Posts from 1st September 2004

1
Sep 04

i had a little model

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i had a little model blue bird but – possibly typically – it was a model of the car his dad drove not the boat that killed him: and (though we didn’t have a TV till the year after) i remember very clearly the news of his death on coniston water in 1967 – presumably from reading the story in the paper, the picture a black-and-white blurry shot of the explosive splash, as this blue bird, travelling at over 300mph to beat the record, suddenly reared up and flipped over

the days that shook the world documentary series plays, i suppose inevitably, on the premonition donald campbell is said to have had the night before, but other than that it tells the story straightforwardly enough, cutting archive footage into colour reconstruction, including his last words on the radio. I also recall very clearly from the time that a sense of sadness, of belatedness, already hung round him – whether my parents actually said this explicitly or it was just the way he was talked about, the feeling that he was trapped in his father’s shadow, that he’d always be second somehow

one oddity: a photographer on the scene is played in reconstruction, i assume correctly, with a liverpool accent – and i find his scenes very hard not to read, as a result, as being present-day. it’s not as if the liverpool accent didn’t exist then obviously: and it had also arrived fashionably on-screen, courtesy the beatles, by 1963, hard on the heels of the yorkshire and manchester accents all over the kitchen sink film movement… but this event was already caught out of time, a throwback to the 50s if not the 30s, when sir malcolm campbell was breaking the world speed record on utah salt flats, and scousers – well, everyone knows they only hit non-pop TV in the 80s! This is silly – my mind trapped in a dated (and daft) TV and film convention abt acceptable pronunciation – but somehow it adds to the melancholy out-of-jointness of the whole tale

hurrah for senility!!

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 807 views

hurrah for senility!!

one of the nice thingz abt sharing lifespace w.other people is being able to spring treats and little surprises on one another now and then – and ordinarily this is quite hard if you live on yr own, but today i came home via a hot and much-delayed 38 (they made me change TWICE at hackney central grrr) to discover a nice bottle of ice-cold tapwater i must have put in the fridge last night and forgotten all about

THE SQUARE TABLE 14 / Three Of A Kind – “Baby Cakes”

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POP FACTOR: 620 CONTROVERSY SCORE: 248

What you hear in Baby Cakes depends on what story you’ve been following. The story of garage? Then it’s an afterthought, a sidestep, barely even vital enough to qualify as a move backwards. The story of pop? It’s alright, another quirky dance-pop hit – those writer names on the sleeve are suspiciously Italianate, and you know what the continentals are capable of. The story of Summer 2004? Ah, well now. There’s a weakness to it, an introspection that feels right for these washed-out weeks. This time last year it was sizzling and I was planning my wedding with every window open. This summer it seems better to draw the curtains, lay low, hunker down and cuddle up. 8 (Tom)

So Solid Crew on codeine. What a sprightly stew this one is, referencing (at least to my ears) A Guy Called Gerald, Steve Reich, Dem 2 and every Detroit techno artist who has ever used those forlorn, synthetic strings. It’s a sing-a-long confection that resists consumption, all slurred vocals and detached delivery. Least-convincing use of the term “babycakes” ever, and very much the better for it. 9 (Henry Scollard)

Imagine a cake made of Babies. You could eat it with Evian, that baby-flavoured water they advertise on the television. I think Babycakes is my favourite of the Tales Of The City books. It is increasingly bitter, but feels like the somewhat disconcerting air you get at a great party that it might be the best one you have been to (cf The Party by John M.Hall). All of this is to say for pure summer pop fun, Baby Cakes is a minor classic. The Artful Dodger might be a touchstone here but even they never made anything quite so cynically clinical. Wunderbar! 8 (Pete)

A garage anthem that’s hardly there – 2:35 long and sung by tone deaf teenagers, and the rapping is as tough as saturday morning telly. But I love this, I hum it under my breath, and the vocals have a real sincerity about them- “take it step by step, because I’m not something you own”. How does garage churn out these icky tunes and make them so emotional? I guess because it’s so off the cuff that it seems that much more genuine; a brief whispered tete a tete in the middle of a pissed night out. It’s gone before you know it, but what a sweet afterthought. 8 (Derek Walmsley)

The second coming of Aqua, this time new and improved with a Heart and Courage…. no Brain, but even the Wizard knew that shit was overrated. This is the kind of bare bones synthpop that falls prey to Modern Art arguments (“heck, I coulda done that!” yeh, but you DIDN’T) but melts on the dancefloor. Call it PowerPuff.

The lil’ giggle that ushers the track in and out, the Chime-y video game rhythms, the nasal four year old rapping, the chopped verse and the sheer sheer mindless mindless mindless REPETITION. Never heard it, but I gotta guess that this is ‘jam of summer 04’ material; I’d go to the club more often if I knew THIS was waiting. Just the thing to pop pills and asses to. Verra verra good. 8 (Forksclovetofu)

If we ignore the potential implications of the laughter that bookend the track, this is quite good. The too-sweet-for words chorus may smack of superficiality, but that doesn’t keep the group from packing hook upon hook into about two and a half minutes of cynical pop. That cynicism will bother some, and the sugariness of the hooks will irritate others, but neither of those things stops the song from being a great, ephemeral rush of faux-naive charm. If this were ever to become ubiquitous on my side of the Atlantic, the single would grate my nerves by the third week. But so long as I experience it voluntarily and on a limited basis, it earns an 8. (Atnevon)

This morning: adbreak channelhop, a polyphonic ringtone, that odd muted-warm treble for the tune and a delicate fuzzy-edged counterpoint.

This evening: walking home past a trio of fake-tan legs and denim miniskirts, sing-song voices, “…baby, maybe…” and they’d walked past, out of earshot, into screams and giggles.

I like this song. I like the music-box twinkle, the sickly-sweet lyrics, the tinny syncopated ‘oh oh oh’ coda, how muffled and hazy it all sounds despite the sparseness of the arrangement, the crispness of the chorus. A little too pretty, maybe, a little outdated– but, three years ago, I would have ignored its existence with an inner sneer. Right now, I’m quite glad to recognise it, to hear the rap chanted by a Saturday girls’ night out gang. A little blip of charming two-step twee, bobbing its way up to the top of the charts like it had just been forgotten down the back of the sofa.

And the girl really is very short. 7 (Cis)

I’ve just listened to this 10 times, and it’s still making me grin. I haven’t heard a summer single that bounces quite like this since Shanks and Bigfoot, and this is far less obvious or brassy. From the giggle to the bridge, it all shimmers along without even trying. And the start of the girl’s rap is the pop moment of the summer. 7 (Jim Eaton-Terry)

I like the laugh at the start, but the almost-acapella vocal after it is rather flat and lifeless, and lacking the feeling the lyrics seem to demand. It needs the perky bleeping and chugging beats to carry it. The rapping seems too far back in the mix, and very poor in terms of flow (perhaps that’s why it’s left so far back), but the chorus is a good one. I rather like it really, in a low-key way, but I can barely think why. I guess it’s just a cute, stripped down single. 6 (Martin Skidmore)

Appropriate misreading of a Google result: “3 Of A Kind are a puppy two-step act.” Tweeeeee! 6 (David Raposa)

In which 2-step drifts past pop and lands pretty close to bubblegum. Garage followers will have none of this – the tawdry “atmospheric” synths, the amateurish vocals laced with PG-rated raps, the frothy chorus which sounds like it was initially composed as a ringtone – but if you are divorced from the scene, you might find this innocuous piece of plastic mildly addicting. And although “Babycakes” can’t muster up the same amount of icy allure that Rachel Stevens’ “Some Girls” has, it does follow in the footsteps of that summer anthem by duplicating its damp and somewhat downcast aura, and refusing to play dead after
numerous listens. A nice place to be for sure, but if it turns out that poppy grime is just around the corner, I’m not going to hang around here much longer. 6 (Michael F Gill)

Odd one this. As others have said, “why now?” It’s a perfectly diverting piece of UK Garage and if it had been a hit a month after “sweet like chocolate” it would have made a lot more sense, but it seems like a window into a long-lost past to me (according to a friend who knows about these things, it’s been a CHOON for about two years). 6 (Carsmile Steve)

Was 2000 really that long ago? Records like this were all over the UK charts just a few short years ago, but Baby Cakes sounds curiously out-of-place in today’s pop landscape. This is enlivened by a few nice touches – the twinkly backing, the muted mini-house buildup at the beginning and especially the oh-too-brief verse from the female MC who pops up half way through. But everything about Babycakes sounds frustratingly restrained – I keep expecting things to really take off, but they never do by the time the track limps off after a mere two and a half minutes.

I’ve now listened to this record five times in a row and am already yearning for one of the more abraisive moments from the new Dizzee album, hoping that grime never produces anything as tepid and bland as this flimsy affair. And by ‘eck, that chorus lady sounds bored doesn’t she? I can hardly blame her. 4 (Matt D’Cruz)

A good hook usually works its way in your brain – or preferrably your hips – and dominates your world. Each time I listened to 3 of a Kind, I alienated myself more and more from their Artful Dodger meets Aqua single “Babycakes.” It’s catchy as hell. The more I listen, the less I love life. The music is great, it’s just the infantile voice that irks me. Especially the rapping, which is more Wee Pappa Girl Rappers than Salt ‘n’ Peppa. Maybe the appeal lies in its amateuristic veneer. 2 step’s back. (Stevie Nixed)

Y’know I don’t know if this is Babycakes by 3 Of A Kind or vice-versa. Does anybody care?

Erm yeah, I could write something deep, long and insightful here, but it really doesn’t deserve it.

Its shit. You know it. 0 (MW_Jimmy)

I was born on the road

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I was born on the road — or something close to it. As muttered elsewhere, my dad was a Navy man, and when your family has something to do with the military, one thing that’s guaranteed is that you’ll be on the move fairly often. So for me ‘travel’ as a concept is part normality, part nostalgia, part ‘yet another trip’ — it’s something that’s always been there for me and I think always will be.

The earliest move I made was when I was something like six weeks old, going from Bremerton, near Seattle, down to Coronado in San Diego Bay, in what would become the closest thing to home I’d ever have when growing up. And from there to other places and back again, to Hawaii, to Mare Island in San Francisco Bay, to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York. And during all these times, the various trips and visits to other people, to relatives, elsewhere in California, to Montana, to Canada, to South Carolina, to Washington DC. Might yet say more about some of those individual journeys, but their importance for me is the sense of collage in my brain, about places and locales and differing experiences and how we all got there and back again, or else took the one way trips. I got used to packing things up pretty early, and even now it seems weird to me when I don’t move every so often — it’s down to a five year cycle now, and I enjoy it in its own way, the chance to start over fresh.

Travel and motion and locomotion and more, it’s something which I got used to by default and now enjoy for its own sake. And I’ll yet say more about it.

FT Top 100 Films 38: LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP

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FT Top 100 Films
38: LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP

Martin Skidmore Says:

This film is among my all-time favourites, and I love it unreservedly, but it seems not to get too much attention these days. I think we undervalue Powell and Pressburger – their films aren’t like anyone else’s, and most of them aren’t like each other either (I’ll be covering the overlappingly-titled A Matter Of Life And Death in a couple of weeks). And I never see Roger Livesey on anyone else’s favourite actor lists either, but he’s great in a bunch of their films, not least this surprisingly rich role, based on a bumbling cartoon character (though he isn’t called Blimp in this but Candy), an old-time soldier with rigid and outdated values. Here the idea is taken further and hugely deepened: we see the roots of his morals in the Boer War and WWI, but we also get the character in WWII, and the demonstration of why they no longer work or apply. This is partly shown through talks with his old friendly-enemy, a German played by Anton Walbrook, who despairs at the Nazis removing the gentlemanly aspect of war. All of the characters are treated sympathetically and honestly – the aggressive young WWII officer who humiliates the protagonist, the German officer, and vitally Candy himself, portrayed with an extraordinary complexity and layering (many critics draw parallels with Welles’ debut just a couple of years before).

There are some magnificent scenes in it, best of all the swordfight duel with Walbrook in their youth, where after a tense build-up the camera immediately leaves the action for the snow outside, in a gloriously lovely and morally significant moment. It’s a great looking film, the earliest really thoughtful and beautiful use of colour in the cinema that I can think of. There is Deborah Kerr as the three ideal women for Candy, in the three main periods covered – note that she and Livesey were both unknowns at this point. They age Livesey, in his mid-30s at the time, beautifully, and he looks utterly convincing and right at all ages. It’s a morally daring film to have made in 1943, at the height of the war, and encountered fierce resistance from Churchill, was banned then cut for a release, and butchered for the US market, with 50 minutes removed and the scenes resequenced in chronological order, losing the punch of the magnificent opening scene and its brilliant move into the flashbacks. One extra neat trivia point: the first character to join the home guard in this film is played by John Laurie, who was Frasier in the home guard comedy Dad’s Army decades later.

Pete Baran is still on holiday

the victorians were very extremely weird part 3567256

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the victorians were very extremely weird part 3567256

i sort of maintain an interest for professional reasons, and also bcz they helped create a pathway into the golden age of fantastical children’s lit and illustration, but is there a SINGLE pre-raphaelite painting where the ppl in it aren’t painted to look dead already?

Scenes from my First Actual Real Proper Holiday Abroad for 20 Years: day zero

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i. rise at 2.45am to get to Stansted. when i mentioned this to mum she recalled the long days when everyone’s car had a little campaign sticker – NO TO STANSTED! – bcz a third airport wasn’t necessary and it would death to some rare birds and essex wetlands. Of course it went through – environmentalism was presented (not totally unjustly) as a nimbyish middleclass pretext to refuse the working classes access to affordable flights abroad = no more rare birds or wetlands, yet (as a typical bad british design compromise), actually getting to Stansted is made to seem like sneaking in the back gate after dark, the airport built but we can’t quite admit it: “You ain’t seen me, roight?” ie you have to get a nightbus to Liverpool Street (all shut up), then a National Express Coach

ii. but i *love* nightbuses and coach journeys through the dark, the way the dim light inside the bus reflects off the glass and darkens the dark, the look of dawn as you drive towards it

iii. and even more i love love LOVE airports – pretty much everything about them puts me into a state of breathless excitement:
— there’s the sense of pregnant transience, everyone here on the lip of a possible adventure (ok many of the adventures will possibly be crap, but some won’t)
— there’s the ruthlessly levelling way everyone who doesn’t own a private transatlantic jet, everybody from celebrity to nobody is reduced to the same straits, has to undergo the same seemingly meaningless checkpoint rituals and rites of passage corridor
— and plus the fascination of the difft ways difft income groups have of coping with all this levelling
— there’s the vast arena-fulls of semi-stale air shared by all (the whole building being just one giant strange-shaped labyrinth)
— there’s the ambient sound (it reminds me of that ballard short story, “The Sound Sweep”, you feel some of the whispers have been batting about for days – a child shouted on friday and a last trembling throb of the echo is still here on monday)
— there’s the rubbish stab at Shopping Arcades for Everyone Rich or Semi-Poor => plainly – in theory and empirically – the idea is an impossibility, hence the utter lack of even the vaguest bother of imagination or durable building material: obviously the coffee is actually good these days since starbucks et al ousted whatever used to be here (my pret habit = by some way will be the last decent coffee i drink, till i get back from france) (more on this in a later installment), plus it’s handy to be able to get plug adapters at the last moment even if you do have to show yr passport!?…
–“boredom,” said satie, “is mysterious and profound”
–and finally i love electronic departures and arrivals boards as they tick down, resolve (now borading -> last call -> gate closed -> flight departed) and vanish: i like these in railway stations also, but the names of all the airports i’ve never seen (and never will), portals to realms lame or tremendous, who knows, who dares just gamble?

in every one of these elements some buried and battered small idea of utopia, benjamin’s arcades for our times, a crap palace to dreams long lost to conscious address but (nevertheless) endlessly fleetingly glimpsable, like a small figure in a bright red raincoat just disappearing through the next checkpoint

(devoid of regional quirkiness, almost entirely functional, stansted hovers mid-level on my list of favourite airports – greatly in its favour it is after all pure ESSENCE of airport, unburdened by potentially bogus attempts to gussy it up as something superior)

The Minuses of Travel

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The Minuses of Travel
How do you get under the skin of a city? Some would suggest spending time with locals, or perhaps drinking your way around the bars. Me? I go to football matches.

In Buenos Aires there are two decent choices; River Plate, based in middle class suburbia, or Boca Juniors, Maradona’s alma mater, down by the docks. The district of La Boca is what guidebooks call a ‘tough’ neighbourhood. It has one camera friendly tourist street full of brightly painted buildings and smartly dressed tango dancers. Behind the fa’ade lies a down at heel district, paint peeling from the shutters, an area where Lonely Planet advises ‘vigilance’.

The football ground sits in urban wasteland, an area of rusty cranes and abandoned cars. I walked around the stadium to the ticket office with two female friends. We passed a teenage boy sitting on a bike, otherwise the streets were empty. He rode away as we passed, his squeaky wheels in need of oil. Besides the ticket booth we stopped to sort out cash. Argentine football is incredibly cheap, about ‘4 a ticket. We pooled our pesos and I turned towards the ticket window. A hand written sign said ‘Cerrado’ (closed).

A familiar squeaky noise came from behind and I felt my arm pushed up into a half-nelson. I looked down to see a large kitchen knife held against my throat. A voice close to my ear hissed “Dinero! Dinero!” (“Money! Money!”), and flexed the knife threateningly. My wallet was in my hand, so I pulled the money out and threw the wallet to the ground. The girls did the same. The kid was screaming, “Todo! Todo!” (“All! All!”) adding pressure to the blade. We emptied our pockets of change. In one movement he withdrew the knife, snatched the cash from my hand and pushed me hard. He must have pocketed about ’30 from us. Not peanuts, but below the value of my neck. He pedalled hard on his squeaky bike, looked back once and accelerated away.

My limbs were a little wobbly and I clumsily stabbed a cigarette into my mouth, lighting it at the fourth attempt. We sat down on a wall. The knife had cut through my St Christopher chain. Patron Saint of Travellers, my arse. Back at the hostel, backpackers crowded round to hear our tale. We tried to add a philosophical spin, the kids are desperate / he needed the money more than us. At the same time we considered plenty of what ifs. Why didn’t I try some Matrix moves? What if one of the girls had kicked him in the bollocks? All these theories were academic and most would likely have left me in two bits.

Three years later on I can still picture the boy’s bike (a Grifter no less!). I still have nightmares (the latest – last night), always in the same form; I’m walking down a street and someone jumps me from behind. I think part of the problem lies in never seeing the boy’s face. In my dreams the attacker is always cloaked in shadows. I try to shout and the only person who hears is my girlfriend. She reminds me I’m home, in bed, and the baddies can’t get me.

Thomas Cook Travel Writing Shortlist 2004

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Shortlist 2004

Thomas Cook expressed concern at Tom’s reluctance to embrace travel writing and quickly drew up a shortlist for 2004.

I’m halfway through The Factory of Light (Michael Jacobs), but the others are unknown to me.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

Pumpkin Publog1 comment • 929 views

Zzzzzzzzzzzzz

NIGHT TIME MILK – the results!

i. It is tasty stuff, good quality organic milk, a nice creamy burr to it but never claggy, exactly what you think a glass of milk should be like.

ii. Immediately after drinking it I went to bed and fell quickly asleep. My sleep was entirely uninterrupted.

iii. I did not wake up until twenty to nine, making me miss a whole meeting. Oops! It wasn’t important, luckily.

iv. I still feel quite drowsy.

v. ergo, “Crikey, it works!”.