February 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
I heard the other day that the UK government are exploring introducing new laws that will end the option of smoking outside pubs, offices and other public places. For me it is a welcome idea, if a little irrelevant to my lifestyle. I am not a smoker, and neither are any of my close friends (not “serious” ones, anyway). Thanks to the indoor public smoking ban in 2007, happily I no longer come home smelling like an ashtray after evenings out in a pub or restaurant, and though I do miss pissing cigarette butts around the silver trough urinals in grotty bars, discarded balls of chewing gum are adequate substitutes. (Although relatively rare compared to their screwed-up forebear in its heyday)
Thankfully smoke is mostly avoidable now, if you choose to avoid it.
I understand that “social smoking” has increased since the indoor ban came in; non-smokers that have become occasional smokers in social situations to avoid being excluded by their fag-toking friends when they pop out for a “ciggy” on nights out, or at work. For someone who deems smoking as nothing less than anti-social, the idea of “social smoking” is a novelty to me. I agree it must exist, for weak-minded people, but it must be the most pathetic kind of self-inflicted social pressure that exists. I mean, excluding the distorted microcosm of the schoolyard, cigarettes are hardly cool anymore; not as they once were, now we understand how stupid they are. They don’t open up new planes of perspective, or creativity. They just give you something to do with your hands. And make you smell. For avid social transgressors wanting an alternative to smoking, I’d like to introduce Social Picking as a concept. It will keep your fingers busy, and besides from occasional bleeding, it is essentially victim free. That said, I have once or twice been victim of (in line with this new terminology) Secondary Picking: unwanted discoveries on chairs, under tables, on windows of trains, and once, on the rotating cone under a pelican crossing control panel.
Under current laws it is common to encounter paused cigarette tokers bathed in concentrated grey smog clouds in the entrances to major buildings, the smoke floating like a deathly microclimate. In anticipation and defence, I often puff out my cheeks, like a cartoon god of wind, and expel said pollution with a burst of air. In that sense, doorway smoking is avoidable, defensible. For me the problem lies in pub garden smoking and under the bus-stop smoking. These are unavoidable if it is a nice day and you want to sit in a pub garden, or if it is a wet day, and you want to stand in the bus shelter to avoid a soaking. This new mooted law, though possibly addressing pub gardens, is unlikely to touch bus-stops.
Continuing the hard line of law I have adopted in the fascist dystopia I am abstractly constructing through these blog posts, a supplement to this new law could be as following: all cigarettes, cigars, pipes (etc.) should, by law, be attached with reusable inward facing miniature fans. Every time a drag is taken, the fan would power up from the pressure of the toke, and upon expulsion of in-taken smoke, would repel said smoke back into the said smokers said stupid face, eyes, hair, ears. Basically, I’d like a kind of smoke vacuum to form around their heads: a toxic halo for them to enjoy to its fullness. In this way they wouldn’t waste a particle of their glorious poison.
February 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
Thinking again about accents yesterday, and how bad I am at them, I came to the conclusion that the default accent I revert to when attempting any other specific accent, isn’t a general blur between Jamaican, Indian and Welsh. It is in fact the exact accent of a definite place, albeit one I’ve never been to (the mid-point between Jamaica, India and Wales). According to www.geomidpoint.com, it is in Algeria, in the Saharan Desert, near no particular place.
I have never been to that spot, heard of it, nor even imagined it before today. But maybe there is a small hut there, with an Algerian me, sat, blogging in the sand with a stick. (I imagine there isn’t much connectability in the desert)
Although… If I include my home city (Nottingham) in the equation, then the address is pulled further north, off the coast of Oran in the Alboran Sea.
Having been confused as Italian, Colombian, and other nationalities besides throughout my life, and told several times that I have the appearance of someone who could be from pretty much anywhere (thus nowhere), it is entirely possible that either one of these “no-places” may very well be my spiritual home, if it is indeed my “other” accent. But which one?
Perhaps the answer is that my doppelgänger, other half, spiritual shadow, accent muse, is a nomad who has drifted south from Oran through the desert, or the reverse, up north to the coast. Without a sense of time for him (or her), it is difficult to link their possible journey to historical trends. But most likely, they are Tuareg: a Berber nomadic pastoralist people, who, according to Wikipedia, are principal inhabitants of the Saharan interior of North Africa. The language of Algerian Tuareg is Tamahaq. Supposing my North-African twin is indeed Algerian and not a traveller from further afield (through the desert would be long enough for me. So supposing my “twin” shares some of my qualities, we can assume Algeria is adequately foreign), then we can suppose that my “bad” accent is accurately Tamahaq.
“…this nomadic tribe of the Sahara once traveled the desert in great numbers, but after invasions and wars they have been reduced to small groups, scattered across the sandy hills of the unforgiving desert.
At the start of the seventh century, Arabs started moving into the coastal regions of Algeria, pushing the Touareg into the Sahara Desert. There were approximately three million Touareg at this time, who took on the role as trans-Saharan camel traders, traveling across the desert plains from one destination to the next. Setting up tents along the way, the caravans of camels and tribe members were a common sight on the ever changing landscape of the Sahara Desert.”
Why should I doubt that my Berber brother is alive today, perhaps indeed the same age as me? I guess it’s because I have no reason to believe that he is not from another time. All I know about him is that he has relation to a couple of no-places. I presume we share characteristics, but perhaps I am following a false lead planted by my ego? What if we are complete opposities? That would make he a she, and, by logical leap, their worst attempt at an accent approaching that of a middle-class Nottingham boy.
I have been to the Sahara Desert before, in 2007, and lead by Berber guides in fact, albeit via Marrakech, Morocco. I can’t say I felt more of a spiritual affinity to the place than other people would naturally expect to feel in a barren, alien landscape. I also have a Berber hand-woven rug, which I was essentially forced to buy through threats of mint tea. But lots of people go to this desert. Indeed, I was in a camel convoy with five annoying Australians, three other Brits and one or two others I forget. I imagine at least one of them was on a spiritual journey to find themselves. But let me make this clear. I am not trying to find myself. I am in Nottingham. I know that, because Facebook keeps telling me so.
But there is more to this than I have yet discovered. I will get to the bottom of my no-place accent. For the sake of my pride. And perhaps, my true people.
February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
So today is the first blog post I have written in a couple of weeks. But I am fine with that. I don’t attach much importance to writing this, other than the pressure it gives me to produce something readable relatively often. It obviously has faltered as a tool of discipline (kinky) but not failed. I think writing fails when it fails to communicate something worth reading, and a lot of blogs seem to fall into that pile, through the blogger’s insistence to write, even through thin and thinner. (A line from a Nihilist’s wedding vows?)
I once read a bit of a blog where a highly-strung business woman of some kind tried to educate the masses as to how to get more time out of the day. Her colon-cancer-inducingly perfect piece of life-changing advice was to get up at 5am and to instantly down a can of energy drink, a six-pack of which you should keep by your bed. To. Be. More. Productivivivivivivivivivivivivivive
Good luck with your day if that’s how you begin.
Last week I visited London for a couple of days. As is ritual, I made a point of visiting Brick Lane for bagels, this time the right shop, for a bit of variation. (They didn’t taste better or worse than the left one)
I also went to see David Shrigley’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. I am a massive fan of Shrigley’s work. He is unafraid to be funny with his work, and to enjoy having an imagination. For me, he exists in the same company as legendary US standup comedian Emo Phillips, both for his singular-ness, and as an arbiter of uniqueness itself. I realised recently that Emo Phillips’ delivery is that of a hypnotist: slow and insistent, sometimes seeming to meander, as if to plant images in your head for later use, which comes as a kind of revelation; bring form to the chaos. Shrigley, similarly, works with an approach of insistence, repetition; slow, determined logic… a logic that is his, but becomes ours through the moment of reveal, the heartbreaking punchline.
All Shrigley’s work seems to begin, and end, in death. Sometimes this is illustrated through headlessness, or other forms of “matter out of place”. At times death is transparent, joking with us at the absurdity of it all, and at others opaque and unforgiving, and now laughing at us. Through his rambling practice, which spans painting, animation, sculpture (including Frankenstein-like taxidermy), installation and jewelry, he seems to project an anxiety, in which sentience is presented as an insult, an imposition, and want as excess. But he is always playful, self-defeating, deadpan. His work has an endearing oddness to it, again like Emo Phillips, through which we allow ourselves to trust him with the keys to our mortal fear. (He has several hand-made keys throughout the show too)
Later the same day I visited the V&A Museum, with its vast collection of artefacts from around the world, (mostly property of The Crown: thus stolen/plundered from a time pre-morality), and the Natural History Museum (with its moth-eaten stuffed beasts). The museums’ two collections took on a different kind of absurd banality following on from Shrigley’s all-encompassing exhibition.
At the V&A the shine of civilisation, of culture, knowledge, wealth, progress, time had been dulled. Shrigley’s child-like “messing about”, with his own versions of artefacts, tools and the like, made history’s own precious objects seem, well, excessive, superficial, guilty pleasures (if pleasurable at all).
The Natural History Museum, was now subject to a post-Shrigley come-down; reduced to sheer grotesqueness, brutality. I couldn’t take an innocent joy from seeing strange animals close-up, because they were approximation, cobbled-together make-believes, fantasies of men with guns.
I think David Shrigley may have ruined learning for me.
Today is Valentine’s Day. Both being hugely unmotivated losers (sorry, artists) who don’t get enough out of our days, me and my wife made some pizzas for lunch. We had then planned to complete the long-delayed task of making ourselves a joint bank account, surely the ultimate romantic gesture, before realising you need to make an appointment first. Alas.
So we had to make do with a film instead; The Descendants, starring George Clooney. It was another good piece of work from Alexander Payne, who also made the excellent Election (1999), About Schimdt (2002) and Sideways (2004). I had read the Clooney had been broadly praised for his performance in the movie, but really I couldn’t see much to fuss about. When an actor’s too famous, I get a kind of star-blindness, whereby I can never really believe they are the guy of the story, and not just that actor doing another part. Equally, when a film’s well-made and well-written I tend to forget about the performances. But I guess that is good acting, when you don’t notice it.
We finished off our Valentine’s with some chips and mushy peas, whilst reading the Metro (free paper, mostly adverts and celebrity photos) in the shop. Bliss.
February 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
When writing, the blank white sheet is as much a reproach as it is invitation. Sometimes, sat there, with its clear, pure surface, not writing can seem the better option. Yesterday, faced with a kind of stagnant anxiety I decided to go for a quick walk around the block, to unblock my mind a little, to step outside of my own head and take in some of the outside world. I thought it would be a good exercise to take note of all I saw, smelt, heard, felt. The recurring motif, it turned out, would be animal shit; firstly on my lawn, decorated with cat shit, and then once on the streets; dog shit every few yards, laid out as if marks on a ruler to measure distance travelled.
In Japan, all dog owners carry little plastic bags with them to pluck their little chappy’s doings from the ground when required. Turning the bag inside out they use it like a glove to grab said mess, before reversing the plastic into the bag once more. It reminded me a lot of ‘help yourself’ deli counters. Mini croissant anyone?
A dog scuffles by, perhaps sniffing your leg or sizing you up, followed by its owner, a little poo sack in hand, swinging in rhythm with their broken gait.
In England, of course, there is much less of a sense of dog etiquette, although the situation is certainly better than it was. (Somewhat nostalgically, I can recall a certain brand of middle-aged, grey and crusty poo from my childhood, which don’t seem to be as common nowadays.) If there is apathy in Britain’s dog owners in their sense of responsibility towards their dog’s poops, at least there is an awareness of the rules, and the threat of prosecution.
Cat owners, however, seem to get away scot-free, both from a sense of ownership over their cat’s “activities”, and from any kind of legal requirement to be otherwise. If you will allow me, I would like to put forward a motion (excuse the pun) to relieve (again, sorry) somewhat this situation:
All cat owners should be legally obliged to execute weekly acts of community service, as recompense for their cat’s extra-curricular creativity. Call it “Community Karma”, this could be anything from picking up poo in their neighbourhood, to tending to public bushes, walking old ladies across the street, desticking gum from pavements with their bare hands. Things like this.
It seems only fair. They can start by sorting my lawn out. I have heard it is possible to buy Lion’s at Tiger’s poo from garden centres, which you sprinkle in your garden to deter domestic cats from invading wild-puss territory. I love the thought of the person who came up with the idea saying it out loud for the first time. Maybe this was his Eureka.
After my refreshing walk into the totalitarian state of my mind (along the dirt track of Sneinton, Nottingham) I returned to my writing. I wrestled with the idea of how to create a character that is unlike yourself, without falling into stereotype. Books I have read say that in-depth research and preparation are key. “Give the character a surprising dimension that plays against their stereotype.” But surely, giving a character a quirky trait for the sake of it is as false and superficial as stereotyping itself? I guess it depends on what your definition of theatre is: is its primary function entertainment, or should it have imbued within it a broader sense of social responsibility, or responsibility towards truth? Can an audience extract truth from a character adorned with superimposed qualities? Can theatre ever do anything more than comment on language, and its limitations? Surely the answer to this is to work collaboratively, where the ego of the writer is a lesser player.