Posts from 9th December 2003

Dec 03

England, Their England

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England, Their England

Reading through the latest Marvel Essential volume, collecting loads of Tomb Of Dracula, I came across something that reminded me of a special small pleasure of mine in American comics. On the splash page of issue 7, when Marv Wolfman takes over the writing, Dracula is looming over a snowed in small town somewhere, posing on a mountaintop. It’s only when you read the captions that you learn that this is “many-peopled London”. Now besides the lameness of that composite adjective and the size of the place, there are no mountains in or even near London. And don’t try to tell me there are snowy rocky outcrops on Shooters Hill, anyone.

I’ve always enjoyed American superhero comicbooks’ depictions of the UK. A Challengers Of The Unknown story where someone parachutes into a quaint village with cobbled streets and thatched cottages, which turns out to be Charing Cross, smack in the centre of London. A Rom The Spaceknight story set in Wales, “on the southernmost shores of the island nation known as England” – where Wales is full of peasants weilding pitchforks and flaming torches. A Spider-Man story set in Liverpool, which turns out to be a fishing village populated by cockneys moaning about the pea-souper fogs. Chris Claremont got some stick for an X-Men story set in Edinburgh, but apart from the flaming torches again this struck me as one of the more accurate portrayals of the UK by American comic creators.

Marv Wolfman seems to be something of an anglophile, in that he has been responsible for lots of comics set over here, but as far as I can tell his total research was watching an old Sherlock Holmes movie or two. London is all cobbled streets and thick fog and gas lamps, with lots of Tudor cottages. I’m pretty sure it was him who wrote a Marvel Two-in-One tale wherein the fight moves on foot from Trafalgar Square (80% of action in the UK happens within sight of Nelson’s Column and Big Ben, sometimes both at once) to outside “London’s leading hospital”, which surprisingly turns out to be a wooden hut in a forest. The same storyline took our heroes to Stonehenge at one point, and there’s a great panel of the characters driving on the right (i.e. wrong) side of the road past a road sign reading ‘Stonehenge 11km’ with a mountain backdrop. Obviously the location of Stonehenge on Salisbury PLAIN didn’t provide a clue as to the terrain.

Actually, I don’t think he wrote the Indiana Jones comic also set there (it’s a great nexus for mystical activity, you’ll be amazed to hear), which as well as mountains with rope bridges across deep chasms also features jungle complete with quicksand. And I wish I could remember if it was Marv who had a cockney (who make up the two thirds of London’s population who aren’t aristocracy) addressing someone as ‘bloke’, as in “Watch your driving, bloke!” or some such.

Continuing NYLPM’s round-up of this year’s Christmas singles we come to… THE CHEEKY GIRLS — ‘Have A Cheeky Christmas’

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Even in this ever-shrinking world in which we live in non-Brits may not know about the Cheeky Girls phenomenon. They are two bony sisters from Transylvania who have finagled a comedy appearance on a reality pop show into becoming something close to a national institution. Their schtick is simple, odd, and clever all at once. Initially famous for a song which went ‘Touch my bum’ they now produce regular singles which are played on horribly cheap sounding keyboards and sung in comedy Euro-accents. That’s the simple bit. The odd bit is that people refuse to tire of them and the clever bit is that they only seem to release records when some kind of national mood is there for the exploiting. Their last single was ‘Hooray Hooray It’s A Cheeky Holiday’ and now we have this. Only cruel scheduling has prevented us from hearing ‘Cheeky Drop Kick’.

The Cheeky Girls are entirely harmless of course and in its clodhopping, thumping way this record is one of the more charming festive releases. It gets the basics right anyhow — sleigh bells and jollity abound. The Cheekies sing about fun on a ‘hot hot Christmas night’ — part of their ‘thing’ is that they are comedy nymphos — and the three minutes pass fairly quickly. I find it terribly difficult to imagine anyone making the effort to hate this but I also was finding it hard to imagine anyone spending money on it, and then I realised: the sales figures of ‘Have A Cheeky Christmas’ will be an exact reflection of the number of office round robins taking place in Britain this year.

Terrific article by Mark Morris

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Terrific article by Mark Morris on some bits and bobs of contemporary art. He nails the easy / hard / hard / easy issue which seems to lie somewhere near the bottom of many ill-informed critiques of art now, including a glorious swipe at anyone who thinks that art is difficult (and by implication elitist): ‘I hate any form of entertainment that requires me to make an effort (I’d say I’d run a mile from it, but I’m not about to do any running), and I dig contemporary art’

As far as the Olafur Eliasson goes, ‘hippy festival’ is perhaps a touch harsh! I liked how much fun people seemed to be having, looking at their own reflections, and the inventive ones were making these Busby Berkeley patterns.

The other thing which strikes me about what’s on in the Tate’s Turbine Hall is that the way the various artists commission to fill it have dealt with the challenge of the space. Louise Bourgeois’s piders and mirrors, though huge, were dwarfed. Juan Munez’s greyed-out illusory working space used less than half of the hall, and split that up. Anish Kapoor made something huge and red. Eliasson turned the problem around by filling the space with nothing but mist and mirroring the ceiling to double the space. Smart.

For any of you who missed the Freaky Trigger Christmas Party

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For any of you who missed the Freaky Trigger Christmas Party yesterday, not only did you miss a cracking good time but you missed my Nuclear War Set which (from memory) ran as follows. Note real actual Doomsday at end.

ELECTRIC SIX – “Nuclear War (On The Dancefloor)”
ULTRAVOX – “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”
NENA – “99 Red Balloons”
GLEN BARBER – “Atom Bomb”
BLONDIE – “Atomic”
KRAFTWERK – “Radioactivity” (The Mix version)
HAZEL O’CONNOR – “Eighth Day”
MARK OWEN – “Four Minute Warning”
STING – “Russians”

I am a big fan of popular maths books

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I am a big fan of popular maths books, but often find myself lacking the basic knowledge to help me understand infinity. So, I turn to children’s books! Currently I have The Number Devil on rotation. But what does Amazon recommend to me? Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi – MUST WE THROW THIS FILTH AT OUR CHILDREN???

Double retro

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Double retro as I blog a link to an essay about The Changes (the 1975 kids telly drama) on Robin Carmody’s Elidor that was put up over a year ago. Sorry to Robin for not checking his site often enough ”I remember he e-mailed me a while back when I expressed an interest in getting hold of a copy of this show on tape. I really must follow that up some time.

THE ADVENT CALENDAR OF ALCOHOL – 9th December (8%-9%): Duvel

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THE ADVENT CALENDAR OF ALCOHOL – 9th December (8%-9%): Duvel

It was February, it was cold, it was a Publog unDiplomatic five-headed fact-finding mission to Brussels. It was that key landmark birthday for the vinyl obsessive: I was turning 33 and a third.

The obvious thing to do was to spend the day procuring the products of the glorious Belgian brewing industry and then enjoying the consumption thereof. We decided we needed a high concept to shape our day’s activities. It was decided: our delegation would sample thirty three beers between us. We would, at the end of this effort, take a straw poll and I, chief celebrant, would drink a second and a third of that brew.

It all seemed so simple at the time. I’d had a trundle around some art shows while my companions slept, and we met at the world-famous caf’ brun, the Mort Subite. One of our band of goodwill ambassadors was tasked with recording the proceedings, and rumours persist of records of the day’s travails and consumptions, hidden in jars in caves somewhere deep below Crouch Hill.

The day passed off well and without pretension. We’d left plenty of time, and although much beer was sampled, it was at a leisurely pace. We visited some tremendous pubs, drank some terrific beer and made some temporary friends. I’m delighted to recall our not making any enemies. We weren’t maurauding.

It was a Sunday and, as Sundays do, it worked its way around to closing time without much noise. I hadn’t yet embarked on the second or third beer. We took our straw poll. Orval! Ah glorious Orval, sipping beer of the Gods, tart holy glorious Orval. I sank my second and -oh!- we had drunk the Orval supplies of Bar DaDa dry. Onto the Chimay Bleu. And the same thing happened! No more blue for me. We took this as a hint from the beer gods and pressed on.

On to our final destination, the last bar open in our neck of the woods. They were operating with no Orval and no Bleu also, despite ‘ or perhaps because of – the fact we’d drunk both there earlier in the weekend. We searched the menu for a beer we’d already sampled, because embarking on a three-beer run on a new beer was a touch ambitious.

And there it was. Duvel. The Devil itself, in blonde smooth sparkling form. I love it but it’s lethal, it flatters your palette and tempts you into its treacherous world of deferred pain. On ordering, we checked that they had plenty of Duvel in stock. Yes they did! We were set.

Except? Except that as I made my way to the bar to complete my task, they closed. It was time to go home, beaten though unbloodied, happy yet sad. But hold on! Pete had not only spotted an off-license, he had persuaded them to allow him into their locked premises followed by all manner of night-dwellers who had appeared from nooks and crannies in the street. We abandoned our helpful beer-off friends with a shop full of crazies. We didn’t care. With our prize of a bottle of Duvel achieved, we set off for our hotel and glorious success.

And when I awoke, bright, early and surprisingly fresh, the sight which awaited me was a bottle of Duvel by my head, opened but undrunk. Defeat snatched from the slobbering, snoring jaws of victory.

The question remained: were we saved by the holiness of the Trappist brews we had consumed so enthusiastically? Or had our plan been foiled by The Devil?