Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: My Dark Places

Summer heat and the British drop the stoicism the better to display their collective inability to cope with this unexpected weather, a failure typified in attitudes to pub going.

The ideal summer pub, you see, is a darkened place where sheltered from the heat and the light and the frenzy you can transcend the physical here and now of summer. It should be calm and quiet too - at least all the silly sods will be out in the open air.

The problem is that soon as it gets warmish, the newspapers love to produce guides on the best places to drink in the summer; here is one from the Guardian, for example. I don't mean to pick on the Graun, much, because the publication doesn't really matter; you can pretty much guarantee that anywhere named in a newspaper as the ideal summer drinking spot will soon come to resemble no such thing.

Leaving aside the question as to whether you really want dozens of Guardian readers over-running an agreeable riverside boozer (of course not), these things are written under a flawed premise: that what you really want to do is spend hours out in the sun drinking.

A bit of sun's okay - fine if you're out for a swim or a stroll, and it's good that it draws out the young ladies flushed radiantly in their flimsy summer dresses; but for every one of those there will be a good half dozen lobster-red men who should know better in flip flops and shorts or women displaying acres of flesh that should be discreetly covered. People become fractious and loud. And as for dogs and children in the heat, words fail me.

For reasons that should be obvious to anyone with a modicum of self-awareness Britons, booze and hours of sunshine are a bad combination. Partly because it's so many people overdo the wrong stuff - strong, chemically enhanced lagers, white wine with the taste chilled out of it, or cheap cider. Mostly though it's a failure to understand that the pub is a shelter.

So just as in winter the sensible thing to do is hunt down somewhere with a fire, in summer the drinker's natural instinct is to find somewhere cavernous, dark and calm. Ideally you want a place of marbled stillness, or else a pub with dark wooden walls and high windows that only allow the odd sunbeam to pierce the still air. An old Victorian gin palace would be ideal (perhaps something like the Crown Liquor Salon in Belfast). The walls should have the patina and nicotine stains acquired through decades of serious drinking. (Alas that the smoking ban prevents one shrouding oneself in smoke the better to provide a barrier between the pub and the summer heat).

In other words, you want a place in which time is temporarily suspended, in which you can contemplate the graver mysteries of life, love and drinking. Naturally, you want the company to be small and select (not least because you do not want the busy, foolish clamour of the silly sods who will be spending hours out in the sunny swilling booze). If you cannot find anyone like minded, look for a place where the clientele understand the value of silence or who, through their dedication to the drinker's craft, have been temporarily rendered speechless. (These will at least be roused into life should any affected Guardian-reading tossers enter).

As for what to drink. First a practical note, any fool can serve beer in the winter, the summer heat will winnow out the pubs that can't keep a pint of beer in good cask condition. You could do worse than go for a summer special ale (Adnam's Regatta for instance), but why not follow the example of those who live in places like Africa and the Caribbean and drink stout? Guinness is great in the summer, just don't bother with that extra cool shite. You can't glug it, true, but that's probably a good thing, and its sweet, refreshing taste will restore your energy and enthusiasm when you feel sapped an enervated in the heat. It's dark and cool qualities encapsulate the attributes of the ideal summer pub.

I could tell you a few places that meet the criteria; but I'm not going to list them here. Don't want them over-run after all.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 25, 2009

This again

Really that is enough enough about Twitter now. Something that is not an original idea (and which I have moaned about before) has become a vitally important piece of news content.

They identified high literature as a crucial pillar for any generation.

But they also latched on to Twitter, the website where users compress all of human experience into 140 characters. Twitter, they thought to themselves, epitomised the short attention span and info-deluge that defined the contemporary age.

So what if you put the two together? If great literature and Twitter were combined into one new form - Twitterature.

Oh sweet mother of fuck, protect us from these charlatans and bullshitters. If this is a cynical cash-in then fair play to them, I just don't see why it warrants free advertising. If it is in anyway serious then things are worse that I feared. To repeat myself, this is not an original idea, it is a fun parlour game that should not be repackaged and foisted upon the gullible nor used to appeal to the worst qualities of the verbally incontinent, the vapid and the self-obsessed.

One thing that worries is the fashionable delusion in all sorts of media circles that words, language and literature must now be reduced to mere "content" – a thing that has no intrinsic merit in itself, but which can be packaged, marketed and judged on its ad-generating powers. In other words, a triumph of the bullshitters which will seriously degrade culture, literature and thought.


Add journalism to that list too. There are some people who give every impression that the most important thing about the Iranian revolution is that it's on Twitter. Well no it isn't actually, though it's one faddish way of getting some people's voices heard; after all, there are multiple ways in which the net has allowed information to leak out - Facebook and Fark (of all things) have got in on the act, so too YouTube.

The trouble with the tweets from Tehran is that the stew of rumour and misinformation can obscure as much as it can enlighten. (As illustrated here - note too the claim that Moldova's authorities used Twitter to sew confusion and misinformation among the protesters there). Oh and the fact that the death of the People's Pederast has overwhelmed Twitter (sorry Iranians, you're already last week's news). There is no substitute for having proper journalists, who know the territory and the people, on the ground trying to sift through the mass of claim and counter-claim and give an accurate reflection of what is really going on. (An impossible task, of course, but one can make a decent stab at it).

I wonder if this confusion between the means and ends doesn't date back to the Reformation and the role of the printing presses in spreading Protestant ideas. Without denying the importance of technology in spreading ideas, I don't think the existence of the printing press itself explains why the Lutherans succeeded where the Hussites or the Lollards (for example) failed.

In revolutions the means in which the message has been spread was never as important as the message itself. In other words, a printing press is no substitute for having a Luther, a Milton or a Jefferson to hand; or a Lenin for that matter. If the Iranian revolution doesn't have a clearer message that a random sequence of 140-character comments, I very much fear it will not succeed.

PS: The following rather illustrates the point.

British homewares retailer Habitat apologized on Wednesday after ads for the store appeared on Twitter tagged with words linked to the Iranian election crisis.

Some Twitter users became angry after the upmarket store's messages turned up in searches for topics such as "Iran" and "Mousavi," the name of Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Events, hijacked by bullshit merchants online.

Labels: , , ,

Hair of the dog bites man

Two subjects close to my heart and other vital organs: pubs and newspaper journalism. I've long thought that a study ought to be done into the effect a paper moving its offices has on the local pub trade. In the absence of that, I was delighted to stumble across the following vignette (from the Guardian's Wimbledon coverage of all things):

"All Guardian hacks are alcoholics!" That's the friendly and super-libellous-though-I-wouldn't-put-my-mortgage-on-it-in-court title of an email I've just been sent by Andy Underwood. "I was on a corporate induction yesterday and the afternoon session was a rather nice guided coach journey around the local area, taking in Farringdon. The only interesting fact that our guide had about Farringdon was that since the Guardian moved offices, three pubs have been forced to shut. Comments, please."

It would perhaps be too delicious were one of those pubs the notorious Griffin "Gentleman's Bar And Club" (as if gentlemen worked at the Guardian anyway). By contrast I have it from a highly reliable source (an Irish hack in the pub, if you must know) that a number of boozers in Victoria were facing the axe until the Telegraph moved in nearby.

But this is anecdotal. As I said, a proper study is needed. I am not sure that my A-level in economics would be quite sufficient to get funding (then again, it was a few years ago. It's probably on a par with a degree now) but I feel I should look into this matter further.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: Ghost Pubs

There is a certain melancholy attached to a boarded up, derelict pub. It's not universal, admittedly, some places really deserve to close; but in general the ghosts of conversations, laughter, friendships and good times past linger forlornly around them.

One of the saddest such pubs can be found in Maida Vale, close to the Regents Canal on Aberdeen Place. Its name is Crockers Folly and there is a genuinely tragic tale attached to it. The Victorian grandeur of the place - its moulded plaster and ornate windows and the vast marble interiors, add to the sense of desolation now that it is closed, but its sheer size, its gaudyness and ambition, seem incongruous for such a quiet secluded street.

The story goes that its founder, a man called Frank Crocker, had believed that it would sit opposite the new Marylebone station, which was eventually built half a mile away. The pub was a white elephant from the start and Crocker killed himself by throwing himself from an upstairs window in the pub. Okay, like most such stories it is probably untrue; but as a myth it does nicely illustrate the overweening ambition that would put such a pub in such a place.

To the best of my knowledge it has been closed for several years. I have no idea who owns it nor what plans exist for its future. (A quick Google search leaves me little the wiser, it could be yours for £4.25 million, apparently). The estate agents ominously talk about its potential for conversion into flats (don't they know there's a property slump on?) - even though its a Grade II listed building. I hope these recent photographs convey something of its potential to be a prime drinking location.

As I said at the start of this post, the loss of a pub is something generally to be deplored; the loss of this seems sadder than most.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cyclists' eye view of London

My Sunday morning cycle ride into Victoria would have been ideal, only I was delayed at Buckingham Palace by the crowds gawping at the changing of the guard or some such flummery. An officious little police community support officer forced me to take a detour.

On the way back two delays: the crowds at Speakers' Corner (please reassure me that most people go there to laugh at the cranks and fanatics) and then the gridlocked roads around Lord's in the wake of the world Twenty20 final. Jubilant Pakistan fans mingled with the eternal jackass in a large car doing his damnedest to knock me off my bike.

These little vignettes of London life doubtless reveal something about the nature of the country today. It is damnably inconvenient.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trollied Tuesday on the telly

Spectacular drunkenness, like all vocations, requires a certain artistry. One could say the same about broadcasting, I suppose. In any case, broadcasting while blootered is one of those things that, when done properly, enters the realm of the sublime.

The Guardian's Organ Grinder has a run-down with some fine anecdotes and footage (the audio of Lt Cmdr Thomas Woodroofe's glorious "the fleet's lit up" broadcast is well worth a listen if you haven't heard it before.)

Here's a personal favourite that was missed from the Organ Grinder list: Serge Gainsbourg meeting the young Whitney Houston on French television. ("Sometimes ee's a beet drunk you know.") It has everything you could want from the human drama: comedy, farce, passion, romance and the tragedy of his eventual rejection.

You see, for the public drunkard going on telly while trollied is the ultimate performance; one that subverts the established order of things reveals profound truths about the artist and life itself. As the following vignette about Brendan Behan following one especially paralytic appearance demonstrates:

Meanwhile the writer was congratulated on the street for his performance long after the event. "Good on yer, you was properly pissed on TV last night," opined one literary buff, while another claimed he had understood every mumble Behan had made, but "hadn't a clue what that bugger Muggeridge was on about".

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sackville Street regained

Tomorrow is Bloomsday in which scores of silly sods descend on Dublin dressed in Edwardian costume to reenact various scenes from Ulysses. To make the sorry business worse they don't even do the thing whole-heartedly: a proper reconstruction would see them jerking themselves off on the beach while leering at a sexually precocious young floozy, getting into a fight in a pub with a GAA fan about anti-Semtism and finishing the whole thing off in a brothel somewhere in the northside of Dublin.

Admittedly there might be logisitical problems with some of these (the days in which Monto was Europe's largest red-light district are long gone) and the gardaí might try and spoil the fun; but I reckon they are not insurmountable. And surely if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing properly.

For one thing it might help rescue Joyce's novel from the poseurs and academics. Becuse no amount of fannying about in Edwardian dress in modern-day Dublin will get you to the heart of the place Joyce was trying to recreate. A new book by Declan Kiberd, Ulysses and Us, surely has a right idea; to offer us a guide to a half-familiar place the better to uncover its hidden byways and mysteries. Kiberd himself notes the supreme irony that:

The book has become a notoriously incomprehensible bore, almost wholly the property of academic Joyceans, and is seldom if ever read by anyone not forced to the task. (Surely an exaggeration?) As he sums up: “A book which set out to celebrate the common man and woman endured the sad fate of never being read by most of them.”

The only solution is to read the damn thing: just because it requires a bit of effort doesn't mean it won't be enjoyable. Admittedly as an experimental novel, some parts of the experiment are more successful than others; but I would endorse Kiberd's approach. It's explained more fully in a piece in The Times here.

It is time to reconnect Ulysses to the everyday lives of real people. The more snobbish modernists resorted to difficult techniques in order to protect their ideas against appropriation by the newly literate masses; but Joyce foresaw that the real need would be to defend his book and those masses against the newly illiterate specialists and technocratic elites.

If you haven't visited the Dublin of 1904 before, give it a chance. Best of all, like Joyce himself, there is no need to be physically present in the modern Irish capital.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: More pink

A couple of months ago I was bemoaning the difficulty in finding decent rosé. One reason for that might be the following story.

The war of the rosés is over. The European Commission announced today that it had abandoned its plans to allow European winemakers to make cheap rosé wine by mixing red and white wines together.

The announcement follows a rearguard action by traditional producers in France and Italy who feared that their growing market for pink wine would be flooded by cheap imitations.

The point is, of course, that cheap imitations from outside the EU are already being produced and are flooding the market. (There's plenty of cheap French rosé too, of course, but at least it's not an excuse to flog off two seperate wines that no one wants to buy).

Another indication of where the problem lies is a market that seems to reward idiocy.

When rosé producers in Provence and the Loire valley complained, Paris pressed for a compromise which would allow real rosé wines to be labelled as “traditional” or “authentic”.

This also infuriated the rosé producers. The booming new market for chilled rosé wine is largely a market amongst young people, they said. Labelling their wine “traditional” would give them a fuddy-duddy image.

God forbid we should upset the young ones. Surely in the case of wine – a product for which age is a positive virtue – tradition and authenticity are greatly to be valued? It's really not that difficult a concept to grasp: if you're buying electronics newness is a virtue, if you're buying booze it isn't. For most other things it all depends on context.


In other why is this news?: American tourists in London visit tourist pub. Had Michelle Obama asked me I could have recommended some alternatives. That's irrelevant really, one gets the distinct impression that what appealed to her was the old school pub aspects of the place, hand-pulled ales and traditional pub food. Sadly we don't know whether or not she enjoyed a pint but, in broadly booze-related context, I think we can say she get the point. Authenticiy and tradition can be virtues.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 04, 2009

More voting

A pleasant and sunny day here in Cricklewood. One shabby and bored looking little Lib Dem loitering outside the polling station, whom I ignored on my way in. Alas, I could not use my favourite method of deciding for whom to vote in that there were no attractive young ladies attempting to boost the fortunes of their party.

So which bunch of nonentities should I send to that temple of tedium and venality, then? I scanned the ballot paper and noted to my disgust that the Whigs had again failed to put up a slate; it’s as if they had given up hope of ever returning to power.

As a gentleman it would, of course, be impossible for me to vote for either Labour or the Conservatives. Which means it’ll have to be… but, wait. Here is one name I recognise: Arthur Scargill and the Socialist Labour Party.

For one delicious moment my pencil hovered over the box. And then I thought of the other people who might vote for them: the pathetic, the deluded, the washed-up and downright insane.

Sanity returned and applying the usual no nutters rule there was only one choice left. As I left I occurred to me that the party who won my support might do even better if they were honest and renamed themselves Go On, I Suppose It’ll Have To Be The Liberal Democrats.


Meanwhile, pleasant confirmation of what we always suspected. Ukip supporters are not very bright.


All that is neccessary for banality to triumph is for men with better things to do to go and do them

Many of you will be familiar with the old anarcho-wisdom: don't vote, it only encourages them.

Today, as millions of Europeans across the continent don't bother to vote, I think we can all see the wisdom of that slogan for what it is. Of course, if you want a European parliament full of nutters, ne'er do wells and expense gougers (that means you, Ukip) then it makes perfect sense.

Personally, my primary concern is that I am working the late shift on Sunday night, so if you could all vote in accordance with the polls that would be most welcome, thank you.



It's a sunny day here in London. By some theories this will depress turn out as people find better things to do. By contrast, some would argue that cold, wet weather would also depress turnout.

Personally, I think it means that if you are a politician and your supporters can't be arsed to turn out and vote for you, then you'd probably better find some new ones. Or give them a reason to vote for you. (See p99 How to succeed at politics: don't be Gordon Brown).

Apparently Harold Wilson once convinced the BBC to delay an episode of Steptoe and Son because he was worried that his supporters would rather watch that than vote for him. "And whose fault is that?" the BBC did not reply.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Beauty is truth etc

To the BFI over the weekend for the last in the Nouvelle Vague season. There is much that could be said about the movement – plenty of technical stuff about the art of film-making for those who enjoy making beautiful things tedious – but I like the winning simplicity of Adam Thirlwell's argument that it is about youthful joie de vivre.

As an illustration here's an equally winning scene, Anna Karina (any excuse) and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Pierrot Le Fou. (Female readers please note, I'm afraid you really do have to look like that to hope to get away with being so irritating. Even then, it'll eventually drive most chaps to a state where they want to shoot you and then wrap sticks of dynamite round their heads).

Because for all that joyful exuberance, many of the greatest Nouevelle Vague films end up with a girl dead in her prime (not always at the hands of men, either, in Jules et Jim it is the femme who proves fatale). That's the thing about youthful exuberance, it cannot last. But ars longa, vita brevis; this cinematic movement's real achievement was, in the manner of a cinematic freeze frame, to capture a sense of it for eternity. There's something purely Keatsian about it:

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearièd,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young.

EDITED: Finally got the actual video up now

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

No member is a hero to his valet

MPs' expenses part whatever it is now. A second Tory MP claims for his servants (sorry, staff).

Charles Hendry, a shadow minister, claimed more than £7,300 in taxpayer-funded expenses to pay for domestic staff at his second home.

Amusing, certainly. Bad for the Tories, sure. But should he (and Sir John Butterfill) not have tried to claim these as a legitimate political expense? Remember Balfour's wise words that he would sooner take political advice from his valet than the Tory Party Conference.

The worst thing about the political parties - all of them* - is their rank and file membership.

* Okay, Ed Balls for Labour then.

Labels: ,