Big things in the wind

Saturday 31 December 2005

Happy new year etc – back online in a few days, with a few changes around the place… Hope yr all having a good one – more soon once I’ve sorted the technical details.

More importantly, you have to give a shit.

Thursday 22 December 2005

Some people seem to think that special intelligence is required to do cryptic crosswords. This is sad, because it creates a barrier between them and one of life’s few remaining harmless pleasures. To enjoy reading a chess column, you need to have a chess mind. With bridge, you have to be good enough at mental arithmetic to be able to count up to 13 four times simultaneously (once for each suit)… But with cryptic crosswords all you need is the sort of amateur detective’s mind that does not take things at face value.
Actually, all you need is a good memory for all the stupid, arbitrary rules that have no cultural significance for anyone under 120 years old and which make the puzzles so hateful:
Also, “actor” may equal “tree” (because of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who died in 1917)…

Amateur detective, my arse. I much prefer the motherfucking magic of cramagrams.

Solstice Special! The greatest song ever, never done better

Wednesday 21 December 2005

Having mentioned that I was listening to an oldies radio station, I now feel compelled to justify my actions: the radio station plays Buddy Greco.
Buddy is the swingingest lounge singer around, in the archetypal Vegas style (although his last gig appears to have been in Palm Springs, according to his website.) It’s impossible to imagine him singing anything without a swagger: I suspect even “Strange Fruit” would yield to his persuasive powers.
If there is an LP I truly covet, it is this record that a friend found for $1 in an op shop in Marysville, Victoria.
That’s not someone’s scribble over the title, it’s part of the design: the word ‘sun’ is crossed out and ‘love’ written above it – see what they did there? My friend’s copy is a reissue on the Australian cheapo Summit label, which may explain why the cover photo came out so dark – all you can make out of Buddy’s face are his teeth gleaming from the gloom of his comically holey umbrella.
As a Buddy Greco fan page succinctly describes it, “Buddy singing the songs of 1969 ultra hip, with very clever arrangements and a very good backing. The theme ‘Let the sunshine in’ repeats between each song through the whole album.” Indeed, he starts with a blazing version of the Hair hit, and the band quietly jams on the tune to segue from one track to the next, before closing the album with a mournful, haunting reprise. Genius.
If the front cover doesn’t convince you, then the back cover goes for the hard sell with an endorsement by none other than Buddy’s good pal, Mr Jimmy “Macarthur park” Webb:
Yes, Jimmy’s comfortable enough with his genius to assert his own greatness while he’s supposed to be praising someone else.
The absolute pinnacle of this album is when Buddy tackles the song that no other ageing crooner dared to touch when the older generation attempted to prove they were still ‘with it’ in the 1960s. Amongst the Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach he fearlessly launches head and heart-magic first into the Greatest Song of All Time, the Everest of the 60s counterculture that forever rendered his generation of singers irrelevant.
Even more remarkably, he doesn’t reduce it to more manageable proportions: it’s even longer than the already-epic original, adding some much-needed showbiz pizazz missing from it’s better-known incarnation. You will wonder how you could ever bear to hear this song without horn section, backing singers, and a sax solo.
It’s 6 Meg, six and a half minutes of unadulterated ecstacy. Download the apotheosis of Buddy Greco for a christmas you will never forget.
Now I just have to find the recording of Buddy doing “Macarthur Park”.

News Flash! I am old.

Monday 19 December 2005

I wasn’t going to post anything tonight, but while checking my mail I’ve been listening to an oldies radio station: Vic Damone, Ricky Nelson, Doris Day, Fred Astaire, Dinah Washington, FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. I suddenly feel very grey and feeble.
Oh god now they’re playing Spandau Ballet – must go lie down. Time to die.

Addendum: I didn’t switch off quickly enough, and heard a pre-recorded xmas greeting. From Leo Sayer.

I’m sure he was questioned by the police but had a watertight alibi

Sunday 18 December 2005

I recently mentioned how I’ve stumbled across a few of the more idiosyncratic London landmarks by accident, in the six months that I’ve lived here (the most illustrious of these would be, of course, the enbalmed corpse of Jeremy Bentham). Here’s another one, a short walk from the bunker in Victoria Park: a pair of statues called the Dogs of Alcibiades.

The two statues were donated to the park in 1912, and flank the main pedestrian walkway across the park’s narrowest point. I had only heard of these because they get a mention early on Lights Out for the Territory. The author, no friend to dogs alive or artificial, is dismayed on a visit in the early 1990s to find them freshly restored:
If the live animals, the shit-machines, are bad, the divine archetypes we’re supposed to worship are worse: twin white horrors, the Dogs of Alcibiades, raised on brick plinths. When they were blessedly removed, for months, my spirits surged – but, inevitably, this was no more than a truce. The frosty albinos are back, resprayed, restored (scrawny, loose fleshed, wolf-headed, genitally deprived): the gift of Lady Regnart. Posed on their red-brick chimneys, they howl in perpetual torment: as if fires had been lit beneath them.

No doubt he was pleased that they were vandalised soon after being relocated. Appropriately, given Sinclair’s metaphysical conception of dogs, someone sprayed them black, with eyes and mouth bleeding red, ’666′ emblazoned on their sides. Barry from Bethnal Green‘s history of the East End shows the vicissitudes of the dogs’ recent history but, unlike webmaster Barry, I prefer them in their diabolical guise. Barry also relates an urban myth about the dogs’ otherwise unexplained presence in the park, but he gets the name of the donor wrong.
A few years ago, both statues were more seriously vandalised and have not been repaired. They now sit on their strange brick plinths, discoloured and pocked with weathering and lichen, more closely resembling Sinclair’s vision of them from a decade ago, as though his criticism were a curse upon them. The nearby trees have grown out to almost engulf each dog’s head with branches, the park authorities presumably hoping to lose them forever in the foliage.
Some photos of the dogs in 2005, taken this summer, are now on Flickr, click a photo or here for the first of them.

Another bad movie heads-up

Friday 16 December 2005

More film crew vans spotted in the street, last night around where I work in Euston. This time for The Children of Men, which a quick check of the IMDb shows is indeed a film adaptation of P.D. James’ misbegotten attempt at sci-fi.
My first thought was that every other James novel must have now been filmed, having remembered that fans and critics alike responded to this book with a chorus of “don’t give up your day job.” Having just discussed Iain Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory, I also recalled that book’s passing reference to “that turkey The Children of Men (stacks of which were appearing in remainder shops everywhere)”, but it appears that someone has decided to risk their money on it.
Serious money. My next thought was that this was going to be a TV mini-series, like almost all other film/video adaptations of her books, but no, this is a big-budget job directed by that Brazilian bloke who did the last Harry Potter movie.
The crew had closed off the entire park – god knows how they evicted the clumps of speed freaks who congregate around the basketball court drinking 2-litre PET bottles of white cider. If you go see this film and notice in some scenes skeevy people pacing to and fro in the background clutching green plastic bottles, remember they’re not actors.
I looked, but couldn’t spot Michael Caine or Julianne Moore anywhere. With or without plastic cider bottles. Sorry.
It’s been about 25 years since anyone attempted a movie-movie of a P.D. James novel, Chris Petit’s “dark, stylised” version of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. Sinclair, an associate of Petit’s, describes the unfortunate history of that film in Lights Out: “a vanity script that brought with it a couple of wealthy amateurs who wanted to buy into the business.” On the positive side, it is a rare James book that omits the “creepy and prophylactic” Inspector Dalgleish or one of his surrogates, who in The Children of Men will be played by Clive Owen.

The Third Pilgrimage: St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe

Thursday 15 December 2005

When I lived in Melbourne, I once photographed 20-odd places in the city centre, and re-photographed the same places two years later. Amongst the differences and similarities, one entire building had disappeared, another built in its place, while in a location two blocks away a ‘For Lease’ sign hadn’t budged in all that time. No one ever visits the same city twice: the waves of attention and scorn, construction and dilapidation, the money flows and fades from one street to the next like changes in the weather. It wasn’t so hard leaving Melbourne: by the time I left By the time I left Melbourne it barely resembled the city I had in my mind from when I first arrived. (If I’d lived all my life there it may have been a different story.)
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been using Iain Sinclair’s and Patrick Keiller’s (another Lawrence Sterne fan) navigations of London as a means of getting my bearings in the city, but by revisiting some of their haunts I’m not attempting to vicariously connect with the psychogeographic significance bestowed upon them. Keiller’s London was filmed in 1992, Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory written mostly a decade ago: a long time for anything to survive unscathed in a city. Apparent permanence is irrelevant: I wouldn’t trust St Paul’s to be the same building as described in the literature. At most, I’m looking for landmarks not decided upon by consensus or public fiat, to better understand how an individual can form a relationship with the city.
(Sometimes these visits have happened by accident, as if the landmarks have come to visit me. The chapter in Lights Out that chronicles the troubled history of Rachel Whiteread’s House begins, typically enough, describing the shooting of “Big Jim” Moody in a Hackney pub. It was only when re-reading the chapter to write this that I realised the pub in question is my local, which, having moved to London from Brunswick, makes the place feel a little more like home. It also reminded me how much I still think of things I read about London as happening Somewhere Else. The site where House once stood is further down the road, an nondescript patch of fallow parkland. I cannot be bothered to see if the exact spot is marked.)
So I was anticipating neither surprise nor disappointment when I went walking down the narrow streets between St Paul’s and the Thames, looking for a particular alleyway. This was the scene I remembered most vividly from London, the most “other”: the narrow path between two buildings in shadow, somewhere behind St Paul’s, doorposts still displaying propaganda posters from World War II. This scene stuck with Sinclair too, and in Lights Out he goes looking for it, helpfully giving correct directions after prolonged searching without success. At first he mistakenly believes the church wall on one side is St Paul’s itself, but eventually finds the place, posters and all, beside another, much more modest Wren church, St Andrew by the Wardrobe, further down the hill.
… into the maze of alleys and half-forgotten streets with boarded windows… a limbo of medieval prompts hiding as much from the Great Fire or the Blitz as from crass development… the light stopped down to the limits of the visible, an illumination that depended more on fossils in the brickwork… as we emerged into St Andrew’s Hill, we discovered an abandoned bookshop – the individual letters of its title, as they peeled from the glass, reflected on a shelf that was thick with dust.

It seemed a slim chance that this microclimate could survive undisturbed another ten years in the centre of commerce. If I didn’t have inital doubts about the longevity of psyhcogeographic nuance, crossing the new Paternoster Square past St Paul’s showed that as feared, the cathedral itself would be unrecognisable from the place once known by Sinclair and Keiller. Paternoster Square, in redevelopment limbo for some twenty years, is now “completed” in the modern sense – a perpetual worksite nominally open to the public, but made largely inaccessible by temporary construction fencing encircling a large expanse of featureless pavement. The buildings are, naturally, occupied with stores and Starbucks, and are as distinctive as a shopping mall in Brisbane. The inert air of simulacrum is generated by an anonymous column standing in the square without explanation: it’s a fake, a replica of part of the Square’s portico destroyed in the Great Fire. It looks like a scale model of Wren’s Monument to the victims of the Great Fire, as if to gull tourists away from the real thing further downriver.

More confusingly, you cannot cross the square to the cathedral without passing through the Temple Bar, which was built at the west end of Fleet Street in 1671 but had been sent into exile in Hertforshire in 1880. A year ago it was returned to London, and reassembled at the wrong end of town, beside St Paul’s. Sinclair writes about London’s maniacal need to perpetually disorientate itself, misaligning its landmarks, forgetting and misremembering. In some way it is reassuring to witness the process for myself. The Temple Bar once regulated the flow of traffic in and out of the city; now it regulates the flow of tourists to and from the cathedral toilets.
So, my hopes were not too high when I negotiated the tangle of streets below St Paul’s. No tourists, but everything had been repainted, renovated, refitted. The oldest building would have been the one wrapped like a Christo, awaiting its refurbishment. Office workers on overtime loitered in doorways nursing cigarettes and takeaway coffees. Everything had been exposed to air and light and St Andrew, when I found it, had its own breathing space. No wartime ephemera could cling to these fresh surfaces, ten more years of trophy hunters.
True heathen, not knowing which alley was the true passage, I walked and photographed the perimeter of the church, ready to accept numinous energy from any point. The light was too bright and clear, the corner of Addle Hill and Wardrobe Terrace rebuilt and sandblasted, CCTV cameras fixed on the cornices. One side had buildings too close to the church, its secrecy scoured by a shaft of light from the gentrified St Andrew’s Hill. Through a window I saw into the back of a fashionably spartan office wine bar; on its front side it retained the name of the previous tennant, a bookshop.
The church is a brown, oblong monolith of a building, so plain it seems that its ornamentation has been worn away by the years. Its door sits flush and comouflaged with its outer walls, discouraging casual visitors from testing it. On the south wall I found some benches mounted like monuments (“stationary vehicles of mortality” as Tom Phillips describes them) on their own flagstone plinth, looking into, more than over, some effaced stone tablets in the bushes masking the traffic in Queen Victoria Street.
Pinned to the gatepost notice board were some inkjet photographs of a congregation apprently enjoying themselves very much on the streets outside the church. There was a weathered notice for the parish’s annual ceremony of Beating the Bounds at Rogationtide, Wed 4 May 6 pm. The notice ended with a quote from the Lord Bishop of London.
“What we celebrate is ancient and stands for deep continuities and rituals without which people become disorientated.”

Haunted by Leo Sayer, and other bad flashbacks

Thursday 15 December 2005

One year ago, I posted: “Leo Sayer is still threatening to move to Australia next year to relaunch his music career,” followed by his immortal quote:
In Australia they still want heroes. They are looking to me to teach their kids knowledge and wisdom.

Well, it turns out I owe Leo Sayer $100 too, as he up and done it. In April. We could have been in the Changi Airport terminal together.
This only popped into my head because this morning I read in the paper that he is allegedly (never, ever trust reports on popular culture in newspapers, no matter how much you wish them to be true) enjoying chart success in the UK again, thanks to some uninspired DJ rehashing one of Leo’s creaky old chestnuts. The only problem is, ha ha ha, they can’t find him:
… while Sayer seemed happy to give his blessing when first approached about the project, now that he is on the verge of his biggest hit in three decades, he is nowhere to be found. A new video was made without him after he proved hard to find in Australia, where he moved at the beginning of the year. And occasional e-mails suggest that he has little idea that he is storming up the dance charts…

Funny, he seemed accessible enough when he last updated his website a couple of months ago, talking about the remix. I know Australia’s a big place, but he’s hardly the first Brit to go there, and he doesn’t seem to be the type to go trekking alone over the Canning Stock Route on a journey of self-discovery. Unless he’s looking to muscle in on some Aboriginal tribal elders teaching their kids knowledge and wisdom.
If anyone back home in Australia happens to notice Leo Sayer wandering the streets lost and confused, mumbling “I think I used to be an entertainer! Bobby Goldsboro? Donny Osmond?”, please alert the authorities. In fact, if you see anyone dressed as a scary clown mime, best cosh them and drag them down to the nearest cop shop for their own good, just to be on the safe side.
Nothing on Leo’s website about whether he’s ever heard of Johnny Farnham. Excuse me while I go erase my browser cache.
Yes, I have been trawling through old blog posts. There are plans afoot.

Psychology: Never Again

Wednesday 14 December 2005

While procrastinating over finishing a longer article, I’ve been clearing through some unfinished posts from last year. First, this gem from 10 October 2004:
And anyone who drones on to me about how they’re going to leave the country better be prepared to meet my wager of $100 that they will still be here a year later.

I owe myself $100.
However, I’m not totally useless at prognostication. Also from October last year:
I forsee that this blog will perpetually be caught in a boom-bust cycle of updates.

Finally, here are a couple of pictures from an unfinished third instalment reviewing the contents of the Yooralla Box. First, a closeup of the front cover of the LP Judy Garland on the Radio, showing Judy’s scary Ellen-Foley-cocaine-black-hole nostrils to full effect.

Next, a prize photo of Barry Crocker’s crotch, from his fine LP No Regrets. Note the white jacket, belt buckle, and the two guys in the background doing the “Allen Ginsberg in Subterranean Homesick Blues” schtick. I particularly like the scuffing on the cover around Bazza’s trouser area – one passionate owner.

More intriguing: maybe it’s the magic of long-lost 1970s trouser technology, but Barry does not appear to be a man who has much use for the golden section:


No wonder he looks pensive, but, non, il ne regrette rien.

Filler by Proxy XXVII: Welcome to the 21st Century; I challenge you to a loins-off.

Saturday 10 December 2005


Still waiting on that personal jetpack for the commute to and from my perspex geodesic dome, but in the meantime we can give sullen, grudgeful thanks for the few, glistening gems of Future Shock that are tossed our way. First, coloured bubbles! I cannot understand why I am so excited about this. It’s like cold fusion turned out to be real, only more fun.
Second, Neil Diamond has a MySpace page. Anyone unwilling to at least cut this guy an inch of slack has a heart of stone. The fine blog Heart on a Stick has collected the best of the many, many accolades the man has received in his short stay on the website, and in doing so has taken the pulse of a modern, media-savvy society when common toilers such as you and I are suddenly confronted by the presence of a genuine, undeniable star. WARNING: it’s a bit bandwidth-intensive, but worth the effort.

The Enigma of the Voynich Manchester

Friday 9 December 2005

I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the curtains lately. More to the point, I’ve been trying to read the curtains. I’ve been meaning to ask the landlord where he got them from, in case I can trace them back to once having hung in John Dee’s library.

This is a transcription of my soft furnishings (from top left):
Elegni
INDULED PATRIBUS
Gracia. Agapdo oum uiara qume oares elegni.
Hbidem in ilapide corosfo. A Sali Domitiano Aq. Tribo kir iuno sing.
Receaant
aotro ulyemno mi adra etera praasrdyo foment praeaonia receaant ueterd aond funt anuud.
It feels a bit like reading J.K. Rowling, only with most of the boring bits taken out and better cod-Latin. If you want to design your own curtains, pillowslips or antimacassars, there are useful tools online if you don’t trust your own neologising skills. I’m not feverish enough to believe that the curtains are trying to tell me secrets but, at the very least, I think I’ve discovered the inspiration behind Blogger’s word verification system for comments.

And I don’t feel so good myself

Wednesday 7 December 2005

Tonight, walking home, down a dark street. An ambulance stopped by the kerb. The lone paramedic slowly pacing in front of the headlights, looking around bemusedly. Noticing a damp patch on the bitumen, he squats down, touches it, brings his fingers up to his nose and lips.

Postcard from London

Sunday 4 December 2005


“What’s London like?” the folks at home often ask me, and I tell them, “the streets are lined with thousands of cheap-arse fried chicken shops.” I’ve been meaning to take photos of them (that and off-licenses), but they’re so numerous the project has always seemed too daunting. It’s like embarking on an ocean cruise with a mission to photograph the horizon.
Luckily, someone has done the hard work for me: Bad Gas has a gallery of fried chicken shops, 122 of them so far. Some of them come from further afield than, say, Walthamstow, but they are all so much of a piece that clicking through a couple of dozen of them gives a much more vivid sense of walking London’s streets than watching The Bill could ever achieve.
The curators have helpfully added the rules for making a successful chicken shop sign, along with more detailed observations which experience qualifies me to vouch for.
If you call your shop Kennedy Fried Chicken, there’s a law stating that you must display a picture of the Statue of Liberty.

Enjoy your virtual holiday in the Empire’s capital, and keep an eye out for the line-dancing rooster.

“The truth is we are not that dumb, and we are not that smart. Well, actually some of us are pretty dumb.”

Thursday 1 December 2005

Much less pernicious than Sony secretly installing illegal software that damages your computer whenever you play a Neil Diamond album, but just as insidious, is the corporate-sponsored product placement. Earlier in the year, McDonald’s tried to lure rappers into dropping some madd phat props to Big Macs in their def rhymes, for $1 to $5 each time their dope jams got played on the radio. Unfortunately for Maccas, playas are all about the Benjamins and the jacuzzi full of Cristal in the back of the stretch limo, not about the Abrahams and a furtive Quarter Pounder at a bus stop after last drinks. In the end, the deal never quite worked out, despite some high-level negotiations with MC Sad Fat Bastard and the Insane Clown Posse.
Now, also in the USA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the pharmaceutical industry’s major lobbying group, has been caught out trying to secretly commission novels designed to scare Americans away from buying reasonably-priced drugs from Canada.
The original plot of The Spivak Conspiracy, the book’s working title for a time, revolved around an attack on the United States by villainous Croatian Muslims, whose weapon of choice is tainted drugs sold to Americans through Canadian pharmacies.

Then there were disagreements over money and the quality of the novel produced between PhRMA, the authors, and the PhRMA ‘consultant’ who brokered the deal. In the end, it all went horribly wrong:

Spivak and Chrystyn turned down the money, rewrote the book, and retitled it The Karasik Conspiracy. The thriller is due out next month… the book has an instructive new bad guy: A large pharmaceutical company, so far unnamed, has poisoned Canadian-sold drugsā€”and then tried to make it look like a bunch of terrorists were behind the plot.

PhRMA is now denying all knowledge of the plan (for the novel, not poisoning Canadian drugs) and has suspended the deputy vice-president involved. Also of interest in the article, is the finding published in the British Medical Journal “that lower prices do not lead to less research” in the pharmaceutical industry. Also also of interest is that serial liar Jayson Blair was also brought on board as an editor for the novel.