a certain double standard

"The fact that the British elite is stacked full of people from middle- and upper-middle-class backgrounds helps to explain a certain double standard at work. Crimes committed by the poor will be seen as an indictment of anyone from a similar background. The same cannot be said for crimes where a middle-class individual is culpable. The mass-murdering GP Harold Shipman might have gone down as a monster, but did anyone argue that his case shone a light on life in middle-class Britain? Where were the outraged tabloid headlines and politicians' sound-bites about middle-class communities that 'really, really have to change'?"

Owen Jones, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (from the opening chapter, The Strange Case of Shannon Matthews)

growth

he's looking down at you too

Saturday, 9 July 2011

odeon

classlessness

A few months ago, I was sitting in Abu Dhabi International Airport, feeling tired and dazed by several days of mentally draining work. I was waiting with equally drained colleagues for a red-eye flight. Abruptly, I was dragged out of the here and now and back to the 1990s by the arrival at the gate of none other than our former PM, John Major. I was not inconsiderably surprised to see him.

My strongest abiding memory of Major is the remark he made in 1990: "In the next ten years we will have to continue to make changes which will make the whole of this country a genuinely classless society." I was a confused young man at the time, paying scant attention to the nuances of public life. So I can't even speculate about whether the then Prime Minister believed a word of what he was saying. But his prediction certainly hasn't come true. Looking back, Major's assertion seems as ridiculous as John Prescott telling us later that "we are all middle class now".

A lifetime of experience, recent experiences included, tells me that Blair was wrong and that Major's prediction (if it was a real prediction made in good faith) was way off the mark.

A change that I have been able to observe, however, is the ever more common notion of conflating of  the entire (white?) British working class with a putatively widespread 'chav' underclass of feckless and toxic criminal scroungers. This is poisonous nonsense.

So I look forward to reading the book which arrived yesterday: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones. I daresay I'll get around to some sort of review/summary on these pages in the near future.

Friday, 8 July 2011

tumblr girls

lust
for chuck taylor all-stars
in every silly colour, studded
with glass and gems
and
for high, improbable shoegasms;

they whisper
with glossy lips:
we're awkward beliebers
in the kawaii kaleidoscope
of cupcakes
and
we make heart-shaped holes from
candy-coated talons;

together they leap, gleefully mid-air colliding,
bumping patterned laddered nylon
at grazed knees
and they
want to build a fort with you and
fuck you in it,
but not really.

lowlife elite

spraying the streets of plovdiv,
buying two and a half grams of cocaine for
twenty U.S. dollars,
telling the Peace Corps kids it cost sixty

but this is old stuff, now his plans are bigger, smashing the work
of months into weeks, waking from the sleep
of the common automaton,
chasing that super-efficiency rule,
driving and smoking like crazy,
runningrunning, readingreading,
taking notes,
carrying the camera,
talkingscreaming,
slamming the doors with a gunblast,
swallowing just enough xanax and rivotril.

listen,
he can't explain this to you in the bitesize little
pieces you like:
information of a low importance index;
stupid attractive things that add
nothing

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

play misti for me

in shrinking Goree's
three-to-five days' rain, the
little mud mermaid tricycles,
learns "pretty", wants cherry sours, gets
atkinson's Chick-o-Stick, plays
Glad Game crutches in
the missionary barrel, plays
chthonic goddess of vegetation on
sarcophagi at the texas disco where
goat sucker dances
the contemporary legend and
Evelyn Draper
calls the show to ask
for Garner's jazz standard
this
roxy
christmas

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

bullshit rodeo

Mr. Postman usually just brings me junk mail and leaves rubber bands on my doorstep. Today he did better. He brought a fresh copy of Bullshit Rodeo, a 2010 novel by Texan writer Misti Rainwater-Lites.

Misti came to my attention when she co-authored a collection of poems and stories with my old friend M.P. Powers, an Illinois-born writer I've known for years online and with whom I've had the pleasure of drinking beer and Cuban coffee on trips to Florida, where he's been based for most of his life.

I bought the Powers-Misti book really to read M.P.'s stuff. But I also enjoyed the rough, tough hard and dirtysweet lines of his collaborator. Powers tells me that out of the oeuvre of the prolific Misti, he likes Bullshit Rodeo best of all. Hence my purchase. 

Powers says: "If you thought her poetry was good, or just alright, you will love this. It's almost unbelievable how good it is. A friend of mine said it reminded him of Henry Miller (before Paris). One other guy said it was as if On the Road had been written by Anne Sexton, only better."

The plot? According to Powers:  "it's basically about a woman's crumbling marriage and her son and how she develops a crush on a writer, and how she flies out to San Fran to see him only to come home disappointed because he wants nothing to do with her. Interwoven through all this are stories of her life growing up in Texas."

 I consider Powers to be a man of almost impeccable taste when it comes to writing. So I'll be mightily surprised if this doesn't push at least some of my joy buttons. Let's see.

do you hate the suburbs?

Have a look at details of this planned project by Sean Litchfield (a fine art and editorial photographer) and Zachary Violette (an architectural historian, writer and Ph.D candidate in American Studies at Boston University).

It's about the America suburb and "the way in which people's attempt at making a certain kind of landscape for themselves has ended up destroying the environment they wanted to create" because "Americans' fetish for the private automobile, and their insistence on highly-organized sites of mass consumption and technology-saturated, mass-produced homes, has removed Americans even further from the pastoral landscape the whole suburban experiment was about in the first place." 

Litchfield and Violette say they need $5000 to get their project started. Contributors get some goodies. So send them a few dollars if you think this looks a worthy endeavour.


It's interesting that the FAQs section of their project page has to include questions such as:
  • Do you hate the suburbs?
  • Do you hate America? The only people who hate suburbs are socialists 

Sunday, 3 July 2011

the capitulation of educated men

In his introduction to Girl, 20 by Kingsley Amis, Howard Jacobson writes that the character of Sir Roy Vandervane is conjured out of the nightmare that "after the capitulation of educated men to the child-speak of the 60s, we will never inhabit a serious culture again."

While probably only very few people see this as a nightmare, this does seem like an accurate  and concise capture of how we live now here in this England.

buttery biscuit bass

Editing genius to render you speechless, even if you don't watch/like Masterchef
(neither does this is my england):



This is from Swede Mason.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

easier to imagine the end of all life

Think about the strangeness of today's situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it's much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism. 

Slavoj Žižek, 2005

Walking out of Warnock wonderland?

In the football world, a certain phrase generally seems to carry a meaning that is the opposite of the sum of its parts - vote of confidence.

Very often, if there is widespread media speculation about the future of a football manager, his club will issue, in some shape or form, a vote of confidence. In reality, while the club is stressing its complete faith in the incumbent gaffer, the search is already underway for his replacement. This is not much of a ruse - it might have been a cunning plan the first few times it was used, but it now seems woefully transparent.

So what are we to make of this week's statement from QPR? Sure, it's not a classically worded vote of confidence, but should Rangers fans be worried that the club feels it's necessary to deny rumours of Neil Warnock's resignation? The statement popped up on the club's website on Thursday.

David McIntrye, who has reported on QPR since 1999, strongly suggested, also on Thursday, that there does exist a worrying gulf between the Warnock and the club.

McIntyre claims that the Rangers manager told him last season that he expected to be encouraged to consider signing a number of Italian players this summer, despite the gaffer's own preference being for targets based in England.

This is a worry. Italian signings in the Paladini/Briatore/Ecclestone era have not been successful. Consider the cases of Alessandro Pellicori and Matteo Alberti. The former is a woefully awkward and immobile 'striker', signed by QPR in July 2009. He failed to score a league goal in his eight league appearances and I struggle to recall seeing many more horribly inadequate looking players in a hooped shirt. While scanning the club's official website this morning, I note that Pellicori has returned from his long loan spells at Mantova and Torino back in his native land. Surely he won't be considered as a meaningful challenger for a place in next season's Superhoops squad.

Also back from his loan spell is Alberti, who has been plying his trade in the third tier of Italian football. I don't remember Alberti being quite as poor a player as Pellicori, but you'd have to assume his time away at Lega Pro Prima Divisione A side Lumezzane will not have improved his game to the point where he'll be a strong contender for a place in a side about to embark on a Premier League campaign.

In this context, you can see why Neil Warnock would be reluctant to be pushed towards Italian signings. Moreover, according to McIntyre, Warnock's contract gives him full control over transfers. That would certainly explain the shift away from signing the likes of Pellicori and towards signing hard-working players with a proven track record in the English game, a policy that led to the club's promotion back to the top tier after an absence of fifteen years. Kenny, Orr, Derry, Hill: as much as the dazzle of the talismanic Adel Taarabt, these Warnock signings combined to make QPR an efficient and resilient side whose promotion rarely looked to be in doubt - until the rank stupidity of Gianni "dodgy paperwork" Paladini threatened for a while to derail the campaign and undo the hard work of the manager and his players.

McIntytre writes that according to some inside the club, there is now a feeling that this clause which gives the manager full control over player acquisition may now have been breached, apparently entitling Warnock "to a full pay-off were he to walk away."

McIntyre alseo alleges that "the situation has reached a critical stage and is...being monitored by the League Managers’ Association, which is a very significant development."

Even without such doubts over the future of QPR's excellent incumbent manager, I am already massively displeased with the way with club is being run, reserving the most withering criticism for the scandalously over-the-top increases in ticket prices. Warnock being ousted would be too much to deal with. The various Rangers message boards are currently peppered with comments to the effect that losing the popular manager could lead to a serious escalation in expressions of supporter discontent. 

The Spoiler yesterday made the case for why the club would be very unwise to push Warnock out or create the conditions that might cause him to leave under his own steam, noting that cases of newly-promoted sides changing manager and managing to stay up are "the exception rather than the rule."

QPR, then, would be best advised to leave the business of signing and picking players to their seasoned manager, who is an old, old hand at these vital tasks. The owners, let's not forget, have no track record in the game and Rangers fans know very well that having Mr. Briatore take too active a role has thus far been a recipe for chaos.

Friday, 1 July 2011

nothing left to burn

When you have nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.

Douglas Campbell (1922-2009)

docklands