The tale of princess kaguya

On Easter Sunday, I walked out of the ICA cinema feeling desperately stupid. I’d booked a ticket to see The Tale of Princess Kaguya, but the guy at the desk didn’t warn me it was dubbed, not subtitled. On the one hand: why should he? The information was available on the website, I should have checked. But I thought the ICA was an art house cinema, so I automatically assumed they’d show the proper version.

I’m not a total anti-dubbing fascist. If you use proper voice actors it can be a great skill to get it right, coupled with a sensitive translation. And I grew up watching dubbed spaghetti westerns, Jackie Chan action flicks and late night animes. I could handle it, or so I thought.

Wrong. This was excruciating. They’d hired in Hollywood actors to do the voices, which I can understand if you’re looking to put famous names on the poster and attract a new audience. But voice acting is a subtle and different skill to acting on screen. I’m sure James Caan and Lucy Lui are great, but they were terrible here: at turns booming, screeching and whining, distracting from the gorgeous, almost impressionistic animation on show.

So I walked out after twenty minutes. the staff were sympathetic and understanding. Without giving me my money back, obviously.

On Monday night I got to see the film as nature intended, at the Prince Charles cinema. Writing this two days later, I’m still haunted by the loving depiction of the mountain forest home of the young princess, a dreamlike scene where she rushes from the capital by moonlight, and the beautiful end sequence, which left me sobbing in the dark.

Bladerunner, Laputa and anonymity 

Feeling awkward about going to the cinema on your own is ludicrous. It’s the ideal solo activity, particularly if you have esoteric movie tastes / no friends. But it’s still taken me years – decades – to feel comfortable with it. I remember going to see some (quite dull) Chinese romantic epic when at university. When the lights went up at the end to reveal I was the only solo viewer, I wanted to skulk out without anyone noticing. But university is a strange time, when humans tend to surround themselves with people and validation – when it seems perfectly acceptable to hang out in groups of twenty five of an evening. Perceived judgement is itself a touch of teenage arrogance: to think that you’re so important that the people around you have noticed what you’re doing.

Fast forward sixteen years or so, and I’ve just about got the hang of it. I still talk in a slightly overly friendly fashion with the person at the ticket desk – hey look how well-adjusted I am, I’ve got friends honest – but once that dance is over I relax into the anonymity.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve seen Bladerunner: the final cut and Laputa: City in the sky. Bladerunner needs no introduction, but I hadn’t seen it since I was young, and it had merged into a few key themes and images. In fact, what had left the largest impression on my young brain was mood: a kind of underlying rainy despondency, but a sexy one. It made the future seem impossibly terrible and impossibly glamorous, and it shaped so many of the books, films and anime I was to go on to seek.

Watching it again, it’s remarkable how well it stands up. The architecture of the future LA is still dazzling and dreamlike, the corporate pyramids scraping the sky over the litter and noodles down below. Not much jars – though I did have a wry smile on my face when I saw the vast corporate ads for Atari – and so much was left unseen, unsaid, merely suggested.

The other film was a Ghibli classic. Laputa has yer classic Miyazaki signifiers: anti war, in thrall to nature and the magic of flying, and strong female characters who give not a proverbial shit.

The film introduced to me Captain Dola, the air pirate matriarch of my dreams. Fast flying, hard drinking, belly laughing and despairing of her useless pirate sons, Dola stomps all over this film from the moment she arrives. Dola quite rightly keeps her husband working the machines on board their sky galleon while she heads off raiding and buccaneering. But there’s tenderness too: there’s one short, gorgeous scene where Dola and her husband are playing chess on board their magnificent flying machine. Irritable, honest, and utterly the match of each other, these mythical animated sky pirates are a lovely, inspiring couple.


North Korean Polaroids and Brutalist Bloomsbury

Last night I went to some drinks to celebrate the display of some blurry Polaroids taken in North Korea. The event attracted the kind of people who write about the mysterious totalitarian state, and also the kind of people who like free wine. I had a lovely time chatting to my colleagues in a non-work context. That is to say, bitching, moaning, and saying preposterous things. Liv came along to help. We drank a little too much, and I got home a little too late, to take blurry photos of the cat and accidentally set my phone alarm to 3:30am. 

Tonight feels slightly warmer, like we’ve finally defeated the cold times. I walked down through Bloomsbury taking pictures of Brutalist buildings and reminding myself I live in London. Humans can be like snails or cockroaches, constantly crawling the same routes and eating the same sandwiches out of soothing familiarity. It’s nice to look up sometimes, to notice things you don’t normally notice, and to find a corner of the city that is entirely new. And, preferably, made of concrete.



Clapham, 1997 and the ostentation of owning more than one ukulele 

To wankers’ paradise, Clapham, last night, to discuss Japan, the election and The Bofmeister General (our mutual friend Andreas) with Paul. I’ve known Paul since the days he was complaining about the radio edit of Oasis’ seminal 1997 comeback single D’you know what I mean (?) in our sixth form common room. An exquisitely well adjusted and kind man, Paul also rages against the passing of the years and the dying of the light like a man who knows it’s not 1997 any more.

We also talked about the election. He thinks the Tories will win. I think they’ll continue their tradition of not winning a general election since I was 12. We’ll see.

Met Russell for a climb. I told him I was covering my colleague’s tenor ukulele. He says he’ll help me buy one. Owning two ukuleles seems the height of twee decadence, but I can probably live with that.

Jonnie Common

I spent last night desperately pawing at my phone in an attempt to let it let me compel it to delete some songs and add some new ones. I ended up accidentally updating to a new operating system, which meant while it was deliberating I couldn’t go to sleep, because my phone is my alarm, and I hadn’t set it yet. Somewhere, somehow, a past version of me is pointing and laughing at the present me.

This morning I am tired but I can listen to some new music. Today’s trundle through the suburbs has been soundtracked by Jonnie Common, the charming moustache wearing gentleman I saw on Saturday. First listen, it’s Pagan Wanderer Lu meets Steve Mason, with a tiny tinkle of early Hot Chip in his soft wee voice.


Sea car

Went to the sea today. No particular reason, I just had a desire to see it, make sure it’s still there. The moon has been getting ideas above its station lately, including a flirtation with blocking the sun, so it was nice to watch it doing its more day-to-day job of maintaining the tides.

There was an abandoned car in the sea, floating gently at high tide as the waves hurried in and out. This was near Margate’s bathing pool, just along from the Lido, which has seen better days. Other attractions included a dead seal, and a small Broadstairs park entirely operated by cats.

In one of Margate’s many second hand bookshops, I bought “far from the sodding crowd”, a book about idiosyncratic British tourist attractions by the guys who do the fake news stories in Viz magazine. It starts with Margate shell grotto, which is either a pagan chapel or a Victorian tourist attraction masquerading as a pagan chapel. It’s an enjoyable book, the kind of gently erudite travel guide that I’d love to write one day.

An eclipse, a new editor and a jazz cover of Creep by Radiohead

I neglected to post an entry yesterday or Saturday. Let me relate some fragments of memory from these days.

There was a partial eclipse on Friday. London was resolutely cloudy, as happens. I went outside and stared at the clouds at the eclipse’s fullest point. It got colder. The ducks on regents canal went about their business as normal. A milk float appeared out of a tear in the fabric of space/time and fell into the waters. I went back to my desk.

Later I posted an article of soul-sappingly underwhelming eclipse pictures from Guardian readers. 

After a climb with Russell, I headed back to King’s Cross for drinks and to find out who the new editor was. There hasn’t been a new Guardian editor since Britpop, so this was quite a big deal. 

Grauniad journalists get to vote for editor via an NUJ organised ballot. The trust are free to choose whoever they like, but they wisely went with the hack vote. Kath Viner is our new editor. I voted for Kath. I don’t think anyone I’ve voted for has ever won anything before, so this is a new sensation.

She was in the bar, as was the current ed and most of the guardian’s editorial staff. I told her people were taking selfies with her in the background. “They should be taking selfies WITH me,” she replied. 

I got some good advice from one of our planning editors, some of which I can remember. It was a heavy night.

Saturday was a day of music. I headed on the retro-futurist DLR to Beckton to jam with Russell. We ate pizza, watched the He Man / She Ra crossover movie and recorded some covers. My favourites were a bass & uke bare necessities, a very Chas n Dave Country House, and an accidental jazz take on Creep by Radiohead, where I imagined I was singing to disinterested drinkers in an upscale hotel bar. There’s something magical about playing with someone else. I can see why bands are popular.

The eve I saw Jonnie Common with the Eigg crew of Jenny and Kelly. And also bid farewell to Kate, who is off to Myanmar for two years to do the TEFL shuffle.

Jonnie Common is like a less depressed Pagan Wanderer Lu. I really liked him, and bought his record. Let this diary bear witness to my desire to start listening to new music again. It’s time.

The Nazis, Kula Shaker and the 1999 eclipse

Not much to report today, but by Tautatis this is a daily diary, and so I shall squeeze some words out from the bottom of the toothpaste tube. If only I’d started with the words at the bottom to begin with, then we wouldn’t be in this situation.

I have spent much of the evening watching the Nazis spread across Europe, narrated by Lawrence Olivier. The World At War is available on the BBC Iplayer, and I am finding it compelling all over again. We live in pretty appalling geopolitical times, but I think we can all agree that the Nazis really took the biscuit.

Tomorrow morning sees an eclipse. If you’re lucky enough to be in the Faroe Islands it’s a full eclipse. London’s is 85%, still pretty high. The last one round these parts was 1999, as predicted by Kula Shaker in their career-ending “mystical machine gun” single.

I remember it clearly. I was in my garden in New Malden, with Alastair, who had flown back from Indonesia earlier the same day. In fact, the route of the eclipse followed Alastair across the globe, like a harbinger of unique evil. At least, this is how I remembered it at the time.

Shortly before the eclipse, we had had a Wimpy, in New Malden Wimpy, now a Korean restaurant. The waiter, nicknamed Whirlwind on account of his speedy service, was nonplussed by the imminent majestic dance of heavenly bodies. He said he’d watch it through his car’s tinted windshield.

I followed the advice of Patrick Moore and used the pinhole and piece of card technique. Soon enough an image of the moon eating into the sun was flickering its way across my bit of card. As the skies darkened and the birds fell ominously silent, I worried for Whirlwind’s burnt retinas, and whether the sun would ever appear again.

There was a moment of hysteria, pagan magnificence and some slight giggling, before the sun started to reassert its mastery. Then my grandma appeared to tell the family that a milk float had crashed into a house up the road.

We hurried up to see for ourselves. Sure enough, the float had smashed through the low garden wall, coming to rest just outside the kitchen window. Mysteriously, the driver was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’d gone to join Kula Shaker?

I hope tomorrow’s eclipse proves similarly memorable.

Climbing, kebabs and conspiracy theories

An evening of climbing in a former biscuit factory in Bermondsey tonight, with my old friend Russell. He’s a very calming presence, like a 24 hour shop or a warm radiator on a stormy night. His main news since our last meeting is the discovery of the horror channel on freeview, and with it the ability to watch the Incredible Hulk. We also discussed a proposed Arnie all-nighter at the Prince Charles cinema, conspiracy theories about the Japanese economy at the fall of the Berlin Wall, Terry Pratchett, and the 1980s cartoon MASK. 

Thereafter we retired to a kebab shop in London Bridge. As we waited for our Lamb Doners, a resting member of staff painted several pieces of cheap white bread with Nutella, before placing each inside his face. It was not the best advert for the shop’s wares. But man cannot live on kebab alone. 

We also found our way into a pub for a quick drink: the market porter, beloved of Borough traders who can go for a post-shift pint between 6 and 9am on a weekday morning. Years ago, when a still ascendant New Labour were luring young voters with the promise of 24 hour drinking, some friends and I hatched a plan to finish a night of drinking in said pub at 6am. But it never happened. Another terrible plan, terribly never brought to fruition. And now everyone else has children.

Home to housemate and the cat, both located on or in blankets on the sofa. The cat now has most of the living room dedicated to her whims and assumed pleasure. It’s a mess of boxes, more boxes, and assorted toys and hides. I see no problem with this, though. Cats spent thousands of years domesticating us, so we might as well make them comfortable. 

A diary 

This blog has, until now, been only sporadically updated, with overheard conversations, travels, and the odd review. But from today, reenergised as I am by a visit to the unexotic East, I intend to write a daily update. In short, this will become a public diary, regardless of whether I have anything interesting to say. In fact: especially if I have nothing of interest to say. 

I will write whatever comes into my head, be it a simple account of daily events, treasties on the big issues of the day, or profound insights gleaned from my life of varied experiences and unexpected incidents. One recurring anxiety of mine is that life is just whooshing by, like one of Douglas Adams’ deadlines, without the time or perhaps the inclination to take stock.

Another is that I’m not writing enough. There are so many sentences in my head, and perhaps by allowing some of them to leak out, I can retain some equilibrium, like a quack self-prescribing a bit of light bleeding in order to rebalance the humours. 

And lo: at some future date, many years hence, I will gaze on this diary and rejoice at a life well lived and reasonably well recounted. Or weep boozy tears at the terrible waste of it all.

I do not expect this diary to be particularly well read. Not many are. Samuel Pepys’ own writings only achieved widespread fame because of the extraordinary times in which he lived. Plus of course he murdered all of his literate contemporaries. Today, with much of London rebuilt and far fewer suffering from plague, there are many more with the ability to write. Killing all of them would simply be too time consuming, before we even consider the moral implications. 

I find myself in Sainsbury’s, a shop, with no memory of deciding to come here. I will write more later.