You will hate the cheese and pickle: Cousin Norman redux

Wednesday 12 October 2005

WFMU, hosts of much goodness on the redoubtable UbuWeb, have an MP3 of the original version of the classic bad song “I’m Going to Spain” by the enigmatic Steve Bent, for your downloading enjoyment. A song I’d heard about as a wee tot on the grievously-misnamed World’s Worst Records compilation LP, but not actually heard until The Fall recorded their wistful cover version: fine in itself, but nothing can match the queasy charm of the original.
All I can find out about Bent is that he was a contestant on New Faces in Britain in 1974. Assertions on some websites that he is one and the same as the British actor Stephen Bent appear to be fanciful.

The Remise Door. Calais

Tuesday 11 October 2005

“Hey,” I said, “There’s another car salesman sticker in the back window of that car.”
My companion grunted unsympathetically and shifted the red Mégane we’d hired up into sixth. After two hours at the wheel, she’d gotten the hang of driving on the wrong side of the road and felt ready to overtake trucks and schoolbuses just as the dual carriageway ran out.
“You’re supposed to be describing the scenery to me,” she said, reaching over and fumbling around in the glovebox. She’d found that the Mégane felt most comfortable cruising at about 150 and was reluctant to let it drop to too low a speed because “it’s a diesel and they like being revved up.”
We were driving north from Barcelona up into the Pyrenees to be at the wedding of a couple of friends: she’s Australian but has lived in Barcelona and nearby mountains for years, he’s Catalan. Right now they’re living at his parents’ place up in the Cerdanya, a place I’d never heard of before.
I was expecting lots of hillclimbing and general cragginess, but once you’ve got up into the mountains you go through a really long tunnel (you folks at home think it’s a long haul from Southbank to Burnley – ha!) and once you come out the other side find yourself in this pretty green valley with meadows and cows and little villages dotted around. Then someone stops your car and relieves you of 9 Euros for driving through their shiny new tunnel and when you wind down the window realise it’s suddenly 15 degrees cooler outside.
What you can’t see amongst all the picturesque countryside is the French border which runs diagonally across the Cerdanya, and has done for 400 years, just to be difficult. Then, to be even more difficult, once you’re over the border into France you’re suddenly back into Spain again, a tiny little island of it called Llìvia which has also been that way for about 400 years, before heading back into France again. And because we’re dealing with France here, they speak French on one side of the border, then revert to Spanish 100 metres down the road. The family we were staying with was Catalan but lived on the French side – I suspect most of the locals speak Catalan but you’d never get the Francophones to admit to tourists like me.
My companion had just finished a bout of Italian lessons in London and so was pronouncing what little Spanish she knew as thought it were Italian. I suspected I was lapsing into a ropey Catalan accent when attempting to pronounce anything non-Anglophone.
“How do we order coffee again?” she asked, finally finding what she wanted in the glovebox.
Dos tallets, si us plau,” I said as she bit into the large xoriço we’d bought before heading off. We’d grabbed the sausage and a large, strong goat’s cheese from a market before picking up the car in Barcelona and had been taking chunks out of them from time to time along the way. By the time we returned the car it was going to be very stinky.

Not that we cared too much. We had actually reserved a small, cheap 3-door to get us out of town but we got traded up, which was a nice result after arriving at the car hire office to find a hot, grumpy queue spilling out onto the pavement. A tall Australian in front of us was talking into his mobile phone, “typical Spanish fuckup.”
This wasn’t quite fair: progress had been blocked for some time, and would continue for the next hour, by three idiots camped on the front counter. The first was a dense, leathery German girl loudly complaining that they had lost her reservation, despite paying in advance. Funnily enough, she didn’t have a receipt or booking number to show them, either, and the staff were too polite to call shenannigans and throw her out (hint for readers: try hiring a car and see if they’ll take your money up front).
The second was a hapless Frenchman who had managed to prang his VW while trying to get out of the car park. The third was an insane menopausal 4’0″ Spanish woman (FORESHADOWING!) in a denim jacket that had fallen into a Bedazzler who spent a solid 45 minutes complaining about the car she’d ordered, the slightly better car she actually got, the nib of the biro with which she had to fill out the paperwork, the pot plants in the car hire office, her shrivelled-up husk of a husband slouched lifelessly next to her, homogenised milk, and how the country in general had gone to hell in a handbasket since Franco died and the hippies took over.
When my companion reached the counter (sorry! as a non-driver I had to leave all the dirty work up to her) the staff were so relieved to have a customer with real, tangible documentary evidence of a reservation and a valid driver’s license that they immediately traded her up to a better auto, then invited us to cross a nearby eight-lane highway to the car park…
…where the exact same process was repeated as we waited to collect the car. The Frenchman was gingerly backing out his newly-distressed VW – almost ramming a concrete pillar in the process – despite his girlfriend assisting him by dancing in circles around the car and flapping her arms.
Meanwhile, the insane menopausal 4’0″ Spanish woman (FORESHADOWING!) was pacing back and forth, sequins dimly flashing in the subdued light, haranguing the attendant about the colour of the car, the fuel tank lid being on the wrong side, wrong shape of steering wheel, and how the country in general had gone to hell in a handbasket since Franco died and the hippies took over, before finally shoving the dusty remains of what used to be the man she married into the driver’s seat while she settled into the back seat and warmed up to nag him all the way to Thessaloniki.
Just as we were figuring out how to start our shiny new car (hint: big round button labelled START) the dense, leathery German girl rocked up and unsuccessfully tried to push her way to the front of the queue. They people ahead of her were sympathetic but unable to oblige.
“I’ve been stuck back there for two and a half hours,” she whinged.
“Good,” they said.
Sorry about getting a bit distracted there. I had intended to describe my holiday as succinctly as possible, but no matter. Here’s a photo of the Cerdanya.

Another month, another attempt at a relaunch

Monday 3 October 2005

Many years ago, I started this blog with the intention of making it the world’s premier forum for analysis and discussion of speedboats, but along the way I lost focus and the emphasis shifted more into the popular pastimes of admiring mediocre pop divas and mocking the dead.
Now I’m back from a tops trip overseas (no Juliette Lewis!) I’m ready to adopt a new tack: long-winded traveller’s tales and enough badly-compressed holiday snaps to bore you rigid. So get ready. There may even be some pictures of kitties. Rejoice!
The main reason I’m so happy is while I was away, the refurbishment of the bunker was all but completed:

Cousin Norman had a real fine time last year

Wednesday 21 September 2005

So long folks, I’m off to Spain for a week or so. While I’m gone I promise to investigate the whole Juliette Lewis fiasco. In the meantime, enjoy a few new pictures intended to illustrate a longish, serious article about my visit to St-Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, which I haven’t gotten around to finishing yet. See you next weekend. Squeezes!

We’ll always have Jeremy Bentham to kick around

Wednesday 21 September 2005

Apart from the lovely and talented Julie Dawn Kemp, the tireless champion of filler on this website is the Great Utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham. Despite his many achievements, his greatest legacy remains in supplying cheap gags with middlebrow pretensions to erudition to unimaginative pseuds like me.
Now that a new semester has begun, I paid a return visit to his modest abode to convince myself that Wikipedia is wrong and he is in fact on permanent display, and not just wheeled out for special occasions when conferences are held. Because the real journalists have fled the internets I felt I had to step in and put the hard questions to the Big Stiff:
Me: Hello? Coo-ee!
Bentham: Stop tapping on my glass! I’m not a bloody goldfish.
Me: Sorry. I guess you have people coming up and bothering you all the time.
Bentham: (sighs) No.
Me: So, were you affected by the bombs going off down the street back in July?
Bentham: That was a bomb? They told me someone upstairs had dropped a particularly heavy difference engine.
Me: I guess they didn’t want you to panic and…
Bentham: Lose my head. Very fucking funny. First time I’ve heard that gag – today. Security! Evict this jackanape and wheel me over to the Natural History wing!
Me: Doesn’t look like anyone’s coming. I thought you Victorians were more well-spoken than that, you know, “Good DAY Sir!!”
Bentham: I’m not a Victorian! I’m a William…ian… Whatever.
Me: What sort of positive example do you think you have set to the youth of today by sitting in a rosewood portaloo for the last 170 years?
Bentham: I’d like to think I’ve played my small part in keeping the “Great” in Great Britain.
Me: Did you know they’ve named a pub after you around the corner?
Bentham: Yes. I’d love to visit it someday – I could murder a pint.
Me: A common complaint among the enbalmed. You don’t get about much, do you? When was the last time you travelled?
Bentham: Last year. A new cleaning woman started and she wanted to vacuum under me. They haven’t even oiled my casters for years. The squeaking nearly drove me potty.
Me: You know, putting yourself on public display all these years, your invention of the panopticon, do you regard yourself as the inspiration for Big Brother? It’s a TV show where…
Bentham: I’ve seen Big Brother. A repulsive display by depraved lowlife.
Me: I guessed you wouldn’t be impressed.
Bentham: I was over the moon when Makosi got the arse. Girlfriend had no business being horrible to Kemal like that.
Me: Well, I think we’ve trawled all the most obvious jokes now, and I feel a bit dirty having looked up a Big Brother forum to put in that tidbit of gossip, so I’ll finish now and thank you for your time.
Bentham: You still here? Security! etc.

Be afraid: Linda Perry is also involved somehow

Wednesday 21 September 2005

I know you look to me as an authority figure but I need your help on this one, particularly from those of you outside the UK. Is the inexplicable resurgence of media interest over here in Juliette Lewis a peculiarly British phenomenon, or some global conspiracy engineered by the Scientologists? She’s been popping up everywhere as some kind of rock chick, which is apparently what she wanted to do all along and so deliberately starred in unwatchable shite like The Other Sister so all those movie executives would finally stop pestering her with wheelbarrows full of drugsmoney.
So is this a PR snow job going on everywhere, or have we suddenly become Germany to her Hasselhoff?
It really is a pity they don’t have genuine A-list celebrities manning the tables outside Scientology centres at least once in a while, so we can see how well-adjusted you can become after paying $100,000 to learn that you have thousands of body thetans trapped inside you who were tricked into watching a 3-D movie by an alien galactic ruler named Xenu.

Take a FREE personality test and learn about the science of mental health (Reg. Trade Mark)! My results are not typical and may vary.
Also, ads for Narconon have suddenly appeared at tube stations lately. Coincidence?

New Gherkin!

Monday 19 September 2005

Pity she never did any self-portraits

Sunday 18 September 2005

Overheard at the Tate Modern bookshop:
“Oh, so that’s what Frida Kahlo looks like!”

Of course, the window has been vandalised, but that should go without saying

Sunday 18 September 2005

On the District Line train at Blackfriars Underground station. These have been up since long before the bombings in July, so don’t get any particular ideas about overreaction, although it does seem a slightly excessive response.

So remember, if you plan on slashing the seats on the London Underground, you can expect the Metropolitan Police to send Jean Reno in a helicopter down the tunnel after you.
Significantly, these signs only appear on the oldest Underground lines, the ones with the bigger , shallower tunnels; so this does not appear to be an idle threat.
History buffs will note the iPod Nano poster on the platform. I’ve been meaning to take a photo of this sign for months but haven’t had the chance until now.

A Public Service

Friday 16 September 2005

Switching hemispheres mid-year has left me throughly disorientated and indifferent as to which season it’s supposed to be where, but I figure summer must be over at last because UbuWeb is back online. For months they’ve had a single page announcing they’d be back after summer, but we all know what that usually means on the interweb.
UbuWeb has a bunch of poetry, essays, arty-type stuff online but the real exciting part is the boatload of free MP3s available to download: hours of brilliant and inexcusably overlooked music.
From the ridiculous
The 365 Days Project. Astonishingly bizarre recordings from garage sales around the world. Sometimes too hip for it’s own good, but when the first half of March can offer such treasures as musical polymath and self-confessed failed wunderkind Nicholas Slonimsky (then aged 96) singing “Children Cry For Castoria”, Van Morrison fulfilling contractual obligations to dead record company owners, Anthony Hopkins most genuinely terrifying performance, Orson Welles facetiously offering blowjobs, and Melbourne’s own Man Who Plays Music On his Fingers, you can hate the sinners and love the sins.
To the sublime
Tapes from the Morton Feldman Archive at SUNY-Buffalo. Dubbed from the archive’s open reel tapes onto cassette, then onto someone’s laptop, and compressed into MP3s, so you can guess the quality of these 1970s recordings aren’t the best. Also, some of the performances sound a bit wonky, but Feldman wrote some of the most beautiful and enduring music of the last 50 years, and some of these pieces have never been released on CD. (Note to Mallrat: if you like Gavin Bryars, Feldman’s the guy he stole all his ideas from.)
When I looked in yesterday, UbuWeb had expanded its collection of experimental films, but today they’ve been taken down after a spate of legal threats from various people – “all lawyers and business people, not the artists themselves.” So you may have to wait a while before really testing your bandwidth out on downloading Samuel Beckett’s Film.

Those easily offended by extreme nerdiness are advised not to read this post

Friday 16 September 2005

Two observations on British culture so trivial they hardly bear mentioning, but have been bugging me for months:
1) Someone once pointed out to me that it was a uniquely indicative trait of the Australian character that they don’t bother removing the dealer’s sticker from the back window of their cars. This is not true. I am not sure if the Australians inherited this behaviour from the British, or if it is a universal phenomenon. My future travels of the globe will be consumed with peering at the back windows of parked Volkswagens.
2) If you’re anything like me, and I’m sure you are (carbon-based lifeform, devastatingly attractive, wooden leg, martyr to strong drink), you will watch Law & Order: Special Victims Unit exclusively for the surly man doing the voiceover at the beginning of each episode who is never heard from again for the remaining hour; specifically, for his superlative pronunciation of the word ‘heinous’.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you are probably British. For reasons that are beyond me, the UK episodes have a completely different credit sequence that omits Surly Man altogether. This is a grave error. No matter how special these victims are, I now find it hard to work up that much sympathy for them. Whenever SVU (or, as a friend of mine habitually calls it, Rape of the Week) comes on now, I sit there thinking “I don’t know, this crime just doesn’t seem… well, heinous enough for Ice-T to get all that exercised over it.” I need to check eBay for videos, explicitly marked “contains strong violence, sexual references, and the word ‘heinous’.”

And definitely no “Sometime in New York City”, either

Thursday 15 September 2005

“Instant Karma” permitted on Saturdays before 11pm.

Alternatively, I can wait for school to start again

Monday 12 September 2005

Dear Crack Dealers,
Please start selling drugs in my street. The kids playing outside are shitting me.
Crystal meth also considered.

Getting amongst it real soon now

Saturday 10 September 2005

I’m still suffering technical issues, albeit of a self-inflicted variety this time. So in the meantime you can amuse yourselves with the photos slowly getting posted to Flickr (over on the links section): there’s some nice relaxing ones of people kite-surfing at the seaside, if you look around a bit.
Apart from that, I think I might get me some religion. I went past the Celestial Church of Christ, Hackney, last Sunday afternoon and found lots of black people dressed in white robes running about on the pavement throwing blocks of styrofoam at each other. That’s the kind of fast-and-loose interpretation of the bible I can get down with. I may even go in for ordination if there’s a bouncy castle involved.

“It must be very difficult coming to London from Australia, having grown up so far away from the cultural centre of tradition.”

Saturday 10 September 2005