Posts from 15th September 2005

Sep 05

Open House At Their House

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 357 views

So it’s that time of year again, Open House Weekend is upon us, time to dust off the A-Z and look inside buildings you never knew were there in the first place.

Here are my top five tips for Open House:

1. Think of it as an excuse to see a bit of London you don’t already know, as well as to see the insides of buildings you do. I’m always surprised how many unexpected things crop up near home (last year I was surprised and delighted by the Pioneer Centre, Peckham).

2. Plan a route without using the tube: if you are trying to see bits of London then the inside of the sucky hole train doesn’t seem to best choice (NB getting a bus into town from Romford, as I did last year, is likely to require a big chunk of your day.

3. Take the indie choice: last year people sacrificed their whole day to see inside that gherkin. It can’t have been that interesting. Rushing for the big, famous, headline places is all very well but you’ve only a limited time and the obscure bits can be good too. If you don’t have any inspiration, pick one at random and then go to the three nearest sites. Or choose a theme: this year I’m going to do a few town halls.


5. Try to go to at least one church. I recommend the glorious Christ Church Streatham and that elliptical Ukrainian Holy Family In Exile one off Oxford Street.

I know the above is all very London-centric and I’m sorry so if you don’t live in London and you’re sore about all this nonsense, here’s a special Open House day tip for you: don’t be. If you don’t live here, that’s probably for reasons of your own.

Last year, I cut short my tour of decadent Civic deco in East London to go and help some friends move into their flash new flat. This year their flash new flat complex is part of Open House! Except that you don’t get access to the apartments!

FT 1 RIBA 0.

Smelly Eureka

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 887 views

I caught an edition of Eureka yesterday morning on BBC2 in which a younger, less assured Ferne Cotton and a Scottish lass who I vaguely recognised, tried to convince us they knew about science. This was particularly unconvincing re Ms Cotton, who is much more authoritative when telling Sam and Mark how crap they are. Nevertheless as a kiddie science show it hit the baseline of being informative. At least until they got to the experiment you could do at home. To their credit, they did suggest perhaps doing it in the garden – nevertheless…

Put three cups of malt vinegar in a ziplock bag. To this add three tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda wrapped in tissue paper (to slightly delay the reaction). Zip up the bag and retire to a safe distance. Obviously base + acid = oodles of gas = puffed up, then exploding bag. However as it explodes it will spurt a pungently vinegary spray all over the area. Coating the room (if done at home) and you, if you are nearby. Mothers the length and breadth of the country are cursing Eureka now.

(Oddly there is no link to this experiment on their website!)

All New Genre Smash

Do You SeePost a comment • 450 views

This summers two big bad taste(-ish) sex comedies(-ish) appear to have helped create an all new genre. At least they think they have. The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Wedding Crashers are happily vulgar comedies, which switch (usually uncomfortably) in the last reel into romantic comedies. There is clearly a market for this, and it is almost cynical the way they have been put together. The first half is raucous, often potentially misogynistic (though never as misogynistic as you expect) and then the second half drifts slowly into rom-com land. First half is for the boys, second half for the girls = wonderful date movie.

This could well be the formula, though both are a bit overlong and are so hands off with the main love interest that they may as well be neutered (esp in the 40 Year Old Virgin, but hey…) But this is not a formula these films invented. Instead you need to look at There’s Something About Mary which not only managed to staple gross-out humour on to a surprisingly effective rom-com but previde an amusing comic character in the female lead. 40 Year Old Virgin seems to realise this, and apes There’s SOmething About Mary with its end cast singalong to a Hair montage (TSAM used Build Me Up Buttercup). They are all entertaining films, but new? No.

Belle And Remainderbin?

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 214 views

A few weeks ago a copy of the first ever biography of Belle And Sebastian landed on the FT doormat. The FT doormat gave it to me, and I decided that I would use my extensive contacts amongst reformed members of the feared Sinister ‘massive’ to pick a reviewer. Alix Campbell, who has followed the band since their first record, stepped up to the plate and this is what she thought of it…

Belle And Sebastian: This Is Just A Modern Rock Story by Paul Whitelaw

I’ve spent some of the last few weeks trying to find something nice to say about this book, and so far all I’ve been able to come up with is praise for the detailed appendices. I will, somewhat unwillingly, admit that Whitelaw has succeeded in giving a comprehensive account of Belle and Sebastian’s career to date. I had supposed, that as a fan of many years, I would probably enjoy any book about the band I love, but after the novelty wore off I started to get irritated and annoyed by the style, the content and the attitude of the author.

Whitelaw spends a lot of the book trying to convince us that B&S are not twee. I agree that twee is not the best word to describe them, but it’s probably the easiest one to use, and B&S are pretty damn twee at times. Whitelaw doesn’t want anyone to think this about them though. He’s mean about the fans, and blames them for the fact that the everyone thinks B&S are twee, failing to acknowledge that B&S are largely responsible for this state of affairs by dint of writing sweet and sensitive songs, and failing to do very much press or touring. Whitelaw seems unwilling to concede that B&S were ever twee, but with his approval of their more recent, less twee work, there is an unspoken inference that the earlier stuff was twee.

The numerous interviews with B&S are enjoyable and one of the best things about the book, but Whitelaw tends to be uncritical of the band, preferring instead to acquiesce with their opinions (although, as usual Isobel is treated with some scorn). Earlier B&S records were less well produced than later records and the band point this out on a few occasions, and the author agrees with them each time. By doing this I think Whitelaw fails to understand something about B&S records and why people liked them so intensely in the beginning – it was the music and the song writing, rather than the production that was important, and that lent the records their charm. There’s nothing wrong with good production, but it isn’t the most important aspect of music. Whitelaw is all to keen to throw the baby out with the bath water, and this does B&S a disservice. Poor production does not equal poor songs.

It seems like Whitelaw didn’t much like B&S until quite recently, despite having been familiar with them since early on. He is clearly much happier now that they’ve sloughed off the quieter members (Isobel, Stuart David) and gained rockier members (Belfast Bob). It’s almost as if he views the first few years as an annoying gestation period, which he’s glad they’re over, so they can now be the professionally produced Thin Lizzy worshipping rock band they were meant to be all along. I think the book would have benefited from more discussion of the music itself, and some thought about what it is about B&S and their songs that appeals to their followers. Although Whitelaw might not approve of the fans occasionally obsessive tendencies, surely there’s something interesting about the various fan communities that have sprung up in B&S wake? By dismissing some of the fans he is probably insulting a large percentage of his readership, which is just plain rude.

Too much in this book the author is trying to mould our perception of B&S into the shape he thinks it should be, omitting details he thinks aren’t interesting when it suits him. I would prefer that he just documented things and let us make our own minds up. Although I did enjoy reading this, it was mainly due to the contributions from the band. Whitelaw’s treatment of their history is patchy and uneven in its emphasis, and his discussion of their songs is similarly unreliable and deeply subjective. There is no way I would consider this to be a definitive biography of B&S, and it annoys me that there is a chance that it will be seen as such by some people.

101 Uses for a Dead Cat – the prophecy fulfilled

Proven By SciencePost a comment • 608 views

Inventor fuels car with dead cats

“this practice is outlawed in Germany”. Killjoy.Presumably this was outlawed under a generic law that would have made Simon Bond’s hi-hi-hilarious books also illegal. The more specific “und die Katze fur petrolgas machen sie nicht” law being thrown out on grounds of poor (paw) grammar.

i’m sorry

Back To The Booker

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 284 views

The shortlist is a bit disheartening. Simple as that. It makes you wonder if the judges really tried with the longlist or actually just went for the names they knew. The presence of the Ishiguro suggests so (it is a terrible book). Of course if we know an author it is easier to like their stuff, but what is the Booker testing. My tip (the Ali Smith) is still in there, though they may prefer Zadie’s bored north London glamour (can that woman smile?)

Still, our favourite Booker comentator Chris Loxley is sanguine about the play it safe list.

I’m quite upset The People’s Act of Love wasn’t selected, though. I mean, come on people! Though most of my fellow Bookered Out judges disagreed, I think it deserves the wider audience that shortlist nomination would have garnered.

But anyway, I shan’t dwell on it. There are four new Doctor Who books out this month, so I’ve got my own mini-Doctored Out Challenge to start!


FRANK SINATRA – “Strangers In The Night”

Popular19 comments • 3,708 views

#216, 4th June 1966

“Strangers in the Night” has a theme – the chance wonder of meeting the right person – that I usually rather like. And you can see the outlines of a sweet song in Sinatra’s statesmanlike, somewhat bombastic reading. His control and pacing are intact but he seems unwilling to give the song much nuance or life, and the overfull arrangement never requires him to. There’s something of the leatherbound, the definitive about this performance: Sinatra is laying down a recording that can be used at a diamond anniversary as easily as a wedding. But ‘people fall in love’ is no insight; “I fell in love” might be. And in the closing seconds, a glimpse of that, Sinatra drifting off into “doo-be-doo-be-doos”. He might just be marking time, but it’s like granite smiling.