REVIEW: Clean Living under Difficult Circumstances: Finding a Home in the Ruins of Modernism, by Owen Hatherley

As the title implies, Owen Hatherley is trying his best in trying times. This collection of his essays covers everything from tributes to Black Box Recorder to shop signs in Walthamstow High Street, from early blog posts to recent essays for the London Review of Books, as Britain staggers from late Blairism to coalition austerity and on to the nightmare of eternal hyper-Toryism.

What’s remarkable is how the author’s cool, mildly ironical style alters not one jot throughout, as though he emerged, fully formed, from the primordial Southampton soup.

Hatherley came to prominence via the mid-noughties blogger clique of London-adjacent intellectuals. K-Punk, aka Mark Fisher, took him under his establishment-averse wing and perhaps helped Hatherley to avoid the fate of death by a thousand coffee table tomes.

Indeed, here he shows a certain regret for his part in making modernism groovy again. His city-essay series, initially for Building Design [1] and collected in two wonderful books [2], eviscerated the New Labour and early coalition additions to our urban landscape. An article, included here, from 2013 on the state of Britain’s libraries reveal the turn of phrase that made those books such a joy.

Here, for example, is Cardiff Central Library: “A quote on a plaque from the Manic Street Preachers – ‘Libraries Gave Us Power’ – is far less prominent than the sign for Wagamama”. After eight further years of austerity, the question of whether civic spaces should be dominated by chain restaurants seems almost quaint, in a bittersweet way.

And there, beautifully put, is Adam Curtis’ descent into self-parody: 

“The mission of educating and informing – and making coherent arguments that could be conveyed in a multi-part series – was gradually replaced by a diffuse, intentionally disorienting approach that replicates the bafflement which Curtis argues is deliberately created by those in power. The tics remained the same, but something had shifted.”

Hatherley writes best when considering what we’ve lost and why it didn’t have to be that way, so it’s unsurprising there is an air of yearning melancholy amid the sarcasm, particularly when dealing with housing and architecture in places not quite along the neoliberal road as Britain, like Warsaw and Vienna. The sadness is knowing what comes next.

I wish he’d explore the personal more, in fact. His take on the decline of public conveniences, The Socialist Lavatory League, is enlivened both by the knowledge of the author’s own Crohn’s disease and his anger at how the British love of the scatalogical prevents editors and commentators alike from taking this shit seriously.

This collection ends with a review of Fisher’s posthumous collected works, translated here from the original Russian. 

The two men were once close. Hatherley’s skewering of Fisher’s more adolescent tracts [3] and frustration at the wasted years and occasional ideological contradictions feels like something he wrote never expecting it to see the light of day in English. This frankness and expertise adds weight to his analysis of the older man’s brilliance and importance as we all figure out a way to emerge from this Boring Dystopia. 

Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, with its explorations of what it means to live in a world where an alternative to neoliberalism is beyond the cultural imagination, was a life changing publication for many on the left of my generation. And as Hatherley reveals, he was working on a follow-up at the time of his death. 

He is much-missed. And as a humble blogger, I hope the author won’t mind my quoting the conclusion to his K-Punk tribute in full:

“So much of this book is about the memory of having your own world transformed, your world in Loughborough in the 1970s, completely transformed and turned upside-down by a record, a children’s programme, a TV play, which has beamed in from another dimension and taken you elsewhere, and offered you one of Herbert Marcuse’s moments of prefigurative utopia.

“Expanded out of his own head, out of his own time, Mark demands that everyone have access to this experience, and not as individuals struggling with their own ill-adapted mind and body – but as a collective, as a social body, as communism.”

Owen Hatherley’s Clean Living In Difficult Circumstances is available via Verso Books

[1] the kind of trade mag that once had the budget for original writing and is now an algorithm and listings based mess

[2] A Guide To The New Ruins of Great Britain and A New Kind of Bleak, for New Labour and Coalition era landscapes accordingly

[3] such as: why did he think Nolan was ever an interesting director? Is the eroticism stuff a bit beneath a man then in his late thirties? Does he regret self-spiking a piece for The Times by quoting his own editorial brief in the copy?

Granary Square

I am a frustrated writer. I am frustrated by how little I write.

The first sentence is the hardest, as an old lag might say. There are so many competing demands on one’s attention, from social media to existential dread (or, to give it its more common name, social media).

And then there’s depression, anxiety, undiagnosed ADHD. The occasional need to eat. Messages from loved ones. Obligations. Online board games. The cricket (another source of existential dread).

As the year shudders towards its end and we’re told to hunker down yet again, I find my mental reserves are running extremely low. I suspect I’m not the only one.

The concept of another lockdown terrifies me, but even without it, my world has become so small. The biggest impact of this pandemic, at least from a personal perspective, is the lockdown it has enforced on the mind.

I’ve lost touch with a lot of people since March 2020. Of course, most of them still exist – in the debilitating rectangle of my phone. Technically a message away.

But friendship and relationships don’t work like that, no matter how much we store them on digital devices.

They are things of contact, communication and intimacy, and the past couple of years have been intensely damaging to them.

This blog is like the opposite of Granary Square in King’s Cross: I sometimes forget it isn’t private.

This is your fault. If my readers were more like security guards in cheap uniforms, swanning around making sure I don’t stage some kind of protest, then I wouldn’t end up writing so honestly.

I hope everyone out there is doing alright, and that I may see some of you soon.

J x

REVIEW: Everything, all the time, everywhere, by Stuart Jeffries.

I was an undergraduate during post-modernism’s golden age. It was 1998 and things, we had recently been assured, could only get better. 

Warwick uni was the quickest to embrace New Labour’s neoliberal reimagining of higher education. Private security goons stalked campus roads to nowhere. Treatises as brazenly unserious as Francis Fukuyama’s End of History were discussed seriously by expensively educated people destined for jobs in think tanks, consultancies and international monetary funds.

Post-modernism was the thing to pretend to believe in, just as Blair was the guy to follow as he could convince anyone that up was down and sell you a PFI contract while he was at it.

And yet, looking back, post-modernism was treated as a joke even then, even by its ultra-ironic acolytes. Did these people, many of them history students, truly believe that there were no truths, only interpretations? Really?

Reading Simon Jeffries’s rollicking, pop-history of almost half a century of this crap, I wonder whether being in on the joke – and, crucially, never truly believing in anything – was kind of the point.

As Buzz Aldrin might put it, post-modernism comes right after modernism. Its proponents rejected and blew raspberries at the old postwar consensus certainties that were fraying during that most surreal of decades, the 1970s.

As a delightful, retrospective quote from David Byrne puts it,

“Like many others I felt [modernism] had both strayed from its idealistic origins and become codified, strict, puritanical and dogmatic . . . Besides, as lovely as it is, modern furniture is cruelly uncomfortable. If postmodernism meant anything is allowed, then I was all for it. Finally! The buildings often didn’t get much more beautiful or the furniture more comfortable, but at least we weren’t handed a rulebook”.

Post-modernism, suggests Jeffries, “was exuberant, fun, irresponsible, anti-hierarchical, and had lost faith in progress.” He argues, compellingly, that it was both handmaiden to and gleeful deconstructor of neoliberalism. Post-modernists not only wanted to have their cake and eat it, they wanted to make a lot of money while doing so.

Bouncing cheerfully from Bowie to Baudrillard, we learn that everything is a mask and everything is left open.

Punk’s expertly marketed nihilism is argued here as a gateway to Thatcherism – Branson and McLaren’s boys a cynical exercise long before Johnny Rotten started selling butter. “Punk didn’t shatter the mask of the dominant culture; that was simply Marcus’s unreliable grand narrative. In the post-modern era, the dominant culture accommodates whatever is thrown at it”.

There are some missteps here. Jeffries’s takes on queer theory and video games veer dangerously towards Guardianista canards: Grand Theft Auto is an easy target but one that shows the author’s lack of understanding of the art form. Similarly, he conclusions on the appropriation of cyberspace by consumerism is true, but there are still other possibilities out there. Netflix standing on our face, forever, is not the inevitable end game, as insidious as its algorithms may be.

The most fun passages are on the theorists and the architecture. Prince Charles’ Poundbury gets a deserved and amusing kicking; Damien Hirst responding to 9/11 with “you’ve got to hand it to them on some level” gets funnier with every re-reading. Compared to the twin towers, who needs half a shark?

But post-modernism survived the age of terror and the forever wars against ideas. Eternal debt, virtual money and NFTS are our current realities. We’re all still within this era of eternal unseriousness. What is post post-modernism going to look like?

In the forthcoming age of climate change management, resource wars, and a very real desert rather than the desert of the real, the most terrifying answer of all may be “not a lot”. But at least until then we have poor Jeffries, trawling through the many words of post-modern pseuds so we don’t have to.

Next Level Sketch and IMDp

Hello! Join me on a journey through time, as I write a rambling, diary-style blog post. Its intention is to remind whatever future version of me that might exist that these things happened. You’re welcome.

Tuesday was the final Next Level Sketch of the year. I was not involved, as I was at an audition at a very cold church hall in King’s Cross. I arrived early, from an unlikely geographical location (let’s call it Lincolnshire, to save time), and discombobulated.

Over the previous two days I had heard many troubling things, and my head was metaphorically elsewhere. All these excuses are preparation for the fact that I was very shit in the audition and I am doing my best to blame factors other than my own (lack of) preparation and competence.

From this, I rushed to Next Level Sketch, the first that I have not hosted or acted within. I arrived during the interval, so I missed our own show but am looking forward to seeing it on video in due course. Euan and the cast look like they did a fantastic job, judging from the many photographs.

I think I had two sketches in this one – my popemobile driving test from forever ago, and a new, specifically festive sketch about Cliff Richard. This latter one is notable mainly for how I wrote it – I just recorded the entire thing into voice memos, from scratch, while cooking, then wrote it up pretty much as is. It’s a miracle it made it to stage. A Christmas miracle, you might say.

The second half was the two fabulous special guests I had booked, Legs Comedy, trying out some new material, and Just These Please, bringing their world-slaying million-viewed songs and sketches to a small room in south London. Both were fabulous, both featured trains in their sketches. This made me happy.

Yesterday I returned to The Miller, but this time I actually managed to go on stage as part of the Improvised Movie podcast.

I had been on once before, during lockdown, but this was my first ever attempt at improv on stage, IRL, in front of a genuine paying audience.

The way it works is you, the guest, plays a director of a film, the title of which (and the name of your character) are revealed to you as you’re sitting there. From this, you can go pretty much wherever you want, and guided by legendary interviewer Martina Minnow, if that is her real name, I concocted a tragic tale of emotion, explosions, and artistically compromising funding arrangements with the Stevenage tourist board. Scenes from this film are then acted out by some fantastic improvisers, while I sat on stage, full deadpan, trying to stay in character.

The whole thing was recorded and will be available on the internets some time in January.

Film Review: Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve

Never has escaping a giant sand worm been less interesting

“Today’s mega-Audience is way better trained, and TV has discarded what is not needed. A dog, if you point at something, will look only at your finger.”

David Foster Wallace

I’m currently reading “Everything, everywhere, all the time”, Stuart Jeffries’s fun pop-culture polemic about how post-modernism has taken over both the world and our souls. With excellent timing, I have recently seen the Dune remake, which, in its spectacle and emptiness, might have been made specifically to prove Jeffries’ point.

I’m usually wary of reimaginings, but Villeneuve’s belated Bladerunner sequel was not hated by people I respect. I went into the cinema expecting something visually striking, moody, and at least a bit more thoughtful than the usual modern day Hollywood fare.

What I got was a hot mess.

I have a soft spot for David Lynch’s 1984 attempt at Dune, even though it was a failure at the box office. The hope that this would be the next Star Wars seemed hopelessly misplaced, as we were presented with garish sets and costume, excessively complicated galactic politics, and a scantily clad Sting.

Villeneuve’s Dune tones down the colour palette but is unexpectedly loyal to the Lynch interpretation. Before the film started there was a trailer for the latest instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, permanently eating and referencing itself in the finest postmodern tradition.

I was not expecting the feature film to also be a text about a text about a text. Parts of this were almost a love letter to Lynch’s creations, but with the humour and the visual inventiveness turned to -11. Yes: this is a neo-biblical space opera about chosen ones, vast landscapes, and intergalactic intrigue. But did it have to be so empty?

In Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation [1981], the classic postmodern text, we learn about the desert of the real.

Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – that engenders the territory . . . It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself.

The CGI desert of the remade Duneseems almost a parody of the above. As the film’s boring royals buzz above in poorly rendered insectoid helicopters, the computerised Arrakis sands below are more brazenly fake than any of Hollywood’s 1950s epics.

This film, if anything, is an anti-epic. It shrinks the sprawling, ludicrous multi-worlds and factions of the novel (and the Lynch adaptation) into three planets and some brick-like spacecraft. There’s even some awkward attempts at the novel’s political allegory: the Fremen are announced, glibly, with Arabic-sounding music; hey, did you guys ever hear of the war in Iraq?

But this film is most trite in its reimaginings of Lynch’s most striking scenes. Paul, the Skywalker / Jesus / messiah character, is played here by a plank of wood. In the reimagined “stick your hand in this box, it’s probably fine” scene literally nothing happens. Anticlimax piles upon anticlimax.

What was Villeneuve’s intention here? Was he making fun of the Lynch interpretation? Was it a nod to it, like how the JJ Abrams Star Trek remakes depend on nostalgia? How do postmodern references even work when the film you’re nodding to was a notable bomb?

At one point, a character makes what passes for a joke. It isn’t a very good one, but the audience laughs, out of relief. Behind me, a guy has been on his phone since the start.

The only mercy of this film is it is only two hours or so. As the narrative peters out into some dull wanderings and a knife fight with all the gravitas of a brawl outside Grantham Wetherspoons, we are reminded, with horror, that this is only the beginning.

This is Dune: the remake, I. Presumably the intention is to make a II and III. And perhaps a prequel, where we see the giant sand worms when they’re just starting out.

One more generous interpretation of postmodernism is that it is freedom. But as Jeffries points out when considering our new masters the algorithms of Netflix: ‘the Frankfurt School thinkers Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno wrote in Dialectic of Enlightenment, we have only ‘the freedom to choose what was always the same”’.

Dune is exactly this. In capitalist realism, we can imagine anything we like, so long as it doesn’t challenge the dominant worldview. This film is culture for pseuds, saying nothing, signifying nothing; it’s a parody of what art is supposed to be. At least the marvel films wear their cultural imperialism openly on their tshirts; this, instead, aims higher and finds only nothingness.

Review: Legs comedy present Logs, Soho Theatre

This review first appeared on Phoenix Remix

I’ve seen Legs Comedy do Logs twice in one week. Does that make me a Logs ultra? The first time was a mere ten minutes of wood at ACMS.

Tonight was the full, burning, forest of their hour long show at Soho Theatre, at the pleasingly wild time of 9:15pm (forests are primal places, and this ludicrous show makes more sense the closer one gets to the witching hour).

Due to a phone / bar geographical mistake, we arrived late and so missed the show’s opening, whereby our players make their way through the audience, breaking any ice or indeed distance between performer and audience with their mantra and their tingling of tiny bells. 

We heard this from the other side of a determinedly shut door, which if anything added to the sense of anticipation undercut with a mild dose of hysterical foreboding.

All this, merely from three people saying bits of the word “logs” a lot nearby.

Julia Masli, alongside brothers Robert and Andrew Duncan, are Legs Comedy, whose show was a hit of the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe in the before times. 

For months now, they have been Logs, this beautiful creation about science, nature and puns so terrible but so beautifully presented they become profound. Or at least, profoundly stupid.

Either way, we laughed. A lot.

I don’t want to give too much away, as they’re performing the show til Saturday and my intention writing this is to encourage you to see it. But to psychologically prepare you, there are some things I can reveal.

First: there are costume changes, props, and laughs from mere looks or deadpan statements. Masli, who mainly plays the eponymous log through seasons and tragic revelations, is a playful, understated clown, who can elicit a laugh from a hesitant glance or an intentionally awkward smile.

One aspect of this show I love is how intentionally ramshackle it is. There are bits within that are clumsy, scenes that seem designed to be awkward, or to go wrong in a way that’s as funny as can be. 

Andrew, for example, as a pointy headed log scientist, drags out a Pratchettian scene far longer than he has any right to, aided only by some crude drawings, moderate audience interaction and a determination to take stupid thoughts to their unnatural conclusions.

The assorted costume changes are held together by the reassuring presence of Robert, as much as someone can be reassuring with a log cabin on his head. 

He explains technology or ecology or how the whole show was a terrible whimsical accident with real charm and a skill for awkward-clumsy audience interaction, as well as a rare timing for improvising around random noises, arrivals, or accidents.

There is also an extremely stupid scene of brotherly rivalry which exploded our audience into genuine awwwws amid the laughs.

I can’t recommend LOGS enough. If the rumours are true, this week is the last chance you’ll get to see these three inspired idiots dressed in these particular stupid costumes.

We wood strongly urge you to head on down to Soho and em-bark on a magical and stupid voyage (on a ship, also made of… oh, you get the idea).

Legs Comedy perform Logs at Soho Theatre on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th November

***** out of *****

Film Review: Chungking Express by Wong Kar Wai

Brigitte Linn and Takeshi Kaneshiro in Chungking Express.

“The body loses water when you jog, so you have none left for tears”

1994 was a different time. Quentin Tarantino was considered talented. Hong Kong was a British colony. And Wong Kar Wai was a relative upstart, rather than the superstar he became after In The Mood For Love.

Tarantino himself was a big fan of Chungking Express. Always better at recognising than appropriating talent, his distribution company ensured it got a decent stateside audience.

Watching it 25 years later, you can see why he loved it. The new wave stylings, the femme fatale, the repeated use of pop classics: Tarantino’s own Pulp Fiction, from the same year, aped similar tropes. But the difference is heart, soul, and melancholy, all qualities that Chungking Express has in spades.

Set amid the late capitalist chaos of Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong, this is a claustrophobic world of malls, artificial light, and disassociation.

We experience two, loosely interconnected stories, of two lovelorn cops, the blurring of time and emotion, and a lot of sitting around consuming canned goods and junk food.

Takeshi Kaneshiro plays officer no. 223, a slave to his pager, waiting around at the Daylight Express fast food joint waiting for a call from his lost love.

His segment is considered the weaker by critics, but Brigitte Lin’s turn as a cocaine dealer in a lurid blonde wig steals the show, her character and officer 223’s slumped together in the pre-dawn in some shitty bar the film’s defining image.

Tony Leung, beautiful and still, plays the similarly heartbroken officer 663, object of Faye Wong’s waitress’s manic pixie dream girl obsessions and flat-rearranging antics.

California Dreaming follows both these characters around, often at ear-splitting volume, and Wong’s semi-improvised style frees the film from traditional narrative structures and gives the characters room to breathe.

The cinematography is frequently sublime in both segments, and though I’m sure it’s a cliche to say so, the film’s biggest star is Hong Kong itself. The viewer is transported right into the belly of the smoky, neon Chungking Mansions complex, and you get a sense of urban transience and lives lived on top of each other in a manner rarely mastered.

In the end, this is a film about loneliness, time, and the yearning for connection. It is also, I suppose, about love, but only in the sense that these characters seek, but never find, care, but are never cared for, and move without ever going anywhere.

And we love them for it, because we are also trapped, beautiful, and hopeless.

REVIEW: Alternative Comedy Memorial Society (ACMS), Signature Brew, Haggerston

Thom Tuck’s reign of terror is over. With the traditional ACMS host trapped in the midlands doing some acting, Joz Norris and [ok, other regular host] Siân Docksey have enacted a bloodless coup of London’s most pleasingly all-over-the-shop alternative comedy night.

And what’s more, they are furiously pressing the big red reset button.

They walk onto the stage festooned in wigs and balloons, and immediately lambast their own night for being “impenetrable” and “self-indulgent”.

“There are permitted heckles, but we can’t remember them”, non-explains Joz, as the audience of regulars and endearingly bemused newbies attempt to come up with some new ones.

“This is shit,” someone shouts.

Thing is, though, this isn’t shit, this is brilliant. People[1] talk about the shit/brilliant tightrope, and how comedians have to walk very carefully across the great canyon of unfunny.

But maybe you don’t have to do that? Maybe you can just try things out, have a supportive audience, and everything is… fun?

And as Joz pops Siân’s balloons of November – “that was the upsetting burlesque section” – the night is reborn. And seems suspiciously similar to what it was before. Yay!

There were many comedians and I will try to review at least some of them.

Starting us off was Ruth Hunter, who explored the comic potential of just naming places (“Dublin”. “Glasgow”) and read from her lockdown diary.

In my notes I’ve written “lesbian masseuse porn” and “lockdown ghost”, which is all you need to know here really. She’s very funny and has an excellent deadpan manner, go see her if you’re ever in “Glasgow”.

Next was a lady with some cheese. It was at this point that Finn, the n00b in the first row, was probably beginning to suspect that this isn’t a standard comedy night. Rosemary Gomes had some cheeses and some signs with some puns on them.

She didn’t even have that many cheeses to be honest. She sort of moved around the stage with them for longer than was comfortable, like Sideshow Bob walking into rakes, only forever, and with cheese. She might have been on for five minutes. She might have been on for an hour. All I can say with confidence is we will not see her like again.

I could sum up what Gomes’ act says about ACMS’ ethos, but the next act, John Hastings, did it for me. “Commercially viable? Outside of Radio Four, these people should be shot,” he joked, lovingly. And all this, and moving, nuanced material about suicide, too.

My friend Maeve turned up half way through Logs. If you’re timing your arrival to have literally no clue what is going on, then sneaking in mid-way through a lumberjack / tree burlesque sequence is probably the best time to do it. Logs are Legs comedy and they are terrifying, brilliant clowns.

An interval. A chat with a friend. You know that feeling when you sit down to watch a beloved film with a friend who has never seen it before, and you can sense the vibes that they’re not really into it? And that sort of ruins the film for you, and you start to watch it in a much more critical way than you ever have before?

I refused to let that happen. The non-laughs behind me coasted us through Alexander Bennett‘s very endearing material about fat dogs, war criminal Uber drivers and a panopticon of Keith Lemons; the extremely brilliant and unexpected appearance of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (pertinent audience question: “Does Nick Cave have a hook for a hand?”); and the dad rapping, ignoring-my-kids-on-the bus brilliance of Ed Eales-White [2].

“I used to be such a good girl”. I really enjoyed Lorna Rose Treen. Noir is such an over-parodied genre but her character is so stupid – muffling her way through perma-cigarettes with an Elmer Fudd lisp – that it didn’t matter.

“I keeled over seductively” is a line of such beautiful economy, I’m going to steal it and use it myself the next time I get shot.

Time for some prizes. Is ACMS secretly funded by the Swiss deep state? Ten minutes of the “you get a car” Oprah Winfrey episode, except with clocks, suggests so.

We’re on the home straight now and time for another act that Maeve liked: Ben Target paying tribute to her own personal hero, the early noughties rock-parody irritant Andrew WK.

There are party poppers. There are embarrassing stories. There is an overdose of Tramadol. And, happily, this all happens to the soundtrack of Coldplay’s “clocks”, which comes on by mistake; Target absolutely owns it nonetheless.

Jade Gebbie performs as a character, Jay. He has a drawn-on David Brent beard and has learned how to be sexy via a series of far-right incel websites. The audience isn’t quite sure what to make of him, a bit like when I pretended to be Richard Branson and gave a lecture on privateering.

I guess that’s one of the tricky things with playing terrible characters: you absolutely do NOT want people to like them, but you still want them to like you. It’s that tightrope again, swabbed down and used for slightly different purposes.

Our headline act is a furious New Yorker who definitely isn’t Jen Ives. They jerked off a lot of airline pilots to be here tonight, and are charmed by our “exotic paedophiles” like Jimmy Seville.

Jen is one of those comedians who is endearing even with – or perhaps particularly when – they are explicitly calling you a cunt, and I love her for it.

ACMS overran – it always does – and the venue seems quite keen for us to leave. So we do, but not before one lovely chat about the possibilities of Starlight Express: the movie.

Is this a review or just a love letter? I don’t know. But ACMS is like Rowan’s unlikely bowling emporium in Finsbury Park, or that dumplings place in Chinatown run by furious middle aged women: things that somehow still exist, against all odds; and London would be a much less interesting place without it.

ACMS returns for its Christmas special on Tuesday 21st December

[1] They do be talking about this. I spent a lot of time in cafes and people talk of little else

[2] She cracked half way through the mindful checking fantasy football while the kids wreak chaos bit

Serpentine

Nothing happened today so i am flying back a month to write about my charity swim in the Serpentine, to raise money for The Alzheimer’s Society. You can read all about why I did it, which I explain in typically graceless fashion, here.

The distance I had chosen to swim, two miles, isn’t very far. Two loops of this strange artificial lake in the middle of London, which I knew was within my abilities provided I didn’t try to show off and go too fast. The only likely enemy was the weather, but it was unseasonably sunny.

So myself and Chloe pushed our introverted minds and bodies through all the trestle tables, gazebos and queuing of an organised charity event, attached our day-release electronic tags, and waited dutifully to get into the water with the crowded others of our time slot to a relentlessly cheerful tannoy of infuriatingly upbeat encouragement. Of our contingent, I was only one of only a handful not wearing a wetsuit, and so I had to suffer the further indignity of dragging a small float behind me, lest I drown.

I don’t think I will, thank you.

We lingered towards the back of our intake, and plunged into the water, which wasn’t very cold. To begin with, the main irritation was the other swimmers. But these soon spread out, and myself and my friend could chat shit and maintain a decent rhythm.

“Stop making me laugh, it hurts,” was a warning to joke slightly less. As we approached the quarter way mark, we fell into pace with a swan. With my goggles, I couldn’t see much at all.

This became a problem at the halfway point, when I belatedly realised I had accidentally ended up in the lane for a previous group, who were being tannoy-shouted to the finish. I had to do a very undignified U-turn, and flop underneath a dividing rope, which took a couple of attempts due to the aforementioned anti-death float that was attached to me.

Graceful U-Turn.

In the maelstrom, I had lost Chloe. But I found another swan. The second lap passed quicker than the first, but I couldn’t see her to catch her, and so this was the end of our watery companionship.

In fact, during the second lap, I can say that my mind was almost entirely empty. Is this zen or just nothingness? The most I was aware of was of time passing, until, near the end, I passed a man in a wetsuit clinging desperately to the prow of a rescue kayak.

When I emerged, I was accosted by a man with a microphone, so I could be interviewed for the public address system. I said something about swans. I was then processed by more people, one of whom handed me my prisoner number with which to take my official mug shot; the others photos later were matched with me by facial recognition software which I don’t remember acquiescing to.

But that was for the future. For now, I could take off my electronic tag, which had cut into my ankle and let to quite a significant gash. And then, finally, I was free.

Modern corporate charity events are horrific, but I knew this before I signed up. And it was all this – the crowds, the tagging, and the processing, and the shouting, and the fake cheeriness – that people had been paying me to endure. And if you’re one of the people who did that, I thank you very much indeed. As promised: I didn’t enjoy any of it.

There is still time to sponsor me if you wish. Thank you to everyone who donated money to an excellent cause that I wish didn’t have to exist.

Isolation / Don’t Look Back

Turns out it was Covid. I am marooned in the suburbs, self-isolating in my parents’ house, and holy water supplies are dangerously low.

My great uncle was in that hurling team.

In lockdown III I wrote an album. In this, my own, personal lockdown, I’ve decided to try and do the same, even though I don’t have my mics or indeed most of my instruments here with me.

I’m sticking to the same plan of writing a new song a day, only this time I can’t sing very well because of the illness, so they’ll have to be demos, or mementos, or at least some kind of aural shrine to the wasted days.

Today was the first day of this new regime and I managed two songs. I don’t really like either of them, but in the spirit of science I include them both below.

Don’t Look Back is probably the one most resembling an actual tune. It rips off a VERY famous single by a very famous band, as always, quite by accident. And it’s about going out this summer, and being amazed that this is something one is allowed to do, and reaching that point where you have to decide whether to leave and get the last train, or to just simply not do so and hope for the best. 

I need to hope for the best more often.