Boy’s a genius

Boy's a genius

The next generation is also worried about the collapse of the wave function

Published in: on November 8, 2013 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  


A gloriously sunny morning in Newcastle waiting for the train home after running the coastal marathon…

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P.S. The three exhibitions at the Baltic were all excellent. I would highly recommend a visit.

Published in: on August 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm  Comments (2)  

Four Lions and a Bogeyman

Most of the pub quiz team names this week were based on the Osama Bin Laden story rather than the royal wedding, which restores my faith somewhat in the priorities of the British public. Nonetheless, the significance of the assassination of one terrorist shouldn’t be overstated…

On Sunday night I saw the film Four Lions for the first time. I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Morris’ various works for as long as I can remember, but for some reason I hadn’t got around to seeing this (I think I was living abroad when it was in the cinemas, and parsimony meant I waited for the DVD price to come down – it’s a very reasonable fiver at Fopp).

It’s a great film, with all the edgy laughs you would expect from a Morris construction, but it goes far beyond comedy. Not simply into political satire, where the message is perhaps a little obscured by the surreal aspects of the production, but into tragedy. I found it genuinely sad and at times very moving. Riz Ahmed is outstanding as the *serious* Jihadi, Omar, a strangely sympathetic young family man whose wife (Preeya Kalidas) and child are perfectly happy about the idea of his impending martyrdom.

Each of the other main characters was given tragic aspects. Faisal is a crackpot who trains a crow to fly into a tower full of “Jews and slags”; Waj (Fonejacker Kayvan Novak) the hopeless dope obsessed with paradise, or “rubber dinghy rapids” as he prefers to imagine it; Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the presumed convert with the zeal of the neophyte but not the intellect to match; and Hassan (Arsher Ali), the son of a wealthy textiles man who wants to prove himself.

When news of the film’s production first broke there were the usual Morris-related bleatings about inappropriate humour and insensitive subject matter. Yet again – as with the Brass Eye paedophile special – he has proved incredibly adept at revealing the flaws of protagonists and the prejudices of outraged observers alike. Also of note: great cameos from Benedict Cumberbatch, Julia Davis and The Actor Kevin Eldon, among others. And the most important message of the film is, of course, “fuck mini-Babybel!”

The events at the end of the film are predictably and traumatically pathetic. Without giving anything major away (for anyone who still hasn’t seen it, that is), it is mentioned in passing that Omar and Waj had – during their less-than-glorious stint training in Pakistan – accidentally knocked off Osama bin Laden. With that, I went to bed, and woke up to the news that this had actually happened. Well, not exactly, but close enough.

So, the bogeyman then. Joe Glenton’s Ghost. Fisk’s Middle-Aged Nonentity. Blair’s Perpetrator of Violence. Amis’ Product of his Family Background.

I was unpleasantly surprised that, alongside creeps like Don Foster, David Starkey and Nicholas Boles, one-time historian Tristram Hunt was calling the killing of Osama Bin Laden an unequivocally good thing (see Young Voters’ Question Time). Aside from his now-forgotten historical training – we know that there are no unequivocally good things, it’s a ridiculous conceit – this case in particular is as murky as hell. When Rowan Williams has an uncomfortable feeling it’s probably a good idea to break out the metaphorical Alka-Seltzer.

I’m not surprised that Bin Laden was killed rather than captured alive. If he ever stood trial (which, in any discussion of justice, would have been infinitely more preferable), he was bound to reveal all sorts of C.I.A.-related grime. Particularly, it would be no shock to discover that the U.S. was closely involved with the post-Mujahadeen until the very moment of the war in Afghanistan and perhaps beyond.

The dumping of the body is more puzzling, and has led to all manner of conspiracy theories. A rather compelling one is that it was done precisely to encourage such whispers and divert attention from the fact that the U.S. carried out a hit against a criminal in a nominally unrelated (and allied) country. Clearly Pakistan emerges from this debacle with little credit either way.

What has bothered me most is the fog of lies that emerged in the first press conference. It immediately brought to mind the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was originally reported to have been running away, wearing a padded jacket with protruding wires. I remember at the pub that night the primary reaction of those I spoke to was “they had to do it”, based solely on those initial reports. And first impressions count. If the U.S. was worried about global reaction to the killing of an unarmed combatant (no matter what he had done in the past*) in dubious circumstances, then there would be somebody preparing a story which prima facie made the Navy Seals out to be the unequivocal (in the Manichean terminology of Tristram Hunt et al) ‘goodies’. They can worry about letting the real story trickle out later.

Like Menezes, like various stories involving the state and its agents in the U.K., like so much else in the news, the message here is not one of good triumphing over evil. It is that you simply cannot trust your elected politicians and unelected agents of the state to present anything like the unvarnished truth.

*Again, why don’t we have to use “allegedly” in this case? He never went to court. Not that I doubt it, but you know, a little consistency would be good…

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm  Comments (1)  

Crushed by the system

This mosquito must have landed on our roller blind and been wrapped up in its mechanism before it could escape. Reminded me of that horrific bit with the mangle in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. I don’t like hurting animals really, but mozzies are nasty little blighters so I don’t feel bad.

Meanwhile, I will write something (and probably stick together some video) from Saturday’s march when I have time, i.e. after my current chapter is done…

Published in: on March 28, 2011 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  

European Adventure: II

Cologne to Copenhagen on the sleeper; pastries in Copenhagen; train to Stockholm; walk through Gamla Stan; and on to the ferry to Finland…

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Published in: on March 7, 2011 at 1:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Productive Land: The Beginning, January

This will be an occasional series about the ongoing attempt to turn the backyard at the new house into a small decorative garden surrounded by an L-shape of productive land. This post is to give an idea of the general aims, since January was not a great month for making actual progress, though there is a photo of a mammoth bamboo harvest…

The plan is to turn our modest and mostly concrete garden – about 30′ by 20′ – into something useful; a place to relax in summer, of course, but also somewhere that will work for us. Land is incredibly expensive under our economic model, so on purely rational grounds we should be trying to get more out of it. But good organic food is pricey too, so there is a shopping saving-and-quality argument too. More generally, I think (for a variety of reasons) that being able to de-outsource food production to some extent is sensible. Though I’ve been putting vegetable seeds in trays and getting fruit trees lined up in pots for planting, the space itself needs to be prepared.

In the beginning there was a mess

The photo above shows the garden about a week ago. The bath and picnic table won’t be there long, I imagine. There had been a thick wall of bamboo along the back, which was designated for the chop. It is not particularly useful and takes up a lot of growing space so down it came, but not without an almighty struggle – it cost us a fork and a pickaxe handle. Amazingly, the roots are only ever 3-4 inches underground, but they are dense and hold on incredibly tight. Still, we’re not just wantonly destroying greenery, as that would be bad. Instead we’ve reaped a bumper harvest of bamboo canes which will help prop up beans, peas, young climbers – all sorts of things, really.

Part of the bamboo cane harvest

Now comes the hard part. In the next month we should (hopefully!) have removed the concrete from the south end of the plot, laid out the raised vegetable beds and planted the fruit and nut trees. Following that comes the lawn and the wildflower garden, and then, possibly, some chickens. More on all that later.

Published in: on February 10, 2011 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment  

The Best of Times (Part II)

Bowlie reminiscences continued…


Part of the fun of ATP is the onsite facilities – that is, the usual Butlins attractions. Not everything was available to us festival-goers, but I had packed my swimming kit and was keen to work off my expected hangover with some lengths. After two abortive attempts at nine and ten, we returned at eleven to find the pool open. There was something particularly sweet about mincing around in shorts, getting hosed in a tropical wave pool and going on a flume – all in the depths of winter. Our exertions were rewarded with a slap-up full English to see us right for the travails ahead.

Two harps, living in just one mind?

Of course, they weren’t travails at all – rather they were (sometimes exquisite) pleasures. My musical day began with Abigail Grey, who (for better or worse) were precisely how one might imagine a band not just curated, but crafted, by Belle and Sebastian. Two (two!) harps, some nice three-part harmonies and an unfortunately anonymous (and male) rhythm section. The talk of Inverness off the back of their Bowlie slot (so they said, and there’s no reason not to believe them), they made the sort of literate, diverting but safe folk-pop that goes down so well on Loose Ends. Just right for the time and place, mind.

Collins and supergroup

Then it was upstairs for the highlight of the weekend, a triumphant set from Edwyn Collins. Well, Edwyn Collins and friends, as there were some cracking little cameos from Ryan Jarman, Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy, but this was mainly about Mr Collins himself. Under the spotlight, and with the band already playing, he glided out – now, of course, supported by his trusty stick which at points is used as a rallying baton – to huge, warm applause, delivering a set of shimmering pop both beefed up by the orthodox rock line-up (this particularly added interesting new qualities to the Orange Juice songs) and made more serious by Edwyn’s even more pronounced baritone since his illness. I was choked when he made to leave during the last song of the regular set (only to attempt to exit via the wrong side of the stage, leading unintentionally to another curtain call), but then he was back for another! Incidentally check out the video for ‘Do It Again’ here – and how good does Alex Kapranos look with that creepy moustache!? Amazing.

Coping with middle age admirably

Julian Cope, meanwhile, could not have been more different. Dressed in his trademark outfit (see above), he strutted and preened his way through two mini-sets – one with acoustic guitar (plus plenty of phaser), one with keys – before engaging in some aggro with the soundman over the scheduled cut-off point and departing in the middle of a passionate rant about the coalition. Instead of channelling D. H. Lawrence as he claimed, I think he had accidentally got Steve Mason’s ectoplasm through the post. The set was absurd, pompous and wonderfully entertaining. I recognised one song, but it didn’t matter. I was hanging on every daft/wise word.

Next up was another personal highlight: a mordant, trippy and very northern set from the marvellous Wild Beasts. ‘Two Dancers’ is still burning up a lot of my eartime after a year of heavy play; it never gets tired. ‘All the King’s Men’ and ‘Hooting and Howling’ were menacingly enjoyable, while the minor key stylings of ‘We Still Got the Taste Dancin’ on Our Tongues’ and ‘The Fun Powder Plot’ disguise something hypnotically intoxicating. The moment ‘Hooting and Howling’ breaks into a very exposed higher minor key is my favourite point of the album, and live it was stunning. Wonderful vocals and great instrumentation. My only quibble was the recurrent tendency of the group to slow down, sometimes audibly within a couple of bars. But no matter, it was a tremendous and entrancing set.

I feeled music

There was a race upstairs to catch Field Music, who were sandwiched between Wild Beasts and Dirty Projectors but on the other stage. The new material sounded much more gutsy live, and I did really enjoy it, though I was most chuffed when some of the old classics came out – especially ‘If only the moon were up’. The set was put together expertly, with some really inventive segues and juxtapositions. Also, the band looked rather more relaxed than my last encounter with them. Sometimes contrary but always interesting, I thought they were excellent live, and I’m going to hunt out the twin-solo-album which is the missing link in their output (at least on my shelf).

(to be continued…)

Published in: on December 20, 2010 at 6:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Things in the pipeline…

After a few long pieces I might be a bit quieter for a few days, but things I plan to post here soon include:

  • A piece on nationalism and sport, mostly to do with Mexico and the World Cup (this has got out of hand like the ‘Downfall’ piece and needs chopping)
  • A brief resumé of some non-fiction I’ve read in the last few months
  • An appreciation of both the novel and film of ‘A Single Man’
  • A round-up of the events at the Hay Festival in Zacatecas which I am off to later this week
  • A look back at the World Cup, and my team of the tournament
Published in: on July 12, 2010 at 4:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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