Posts from 12th December 2004

Dec 04

They are the eggmen, we are the victims

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They are the eggmen, we are the victims — Anthony M found this and we trembled in fear/laughed uproariously in untrammelled glee/both (choose as appropriate): a modern day version of Styx covering “I Am the Walrus”. It’s not the music so much as the VIDEO — it’s that indescribable. (I found RealMedia worked better than Quicktime, your mileage may vary.)

Happy Now by Charles Higson

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Happy Now by Charles Higson

Is Higson our leading renaissance man? Modest success as a pop star, writing for Reeves & Mortimer, a leading performer in The Fast Show, and also a fine novelist – I suppose Jonathan Miller ranks higher in such a comparison, but Higson’s talents deserve great credit.

His novels are thrillers, of a distinctively British kind. There are no drawing rooms or exotic poisons, but his characters have a frustration and anger that is unmistakeably British, as well as lives and speech patterns. This novel orchestrates a successful middle-aged man with severe anger control problems (for which he blames his father), a former weed who has taken up karate to make him more manly, and someone who sneaks into others’ homes to masturbate. He constructs it superbly, choreographing the three into an eventual meeting and then dealing with the spiralling and violent repercussions. It’s terrific entertainment, funny, exciting, nasty, even with some of that cringing recognition that much of the best recent British comedy offers – if you imagine a violent remix of The Office, with David Brent losing his temper and showing up at work with a shotgun, you’ll be somewhere along the right lines.

His prose is sometimes rather basic, though always lively, and I can’t see him getting near any literary award shortlists in the foreseeable future, nor would I rank him with the best current US crime-thriller writers (such as Block, Burke, Vachss), but his are very enjoyable, strong and compelling novels.


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aka: The Ewok Adventure aka CARAVAN OF COURAGE.

Y’see in the States this was a TV spesh. In the UK it was emblazoned across cinemas as a surprisingly unwanted follow up to star wars’ least favourite characters. It is a bit like Raiders Of The Lost Ark having the Nazi Special as a sequel. The US TV showing apparently has a place in many peoples hearts as magical Christmas explanation about the meaning of love, honour and courage. In the UK most memories are linked with a freezing February bank holiday and coming out having been twee-d to death.

I always liked the title Caravan Of Courage though. Summer holidays as a youth were spent down at my grandparents’ caravan near Seaford and such holidays were often a mixture of giddy excitement and fear – especially the late night trips to the isolated toilet blocks where rabid dogs were rumoured to attack. That was a real Caravan Of Courage, and as far as I could see – some Ewoks making a flying machine was barely courageous at all.

Japanese Inro by Julia Hutt

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Japanese Inro by Julia Hutt

Inro were small sectioned lacquerware boxes, generally a little smaller than a cigarette packet, which wealthy Japanese wore dangling from their sash-belts from the 17th Century until around a hundred years ago, when Western clothes with pockets made them redundant. They contained either ink seals and blocks or medicines. There were strict laws restricting dress and material and colour for parts of this period, which made inro among the few ways that wealthy merchants, at the bottom of the old caste system, could impress people with their money and taste. They were fashion items rather than art objects – the best Western parallel may be jewellery.

This book is produced by the Victoria and Albert museum, and focusses on inro at a craft and antique level, rather than as art, which is where my interest lies. The level of craft is, however, extraordinary and fascinating – a single inro could take a year to make, with over 100 layers of lacquer which each take a couple of days to dry, and with the intricate image produced by sprinkling powders from a narrow tube, plus small flakes of pearl shell, gold and other materials.

I find a lot of inro breathtakingly beautiful, but it is unclear in most cases whether the image is created by the maker of the inro, which was normally a family shop rather than entirely by one individual, or simply copied from a painting or print. Nonetheless, as an amateur in love with them as objects of art, attribution doesn’t matter to me; nor does any notion of auteurish credit or purity; and the divisions between art and craft have always been much more complex and equivocal in Japan than the West, besides being places at different points.

A final point, which is confusing me. My editor here, Tim Hopkins, brought an auction of Japanese items happening this coming week to my attention. It includes several inro, and I could afford to buy some 19th Century ones, for anything from a few hundred pounds each and up. I do have spare money these days, but the idea of actually owning works of art seems utterly alien to me – I was an adult before it occurred to me that stepping into an art gallery was an option open to me. I think it will take some considerable time before I can seriously think about taking this further step.

The Advent Calendar Of Comics: Dec 12

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The Advent Calendar Of Comics: Dec 12


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Christmas 1975

L-R: Tommy, Dad, Bobby, Me (just barely visible to the right)

The loud, fussy stripes of post-QEFTSG pr’t-‘-porter men’s fashion didn’t come out of a vacuum, you know.

In spite of Lucas Samaras, I fucking hate instant cameras. Every ’70’s image our family took with them looks dismal, especially compared to the still-vibrant shots taken by less faddish cameras. Thanks to those big honking flashes the subjects are overlit and everything else is dark and shadowy, so everyone ends up looking like astronauts floating in an infinite void of black space. And the colors are almost universally pallid (doesn’t matter whether that’s from age or the shittiness of the original film, it’s still reason to hate) so once again I had to fiddle with the colors of the original to show that we opening presents in the afternoon of an overcast day rather than the middle of the night. The end-result is probably now a little over-saturated when it comes to the reds and you all sorts of scratches and damage to the photo, plus, I admit, the futz on a dirty scanner glass. The big empty space on the corner is courtesy of a very hungry family parrot, Pablo.

Speaking of cameras, that’s what Tommy has in his hand as he gurns in mock-aggression for my mom. (He always looks natural and unflustered in ’70’s photos, whereas I tend to cower in front of cameras as I think they make me unrecognizably unMichael-like.) A Ready Ranger Tele-photo Camera Gun it was called, and since he’s aiming straight for my mom, you can’t tell from the photo that it was rather long and looked something like a bazooka. This info comes from eBay ’cause I don’t actually remember it. What I do remember is Bobby’s gift, the box for which you can just barely see between him and my Dad — something called Electric Skittle Bingo. I was confused by what you were supposed to do with it then, and remain confused by it now, but as with Tommy’s gift I was mightily impressed by it the hugeness of the thing (plus Maxwell Smart was on the box) and yet another, even bigger Bobby gift that came in a box seemingly as big as me without any color photography on it. It’s hazy to me just what it was, other than it was sports-related and “not the right one” and thus destined to returned to the store. I almost never did that as a kid. If a gift was wrong I felt obliged to keep so as not to hurt the toy’s feelings. There was one Christmas toy, maybe a Micronauts thing, that once I unwrapped it I started bawling uncontrollably because it was so utterly wrong for me, something too weird or boyish or violent, can’t remember. To my surprise I end up loving it the hell out of it. The one time I insisted on getting a gift returned was when I got a plastic typewriter for Christmas. I don’t know what the nature of my rejection was (maybe it wasn’t frivolous enough) but soon after I felt such HORRIBLE CRUSHING guilt over rejecting the poor defenseless gift that six months later I insisted on getting same thing again, maybe for my birthday. I never used the damned thing anyway as I end up preferring my mom’s bigger (and beautiful) manual typewriter.

I like my toys (particularly the Playskool Village) but as Tommy and Bobby are getting the big gifts I am acutely feeling my smallness this day. It’s like when Tommy and Bobby have their birthdays back in October, and since I’m four-and-a-half I can’t go on any of the cool rides at Adventureland plus I sense I’m being something of a drag, somebody you monitor and humor rather than engage. On the other hand, there is the bizarre moment that day in the den, where in reaction to a gift, I affect adulthood by saying something in a funny-gruff way — in imitation of those commercials where for comic effect kids lip-synch to deep, obviously adult voices — and feel really weird and shameful afterwards.

A moment of remembrance for our den. Until I got my own color TV as a present for my sixth grade graduation, the den was where the action was. If you could call it that. I spent much of my childhood in the den, with the TV on, not actually watching it so much as doing things in front of it and soaking whatever was on with varying degrees of attentiveness. My grandmother disturbing dust motes in the midday light as The Lucy Show played; crayons, blocks, Lego, construction paper and the late afternoon cartoon shift; drinking a whole six-pack of 7-UPs with Space Giants on WTCG; a passerby kissing David Bowie in “DJ”; Foul Play and then Animal House in a male-bonding moment with my oldest brother and his friends; Canadian shows about the metric system and modern media while being sick for weeks on end; playing the Atari a couple years after its peak; MTV and bad movies, alone, deep into many Friday nights. OK, yes, I was watching the TV a lot.