“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.
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 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 .
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Turns out it was Covid. I am marooned in the suburbs, self-isolating in my parents’ house, and holy water supplies are dangerously low.
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.
A slightly lost week this week, being ill, waiting to see if I have Covid. I suspect I just have a (“the?”) flu, but one might as well be sure and there’s a walk in centre just down the road. Once I was able to get out of bed, I went and stuck the stick in the various orifices.
“We weren’t able to read your PCR test,” came the slightly cryptic text the following morning. So off I went to do it all again, to the NHS site amid rubble behind the doomed Blagdon Road multi-storey car park.
So it’s been illness and isolation, left alone with all my worst thoughts and the many things I need to sort out when I’m feeling better.
Tonight, though, was better. I had some phone calls and I sang some covers. The one below is from Monkey Swallows The Universe, Sheffield legends who released two albums before disappearing into the ether. Nat, the singer, was a indiepop acquaintance, and I remember interviewing her once and her having interesting things to say about science, faith and magic.
They re-emerged, briefly, a few years back for some belated farewell shows , playing both albums in their entirety. I found out about the shows late and only made it up for their debut; the latter, upon which this song appeared, was a beautiful, confident and sad work. Nat went on to do lovely solo records, but this is how I remember them best, all glockenspiels and unapologetic recorders. Neither of which appear on this very fragile cover.
Oh, Archway. So much to answer for. We emerged, blinking, into the unexpected sunshine from the tube, and were greeted by the greasy stench of a nearby McDonald’s and the sight of a cyclist bravely heading up the hill to Highgate.
There are, broadly, three types of modernist architecture walk in London.
One: Marvel at bold public buildings. Two: envy private dwellings. Three: admire ambitious public housing projects. One and three both come with a side order of existential despair, for the obvious reason that we shall never see their like again.
Today’s walk was a (3). Camden council, back when they had money and socialism, built loads of impressive and innovative housing estates. We had sun, occasional showers, and a map. Let’s do this.
We start at the Whittington Estate, initially known as Highgate New Town Stage One, a famous one for Those Who Like This Kind Of Thing.
Designed by Peter Tabori and Kenneth Adie, the estate shows Camden’s fun experimentation with long, low-rise, high-density blocks, with gorgeous south-facing balconies and generous, landscaped grounds.
It feels like a fortress, and as with a lot of postwar housing estates, you have that moment of sadness and understanding when you remember that they kind of are, and the hoardes they are defending their people from are private motor vehicles.
There’s also a fun contrast with Highgate New Town Stage 2, where you can pinpoint the exact moment (1978) when the council lost faith with modernism and started building blocks not wholly dissimilar to the Victorian buildings this Brave New World was designed to improve upon.
Onwards and downwards. Haddo House Estate actually predates Camden, designed for the borough of St Pancras by Richard Bailie. Built in 1963, it features some gorgeous glazed staircase towers.
Neighbouring it, from 1971, is Clanfield, a block of sloping maisonettes which look like the matte painting of every Star Trek: TNG federation colony ever.
Walking past Gospel Oak station, we come to Mansfield Road and its beautiful lines; in the unseasonal sun the white block seems to stretch on forever.
Another Camden council affair, this has been well maintained, unlike the maisonettes above, and the raised access deck, safe from the busy road below, is a place of calm, the red quarry brick walls and flooring a hint of what lies inside.
This next building wasn’t too interesting architecturally speaking, but we liked the dog.
Next up is Dunboyne Road Estate, Neave Brown’s first commission for Camden back in 1967. Another good example of the council’s philosophy of low rise, high density blocks, the architect lived on the estate until his death.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to get in and have a proper look, as the entire estate is now gated; a decision perhaps popular with residents, but irritating for nerdy architecture tourists in particular and against the ethos of the estate in general.
After pausing, briefly, to gawp at the beautiful 1930s Isokon, Mecca for north London Bauhaus types, we headed up a wooded path to Russell Nurseries Estate.
While I can’t pretend the architecture is exactly to my tastes, this is a well designed, well maintained collection of houses and flats, with kids enjoying what is a low traffic neighbourhood before the phrase “low traffic neighbourhoods” became a thing, playing football below the inevitable “no ball games” sign.
This estate is peaceful, welcoming, and bittersweet; constructed between 1987 and 1990, it was the last project by Camden’s architecture department. Will we ever see councils in England with the money, power, will and ideological inclination to produce housing worthy of the people?
The evidence of the past thirty years suggests not; but, contradicting my earlier despair, as we must try to fight and dare to hope. Though with flaws and missteps, Camden’s postwar architecture still holds up well, and offers a blueprint for a more hopeful future.
Hello! I’m gonna try and make more cycling videos because, in the words of Dr Zoidberg, why not already.
There is a quieter route between these two places but it’s a meandering backstreet one. If we’re serious about encouraging modal shift – and we should be, in a climate emergency – it’s routes along main roads we absolutely have to get right.
And what worries me about some of the halfhearted and flawed stuff I saw up Kingston road is that a lot of it is new but already not fit for purpose. And yet probably is being trumpeted as “doing something for cyclists” by some executive or councillor.
Lads, we appreciate you at least have noticed that not everyone can or wants to get around by car. But you really, really need to do a lot better and be a lot braver if you want to make the borough a pleasant, welcoming, and sustainable place to live.
I’ve started asking random audience members who also happen to be my friends to draw our sketches, citing some arcane law about sketch comedy events being illegal unless someone is sketching them at all times. Below are some Next Level Sketch sketches.
It was an excellent show, with great performances from our cast and super silly and fun guest spots from Legs Comedy and Cry Babies. But today I’m mainly feeling angry about a drunk idiot who hassled, harassed, and verbally abused our door staff and one of our cast members.
We got rid of him at the interval but I’m still super sorry our lovely humans had to deal with this, and we will do all we can to Stop Men from impacting the overall enjoyment of our nights in future.
Last night in New Malden I witnessed a failed hate crime. A bunch of idiot young white men drove past a popular Korean BBQ restaurant and shouted “Napalm!” at the people queuing outside.
Now, these morons didn’t even have the confidence of their racism; they didn’t shout it particularly loudly. No one heard it except me, as I happened to be walking past.
They drove off quickly up the hill, and I was so shocked and discombobulated by what I’d heard, I didn’t even manage to catch their license number.
And of course, as a racist attack it was at best confused. Sure, napalm was used in the Korean War, but not to the same level or indeed infamy of later wars.
Were they true racism scholars, aware of the historical context of this horrendous weapon and its traumatic impact on the peoples who suffered the West’s assorted imperialist interventions? Or were they just thick cunts who had confused Koreans with Vietnamese people?
The answer is obviously the latter. But the whole incident, over in seconds and noticed only by me, left me feeling depressed and frustrated.
I wanted to challenge these people, but they were gone. Who knows what else they shouted as they drove around suburban London on a Saturday night. Racists are cowards, and a car is a shield of armour and a getaway vehicle all in one.
A hiatus! A palpable hiatus! It has been ten months since my last Wimpy visit, before Lockdown III came along and made burger restaurant-based geographical sagas tricky.
It’s been ages since the government’s specific ban on travelling up and down the country reviewing Wimpys was lifted, but I’ve been busy running comedy nights, walking dogs and having the occasional existential crisis. From now on, you should expect a new Wimpy post every week, and if there’s a branch near you, and would like me to visit it with you, get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.
So why Worthing for Wimpy #4? No rhyme or squiggly psychogeographic justification here: I am buffeted by the winds of fate.
This particular fate was my friend Kelly, who was desperate to get out of London and remembered Worthing had a Wimpy.
We didn’t go straight there, though. When visiting a new Wimpy, you have to approach it carefully, like an injured hedgehog or unexploded WWII bomb. Blessed with unexpectedly amazing weather, on arrival off the train we threw ourselves into the sea next to the fabulously Art Deco Worthing Pier, its shoreside end resplendent with classy theatre advertising talks by Suggs and comedy from Reginald D Hunter.
The water was as calm as a millpond, and from the pier’s head we could see boats twinkling in the hazy offing. 
Worthing is just up the coast from Brighton, and similarly shares its existence to a 19th century fad for sea bathing and being seen at the same places as the royals, if you can imagine it being trendy to hang out in the same place as such people (these days you’d have to just go to Woking Pizza Express).
Before that it was merely a fishy hamlet, stinking mainly of mackrel.
As a seaside resort with its best days behind it, Worthing is a very typical place to find a surviving Wimpy.
But we are still in East Sussex. There may be some seediness, and there may be a higher than average proportion of quiet desperation. But this is a more affluent than usual spot for a Bender in a Bun.
Refreshed and salty after our swim, we plotted our next move in the cafe of the Dome cinema, one of Britain’s oldest. And it was agreed: we were to flee the town by deregulated bus up to the Downs.
Ah, you were not expecting this. But there is a certain logic to our actions. The first humans of to inhabit this area, approximately 6000 years before the Wimpy opened, were those mining for flint a few miles inland and upland from the town.
More recently, if still a fairly long time before burger restaurants, an Iron Age Hill Fort  was constructed at Cissbury Ring. And it was to here that we were headed, for magnificent views of the Downs and the coast.
It’s an idyllic place, with more tree cover than one is used to on the exposed ridge of chalk that constitutes the South Downs. But there are absolutely zero franchise burger restaurants, so it was time for us to head back towards the sea.
Our bus was operated by Stagecoach, owned by a notorious homophobe. So it was with much amusement that the bus’ automated announcements introduced us to the phrase “tap off”; definitely a euphemism for wanking. Don’t forget to tap off before leaving the bus! We’ll mop up the resulting spunk later on!
Finally, to Wimpy. Opposite, a workman was hitting paving stones with a hammer, for no discernible reason. This made the obligatory “outside the Wimpy” photo more awkward than usual. I never look my best when being angrily gawped at by men in high vis.
The Wimpy was your classic design: long and thin, seemingly stretching on forever, like a matte painting in Star Trek. To the right, the usual island of tills and burger cooking paraphernalia. To the left, booths! Booths with post-Covid plastic screens, but still, booths. We had come home.
Our server was a trainee, called Nick. He was Canadian. This was unexpected, despite Worthing being filled with Canadian soldiers and even hosting Canada’s military headquarters during World War Two. Nick was simply too young to have anything to do with his country’s wartime presence. He was great-grandson at very best; the accent would have melted away generations ago, like a Brown Derby left out in the sun.
Nick carried the weight of the world on his young shoulders. Kelly suggested I ask him to recommend a local pub for a pint; Nick was both too young and too old for drinking. His body was young but his mind was very old. He had seen too much, already, via obese regulars and furious geezers demanding to know where in America he was from. “Ontario”, he would answer, hoping ignorance would reduce banter to silence.
You’ll notice I’m making many assumptions about Nick. And that’s because we barely talked, other than agreeing it was very hot. And this is because he was already too perfect, a 16 year old Canadian inexplicably working at Worthing Wimpy. Any explanation would have ruined the magic. I prefer to imagine ludicrous scenarios, and wish him well wherever he ends up, or indeed if he decided to live and love in Worthing forever.
We ordered. Bit of a bombshell, and a complication for this entire project: I am supposed to be vegan now. I’ve read too many articles about the consequences of industrial meat production on the environment. How does Wimpy abide in an era of climate change? This is not a question I was expecting to seriously posit when giggling about benders in 1996.
Kelly ordered the vegan burger. Hoisted by my own psychological petard. In a kind of brazen mockery, i ordered the half pounder. I needed the protein, I claimed, pathetically, convincing no one.
Our food arrived. It’s time for the ratings.
Childish Wimpy Rankings
GREASINESS OF CHEF: 3/10
BUSY-NESS OF RESTAURANT: 8/10
PROXIMITY TO MY HOUSE: 7/10
There’s always a certain melancholy to the proximity to my house ranking. Ground zero is New Malden, where – conveniently – I am writing from right now. But my family’s link to this place is coming to an end; my grandma died in spring, and this house will be sold in late autumn. I thought I’d visit every Wimpy before my geographic association with this place ended, but I was naive. Time keeps rolling on.
Grown-Up Wimpy Rankings
FRIENDLINESS OF STAFF: 9/10
QUALITY OF MEAL: 7/10
VALUE OF MEAL: 5/10
There’s no getting away from it. This was a pricey Wimpy. Yes: I plumped for the performative arrogance of the Halfpounder meal. Yet I was still surprised at the bill, which was approximately 1.2 Wagamamas. And their vegan menu is considerably more comprehensive.
A word, though, for this Wimpy’s notable strengths. The original salt and pepper pots were in situ. There was a mighty Wimpy logo adorning the wall, in silver, between assorted awards for its food, service, and champion status amid Wimpys. The toilets, upstairs, were extremely classy and well served by local radio. The service, though raising more questions than I care to answer, was kind and warm.
This was, in short, a classy Wimpy.
Stuffed with meat or meat substitute, we lumbered back towards the sea, irritating local drivers by using the pier front roundabout as a photography spot.
But the light was perfect and Kelly clocked a murmuration in progress. I’m sure she won’t mind my mentioning she once dated a birdwatcher; but it goes beyond that. She berates herself for not having memories all our indigenous butterflies; without her spotting and explaining, there’s no way I would have appreciated the magnificence of this sunset display. Imagine iron filings in GCSE experiments, but infinitely more beautiful. We were in Worthing but the seafront belonged to the starlings.
There isn’t much else to add. We briefly visited Sussex’s answer to the Peckham multi-storey, the prettified concrete making me think of a Brutalism-appreciating ex.
And we tried to visit a micro pub, with local ales and a distinctly Whovian theme. But we had been lead astray by the lies of google: of course this perfect slice of eccentricity was closed on a Monday.
I know I caught it on a perfect day, but I was pleasantly surprised by Worthing. From ancient fort to the eternal vagaries of the sea, there was more going on than I gave the place credit for.
And amid everything, open until 9pm, and with booths and chips available to all, stands the Wimpy, as hopefully shall ever be.
 Today I learned this is a nautical term to refer to a boat that’s within sight of land.