“Does Paddy O’Brien drink Guinness? Is the pope fucking catholic?”
On a January afternoon not quite as cold as the weather augurs predicted, I stepped outside my house and ended up at Tate Modern. There wasn’t a huge amount of conscious thought behind this process; just a desperation to get out culminating in my feet taking me somewhere I hadn’t been to recently. Because, at the time of writing, going to places I have recently been to is despairing, and I have been to a lot of places.
The gallery wasn’t very busy. There were a couple of tours and lots of people of various ages wearing berets. This raised a half smile. It’s good to see the beret / art appreciation association surge deep into the first fifth of the 21st century.
I tried not to look at too much art, as taking in loads of art at once can lead to an art overload, whereby you collapse to the floor, holding your head, having been subjected to too much art in too short a space of time. This is of course different to an art attack, which is when a Dadaist jumps from behind a pillar and shouts something nonsensical at you, and you immediately die.
Above is a model of a tower block in Beirut, which has journeyed from a symbol of progress and banal / reassuring family living (delete according to mood) to burnt-out sniper’s nest to striking symbol of the lingering impacts of conflict. This was contrasted with a photography series of a London postwar housing block being demolished back in the early nineties, because we Brits don’t need the excuse of a war to destroy our social fabric.
Already pretty overwhelmed by ART, I looked at some portraits of noughties Moscow subway workers and eighties East German factory workers. These were in a room about WORKERS. I think there was a kernel of an implied point about the dignity and heroism of normal jobs, the jobs we artists must document but would never possibly do, darling, but it was possible this sentence qualifies as my being cynical. Some of the portraits were good.
I escalated up an escalator and then got lucky and found a free exhibition on magic realism, which brilliantly presented Germany’s national psychodrama between the wars. So: lots of lurid Weimar antics, with suicide, fever dreams, impending doom and repressed sexuality never far from the surface. Dreams and nightmares on canvas, portentous but never pretentious. Well, maybe slightly pretentious. And then a drawing by Lea Grundig, a German Jewish woman, completed in 1943 after she had fled the country for Palestine. You don’t have to be a sophisticated beret-wearer to appreciate the horrors contained within.
After this, I tried to leave the gallery but saw a wire model of the international space station in the next room, so naturally I was drawn to that. And then, I did finally leave, keeping close to the shadows, avoiding any Dadaists lurking amid the phone-clutching groups of disappointed-looking tourists.
Had a jam session with Russell tonight. Vinny and Dave couldn’t make it, so it was back to being a duo.
Russell believes in travelling light, so only brought a melodica and a small keyboard with him in his backpack.
Probably the highlight of the evening was our attempt at Piazza, New York Catcher by Belle and Sebastian. On record it’s very spartan in an occasionally over produced album. Our approach was “what if we add loads of melodica solos”.
A child falling from a concrete walkway; the oranges he was carrying rolling away on the road below.
A bunch of exhausted construction workers bitch and moan in the minivan on the way to the site.
A local fixer, pressurising a granny to sell up her house for development, accepts tea and denies the primary reason for his visit.
Two laundry workers are told one of them has to be laid off, and that they have to decide between them who that should be.
Some films you forget even as you’re watching them, but others linger and merge with the real. I still find myself thinking and worrying about the characters in Shoplifters, a sensitive and stark portrayal of Tokyo’s underbelly, even though they are, well, just characters.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or winning drama is about an unusual family in a country not known for its tolerance for unusual families. Baldly, they’re crooks: Osamu, the head of the clan and labourer-thief; his partner, Noboyo, laundry worker-thief; scammer-granny and pachinko addict Hatsue, played impishly by Kirin Kiki in her last performance.
Then there’s Aki, peep-show “hostess” and runaway, and Shota, Artful Dodger to Osamu’s Fagin. They all live in a ramshackle old house in Tokyo, bringing in money by various means to supplement granny’s pension and guilt-tripping visits to her late second husband’s family.
Into this mix comes Juri, a little girl from an abusive home who Osamu takes in on a post-shoplifting whim.
Watching this film, as it gradually teased out its characters’ secrets, joys and shared desperation, was a gently stressful experience. It was clear their world was going to come crashing down at any moment, that the hypocrisies of wider society would demand retribution for their tiny crimes.
But I got to see them enjoying fireworks from the roof as a family; Noboyo and Osamu enjoying cold noodles and, later, a post-coitial cigarette in a moment of unusual summer peace; Naboyo and Juri sharing laughs and a bath together; family bonding and puberty lessons on a trip to the beach, and of course, lots of preparing and eating various things stolen from local supermarkets.
In the end it is Shota, who resents the arrival of Jiru and vaguely suspects the life he is leading isn’t quite how things should be, sparks the incident that leads to the breakdown of the family and consequences to rain down on our collection of flawed but struggling humans.
I say struggling in the sense, also that they are trying. This film shows us the side of Japanese society that doesn’t often make it to film: how the poor get by in a country where everyone claims to be middle class; how private property and familial belonging are concepts you subvert at your peril; and most crucially of all, how a few hundred yen croquettes can make all the difference on a cold winter’s day.
Today’s main lesson is that Mill Hill is a real place, not just a trap disguised as an unlikely branch of the northern line.
Mill Hill Broadway station is one of the least beautiful in London. Its entrance is beneath the M1 motorway, whereas the similarly grim Hendon station sits alongside it.
I was in Mill Hill in order to cycle through the rain to Arch North, for some afternoon bouldering and the promise of dim sum down the old Watling Road.
My feet and the robot train from the future took me to the museum of London docklands today. The museum is housed in one of the few remaining 18th century warehouses, which would once have been filled with rum and sugar from the West Indies, as this is West India Quay and it was build on the proceeds of brutality and oppression.
My favourite thing about the museum was how it captured the resistance to the 1980s redevelopment of the site into the Shanghai-on-Thames hellhole we see today. How, via the London Docklands Development Council, the local community, despite a valiant fight, were marginalised into eventual non-existence.
And as an eighties protest song went…
You sell the land from under us
til the east becomes the west
And you become the islanders
And we the dispossessed
You talked about a wind of change
But we just felt the shiver
Can’t afford the price your asking
For a view of the river
I am dicking around with garage band so here’s a Magnetic Fields cover.
This song brings back many memories. Of Coney Island in spring, of singing in a living room in Stoke Newington.
Well. Two memories, at least.
The images on the video are half of Stockport in 1972 and half of Derby and Skegness in 2018. The Stockport images are from Ian Nairn’s Across Britain. He approved of Stockport, and I must confess it looks rather space age mashed with Victoriana, that railway viaduct framing things nicely and the precinct dominated by that glorious escalator to the stars.
I was in Skegness alone for half an hour. It was early evening; the wind was up and the shops were closing. No-one was checking in at the Quorn hotel, and the last lady in Wilko’s had nearly finished her stock check.
The chip shops of chip shop alley were closed for the season. Pool was being played in the liberal club, and the mobility scooters were lined up outside the only open slot machine arcade on the parade.
The cinema had plasma screens on its outdated wall playing endless trailers to the deserted streets.
Flirtz lap dancing club is closed. Jive Bunny’s cafe is closed. Mad Harry’s is closed. Spalls of Skegness is closed. Peoples First Mobility is closed.
KFC is open.
A calmer day today.
I managed to get the dogs to Chapel beach in the daytime for a change.
On the way I was repeatedly reminded that Hobo, the smaller dog, loves squeezing turds out through his arsehole. He unfurls huge stinkers that seem completely out of proportion to his tiny body.
Underneath that underbite and ratty fur, that torso must consist, at any time, of approximately 75% liquid excrement.
I was able to walk pretty far out into the sun-dazzled sands, following the impromptu channels of water that form through the soft sand at every low tide.
Occasionally these rivers would become too wide for me to cross in my walking shoes, and Ditto, bounding ahead, would occasionally bark at me for turning back and keeping my feet dry.
Ditto is a gorgeous and very affectionate old golden retriever, and I cherish each and every opportunity I get to lollop around with him.
And Hobo, of course. The little shitter.
Later on, at sunset, I was able to get out of the house with Kate and her baby. We walked along a country lane, looked at some cows, talked about veganism, and met a Black [Sabbath] Labrador called Ozzy. “He’s a rescue dog. His last owner knocked him about a bit,” the walker explained.
We then headed back down the lane, setting sun to our right and the rising moon making its entrance to the left, as though both were being operated by some kind of gigantic clockwork mobile for the baby’s amusement. But she was too busy chewing on her fingers and, as we turned back to the main road, dreaming of unknowable things.
Hello from Chapel St Leonards. I am lying down on a sofa and eating crisps.
An hour ago, I co-recorded an episode of the Ace Doctor Who Podcast in a car on the driveway while drinking a mug of tea. By the wonders of technology I could join my friend despite his lurking many miles away in a Surbiton attic. I didn’t want to wake my friend’s baby, so I listened to the rain on the roof while ranting into a phone about how this week’s episode suggests it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.
It was a slightly surreal day of being in a car – if you’ve never tried it, it’s like being on a bike, only you have less time to take it all in – watching the flat landscape of Lincolnshire gradually giving way to the rolling landscape of north Nottinghamshire. We passed a lot of signs for villages named by the Danes or the Vikings. Sloothby. Orby. Candlesby.
Claxby Pluckacre, meanwhile, is a small hamlet masquerading as a PG Wodehouse character who pines after a lady deemed to be below his station.
Finally, in a house drowning in unseasonal Christmas tat, and with a tv permanently tuned to a channel playing festive films, I met a wood burning stove masquerading as a Dalek from planet Skaro.