Tag Archives: Social

Photos Of Miracles

My lodger/roomie, Yusuf is a photographer by – not by trade, not yet. By what then, paying hobby? He takes pictures which go up on walls and in magazines and people pay for them and have them framed and hang them in their homes. Nice pictures too. I don’t know much about photography, but his thing seems to be capturing juxtapositions in everyday scenes, usually on the Tube. The compositions are quick snaps, the sort of thing you often see in and around a big city with large adverts and masses f people. He’s got a knack for grabbing interesting combinations. His site has all his work and info about shows and buying prints. He’s had a couple of displays in galleries and the like, most recently at Flaxon Ptootch, a salon/bar/gallery in Kentish Town. Run by the flamboyant and welcoming Michael Flaxon, it seems to be a social focal point in the area. All the hair-cutting stuff was covered up for the evening, and a pair of decks stood ready. There was a good turnout of people (including my friend jkneale) to look at the photos, and also to hear a new band perform. My ex, now friend, Mairi, had formed a band, and this was their first gig. The band, Of Miracles, was playing covers this time, but they are working on original stuff.

They describe themselves on MySpace as indie/alternative - I see them as a shoegazey kind of thing, with guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals, Mairi performing these two last. Delicate vocals, nice synth lines, and Roman tends towards the harder edge of the guitar, with his multiple effects pedals. Nice combination. Sorry, juxtaposition.

I’d already seen Of Miracles at their first invitation-only rehearsal, which took place in basement flat in a sports-car filled street in Chalk Farm. The set at the gig above was reordered from the rehearsal, but contained the same set of good covers. I don’t remember the full set, or the order, but it contained the following:

  • British Sea Power
  • Echo and the Bunnymen
  • The Manic Street Preachers (always a favourite of hers)
  • Tainted Love, done in a rollicking rock version.
  • The Jesus And Mary Chain
  • and many more

It was a great first gig, and I look forward to their next. I hear they’re writing
original stuff, with a new drummer. Good luck!

Earache Gig: A Silver Mount Zion, Scala

In an effort to try and get out more and see more gigs, I crawled out of my jetlag to go and see A Silver Mount Zion And Tralala Orchestra at the Scala on Monday with Jimson and his neighbour, all three of us ex-members of The Lurking Fear some-conquering pub quiz team. We met in Big Chill, a bad name for a not-so-bad bar next to the old Kings Cross Thameslink Station, which was clearly full of people about to go to the gig, many sporting the mismatched hairy beard and parted pair beloved by certain segments of the current hipster tangerine.

I’d not heard of this lot before, but their connections with Godspeed You Black Emperor got me interested, as I like GYBE’s f# a# oo a lot, with it’s shifting scenes and tape-recorded street nutters. So it wasn’t a surprise to see the stage setup include a cello and a double bass. The support, Owl Service, were just finishing up when we got in, and they sounded very drifty. But the main event got underway as the headliners built their stepladder up into A Million Died To Make This Sound, which had a repeating vocal and a fantastic cyclic bass with sternum-poking belts from the amp’d double bass. I like bass.

Each song lasting 10 minutes or more makes for a short playlist, but the slow build-up and breakdown of each ensured plenty of variation. As well as the bass and cello, two violins, two guitars and drums gave a rich minestrone sound. The gig soon warmed up, despite the small venue size and high ceilings, but no sooner had I taken my jacket off than they switched on the industrial wind machines at the side, which then blew cold air right down my earhole. I couldn’t avoid it, and eventually had to retreat to the side to avoid the frigid blast. The double bass couldn’t do it, but the breeze did – give me an earache.

I liked the sound, the complexity, the background vocals, and the melodies and evolution. I can’t say I much cared for the main guy’s voice, too caprine for my tastes, but there you go. After the gig, we spent a pleasant Tube-ride home examining the handed-out gig flyers, discussing the shortcomings of the bands if we knew them, or the shortcomings of the name of we didn’t. More gigs please.

Click on for a review by James, who is much better qualified to talk of these things: Punks got the loveliest dreams: A Silver Mount Zion, Scala « Both bars on

Minutes of meeting, Saturday 1 March 2008

I met James for a pint or x a few Saturdays ago, and we had the usual rambling, digressing, tangent-going-off-on, and thoroughly enjoyable and edifying discussion. Here are a few of the topics covered, in no order, but you may be able to see where threads link up.

  • Noise Music
  • Teleportation – Physical transferral or descriptive data transmission, in which case what do you do with the copy left behind? Socio-political impacts thereof.
  • Post-scarcity as described by Banks in his Culture novels, and Gene Roddenberry (or whoever) in Star Trek.
  • RepRap – an effort to build an open source 3D fabber.
  • ‘Jaunters’ as described in Bester’s The Stars My Destination (by the way, the unflattering mention of my namesake here is not me. I would have been trying to climb through the screen)
  • Jumper – a movie about teleportation.
  • Godwin’s Law – which says that as soon as you call the person you are arguing with
  • Cover versions
  • Faking It – a great book given to me for Christmas by Robin. It’s a series of essays about the myth of authenticity in music, something which I have always had problems with. It starts with Nirvana Unplugged, and goes on to talk about Elvis Presley (who wasn’t seen as “authentic” and loved it), punk, singer-songwriters, Billy Joel, Neil Young, Alan Lomax and his search for the “real” sound of the noble savage, Ry Cooder and the Buena Vista Social Club, World Music and much more. Refreshing and challenging.
  • Hawkwind
  • Live music
  • Effect of limited instrumentation on cover versions (and not just YouTube acoustic guitarists – “here’s my cover of blah blah” oh shut up)
  • Suicide – the fantastic band, with their sparse keyboard and drum machine sound.
  • Theatricality over talent, as demonsrated by KISS in this clip of God Of Thunder.
  • The ZX80 home computer.
  • The ZX81 home computer (my first computer). I got mine to make sound by changing the way it interfered with the TV. Related to noise music, above?
  • The Commodore VIC-20 (my second computer)
  • The Retro Computing Fair I attended in 2004.
  • ZX Spectrum (couldn’t find a link about this little-known early computer) .
  • The Early Matrix as seen by Lileks.
  • Halo – the computer game, with it’s great (if cliched) story concerning ancient megastructures in space built by an earlier race called The Forerunners.
  • Portal – another computer game with a wicked sense of humour.
  • Nexuiz – the computer game currently taking up my time. It’s a 3D deathmatch-style FPS, and it’s available for Linux.
  • Do Not Want – the web meme
  • The origin of the Do Not Want web meme.

As you can see, the discussion degenerated at this point, and last orders were called. Any other business? Only chips.

More DAP Wars Results

“You join us for the next round of DAP Wars, here in a bar in Clapham. Your contestants, Matthew Petty and Robin Deacon, have met before, but sadly it’s always been amicable. We’re hoping for some ugly scenes here in Lambeth tonight.”

This round dates back to 2006 as well. Look at me with my backlog! The results are flawed in that I didn’t write down the song titles. Pillock.

Round Matt Rob Winner
1 William Orbit Steely Dan Rob
2 Elvis Costello Harry Nilsson Matt
3 Air Randy Newman Rob
4 Nick Drake Frank Zappa Rob
5 Queens Of The Stone Age Durutti Column Rob

“And what a trouncing! Robin Deacon wins! Bastard! Let’s go through it blow by blow. Steely Dan took Robin into an early lead. Matt bravely fought back with Elvis easily kicking Harry into touch, but he was powerless to resist as Robin struck back with a triple-threat of Randy, Frank and Vini (sounds like a Mafia family). Even the heroin-linked strums of Nick Drake weren’t enough to hold him back. The Gallic cafe-noodlers were similarly flawed, and the stoner throb of QOSA collapsed in their wake. An awesome victory.”

Perhaps we need a new series of games…

Country Life (well, Surrey)

After spending the night in Reading visiting all the fam-er-ly, I took the train home via Guildford, where I met Esther and Bill, their toddling boy Archie, and Mira and Matt at the Weyside Inn for a pub lunch.

The place looked OK at first, we sat out on the [veranda? patio? deck?] and watched the narrowboats chuffing by, traditional clouds of blue diesel smoke belching from their behinds. I always want to call them longboats, but those are different. Guildford does have an Mare of Steel in the town square though, this being true-blue Surrey.

Guildford Pub Lunch & Walk
E and B

Guildford Pub Lunch & Walk
M and A

Guildford Pub Lunch & Walk
M, A and M by the river

But when we ordered food from the halfwits (Toby, Dan and Bathsheba) behind the bar, the BITE review some of us had read turned out to be well deserved. The service was a bit shambolic, and despite it being a quiet Sunday lunchtime, the meals all came seperately. Very expensive if you got a simple veggie dish as well – it’s like charging the same for a soft drink as for a pint. Anyway, great view of groups of teenage girls rowing and struggling not to get mown down by the Long Ships. They weren’t rowing down the river so much as caroming off the banks.

Guildford Pub Lunch & Walk
Guildford from the Castle

Guildford Pub Lunch & Walk
Dented History!

Guildford Pub Lunch & Walk
E & B, A, M & M

Guildford Pub Lunch & Walk
Guildford Castle

After eating, we walked up to the castle, and took in the view. Lovely fresh breezy day. Walking up one hill was obviously not enough though, because then we walked up Pewley Hill to the big open ground, donated by the Friary Brewery to Guildford to celebrate the end of the Great War. Nice typeface on the monument, which was good to lean on while my calves stopped audibly screaming. Great view of the rolling downs, stables, and some conifer logging. Matt and Mira took the opportunity to pick a good bagful each of the silvery-black ripe sloes that were covering the hedgerow. They’re going to make sloe gin, which is all you can do with sloes in my opinion, which is echoed here. It’s the alcohol and sugar that do it.

After taking the air, we strolled down the hill, making sure not to let go of Archies pram, and went for coffee and cake, before we went our seperate ways. Esther and Billy look very happy with Archie – he is a lovely kid, even if I was jealous of him being pushed up the hill in a trolley. M&M were looking good too. Everyone wished me luck in LA next week.

When I eventually got home (via Clapham Junction, Balham, Tooting Broadway) I was knackered, so laundry, sandwiches and TV were in order. Lovely weekend.

I Am The Sea…

…You are a river
You come to me
I take you in
I hate my parents.

In the middle of a very busy week of getting up early, walking the dog and then catching an earlier train to work, it became clear I needed to go to Old Street and watch some people read excerpts from their teenage diaries.

So I went to The Foundry on Great Eastern Street for the first London edition of Cringe, the brainchild of Sarah Brown in Brooklyn. Down in the vault basement of the bar, which used to be a bank, a single mic was set up, and chairs and tables were scattered around. The cold white walls and giant bullion-rotating turntable in the floor gave a strange atmosphere, but a cool one. The echo provided a stark and ideal location for the resonant embarrassment of an adolescence laid bare. The turntable in particular reminded me of the Lovecraft story ‘Pickman’s Model‘ – a lid on a tunnel leading down, where things may emerge. What demons from the past would emerge tonight?

The idea of Cringe is quite simple. You stand up at the microphone, and read out excerpts from your most secret (preferably teenaged) diaries. People listen, gasp, groan, and laugh. And that’s it. And it’s hilarious. The importance the young authors and placed in their writings! From all the talk of “Him”, to “The Blake Incident” (which turned out to be about stolen ping-pong bats), to an affair with a monopedal Outdoor Activities teacher – it was all knockout stuff. The earth-shattering revelations about hookups, drugs and desires, mixed with the banal reports on how well they slept – marvellous.

And it got me thinking. I never kept a diary like that, with all my secrets and affairs laid out. To be honest, I didn’t really get up to much that was worth writing down, and my internal life is really not for public consumption. These days, we have blogs, especially LiveJournal, to allow teenagers and other similarly verbally and emotionally incontinent people freedom of expression. This blog is a classic example (although I do hold back the juicy stuff). Blogs are simple to make, and public, whereas diaries were locked away under beds and in underwear drawers, and often carefully crafted pieces of art. It’s like the difference between mix tapes and iTunes playlists. A good mix tape (as I’m sure some of you will know) takes, or rather took, hours of thought, preparation, note-taking, taping, listening, re-taping, drawing, cutting, pasting and so on. All to create the perfect artifact, and it had to be perfect, because you were making it for Her (or Him). These days it’s all so easy (I’m 35 so I’m allowed to say things like that), you just fire up iTunes or MediaMonkey or Winamp or Amarok or whatever, drag, drop, burn, print, and you’re done.

The same goes for diaries. I’m sure many teenage diaries were full of the same kind of drivel you get on LiveJournal or wherever (or here! Ha! Actually that’s too true to be funny). But I bet the constraints of the medium, the need to get it right first time, the inability to delete and redo, the pink biro on the fluffy padlocked diary, the Mont Blanc on the watermarked vellum, meant that you took time to craft the right words, thoughts and meanings. And it’s these well-honed cringe-worthy moments I was there for last night.

By the way, just in case you’ve noticed the similarity between Sarah’s blog design and mine, here’s a little background [NB this was before this site got a revamp]. I came across Sarah’s blog just out surfing one day – you know, one site links to another, and eventually I ended up at Que Sera Sera. I just happened to be thinking about changing the design and colour scheme of my own blog, and I liked Que Sera Sera, so I decided to copy the design. No one reads mine anyway, and those that do were unlikely to read Que Sera Sera as well, so I thought “what the hell”. Last night after the Cringe performance, I introduced myself to Sarah – I’d commented on the blog that I was going to come along. I got chatting with her and her friends, and discovered that we have the same birthday, although she’s not as ancient and decrepit as I am. We also appear to share the same unique taste in shoes. Now, seeing as I have now met her, and we share a birthday, and shoe style, it does seem a little creepy that I have the same blog design. I was thinking about changing it anyway, so perhaps I should. Don’t want to look like some kind of stalker or internet weirdo.

It was a fun evening, and very nice to meet the lovely person behind it all, even if she never explained properly how it was possible to slow-dance to I’ve had the time of my life from Dirty Dancing. With Brad.

Slept well.

European Community

A couple of old friends from the days back in Flensburg came over to visit a couple of weekends back. I hadn’t seen Silke since 1997, when I popped up from work in Switzerland to see her in Heidelberg. Nicky I hadn’t seen since 1994 in Bad Oldesloe. So it was amazing to see them waiting for me by the fountain in Trafalgar Square. It was a sunny day, so we immediately hopped on the open-top London tour bus, saw a few sights, including my office overlooking Buckingham Palace Mews. Then in a fever of tourism, we took a round river trip, with historical and comedic commentary from a London geezer whose family had worked on the river for 10 generations. Then a stroll
around the world-famous shopping streets of London, before home. Later in the evening we met up in in Clapham for a taste of the genteel nightlife in those parts. All the time of course, reminiscing about times past and how none of us had changed in the slightest.

The next day we met up for some more shopping – Nicky especially was keen on this – before heading across to Portobello Road Market for some much-needed flea market browsing. It was a beautiful sunny day, and everything looked wonderful, silver glinting, brass shining like gold, colourful houses looking very expensive. Pausing only to grab a slice of pizza, we bussed back to the Albert Memorial, and napped for a couple of hours. Silke took some photos, Nicky ogled the men playing roller hockey, and I just phased out completely from pizza, sun and strolling.

Silke and Nicky had got hold of tickets for Spamalot for the evening. This proved to be as silly as you’d expect, and pretty good. They’d managed to weave a tortured narrative where none had existed in the film, and the numbers were all very enjoyable. My German guests were slightly shocked by the big number about how you had to have Jews to be successful in the West End, complete with illuminated Star of David – things are obviously still a bit sensitive over there.

After the show, and after we’d fought our way from the sweaty theatre catacombs out to the warren of the West End, we slurped back a couple of very nice cocktails in a quilted booth behind a beaded curtain, before tubing home.

Sunday was even sunnier, so I drove my guests, and Shuggie, Richmond Park, where we enjoyed a lovely lazy day of picnic, naps, reading, and trying to stop Shuggie raiding other people’s picnics – “cover up your hummus!”. It was a lovely weekend, all told. Fantastic to see Silke and Nick again after all this time, great to catch up, and interesting to wheel out my rusty Deutsch.

The day was so lazy that by the time we packed up, and I drove back and dropped them off at the tube station, and they got the Thameslink back to Luton Airport, they had missed their plane! Luckily, there was another plane 8 hours later from Stansted, so it all worked out fine.

Make The Incision

The Royal College of Surgeons Hunterian Collection is open to the public and is a fantastic way of freaking yourself out, so where better to meet friends? Recently refurbished, it consists of several galleries, devoted to the body, instruments, diseases, oddities etc. I went along in February with my buddies Robin and Gren, as a way of actually spending some time with them. Gren brought along his son Art, which was a nice extra.

The first thing you see when you enter the museum is something that looks like a prop in a Clive Barker movie. It is the nervous system of a human, stuck to a wooden board. I was careful not to cut myself and drip blood on it, lest it start to regenerate and come back to life. And that was just the start. There’s too much to describe in full here, but a few
highlights were:

The drawers of medical instruments, each drawer labelled with the area of the body associated with it. As you opened each drawer, you generally had a sharp intake as you saw the various instruments. We opened one drawer marked ‘Female Genito-urinary’ (or something) and that was pretty gruesome, but you could see what they would do. Then we opened the
drawer marked ‘Male Genito-urinary’, and we (and the guys standing nearby) all had to close it quickly and walk gingerly away. You couldn’t imagine what the 18″ rod with the little claws on the end was for – until you saw the 18th-century ‘cartoon’ on the wall behind you, depicting an operation to crunch up and remove a gallstone via the male urethra, without anaesthetic. That’ll get you drinking enough water.

I was disappointed there was no drawer of ‘Instruments for Operating on Mutant Women‘, but then it’s probably best they don’t exist anywhere apart from the imagination of David Cronenberg.

Art was quite taken with the row of jars, each containing a foetus at a different stage of development, about 15 jars in all, on the bottom shelf, at toddler’s-eye level. It was an interesting sight to see Art standing, palms on the glass, face to face with a 9-month-old foetus.

Then we went for a sandwich.

Music To Walk Home To

In this post I mentioned that “no-one I like or trust” would recommend U2 to me. This was proved on Wednesday evening when, over a pint and a man-chat with James, I let slip that I have a Phil Collins song on my iPod, and that I like it. It was the closest I’ve seen James to lamping anyone. Guilty pleasures, you know?

But the song (Take Me Home from the album No Jacket Required, or as my brother would have it, No Talent Required) holds a special little corner of my heart, with a select group of tunes which formed a significant part of my developmental years. It’s a rotten little piece of Collins, but I don’t know, the twinkling synth backing motif, the skittering drums (especially that drum machine handclap), and most worrying, that bit that sounds like a bagpipe, piddling around in the background – it all just gets to me somehow. It is at this point that I quote Noel Coward, along with every other sod on the net, who said something about “the potency of cheap music”. Of course, this isn’t cheap music, it’s overproduced, overwritten, overplayed and over-sung. But it can overwhelm me, especially if I’m walking home alone.

In that respect, Take The Long Way Home by Supertramp is even more powerful. My sister liked Supertramp, and played Breakfast In America through my bedroom wall. This one in particular grabbed me, and I had it on an ancient cassette for years, only recently replacing it with an MP3 (I wasn’t going to buy the CD). It is choice fodder for staggering home after an after-show party. The lyrics make more sense for that, and the melody veers from uplifting to melancholy on the turn of a key. Add to that the relevant bits about “when you’re up on the stage it’s so unbelievable, … how they adore you” and an adolescent egotist could find a lot to sink his teen hopes into.

But for complete ‘standing-at-the-top-of-Cemetery-Hill-in-Bedford-looking-at-the-town-lights-and-feeling-angsty’, nothing beats True Faith by New Order. In 1987, it really hit the spot. The pounding drums, the (again) slightly melancholy synth chords, the lyrics which talked about growing up, and away from those around you. And most of all, the background melody during the chorus, another synth line. It’s difficult to describe – there are several bits of songs, chord changes, and the like that just send a shiver down my no-nonsense English spine.

True Faith just hits the spot. Of course, this is not a guilty pleasure – it is my favourite song of all time. A common thread with these songs is that they are sung by men, in a key that I can sing. Perhaps my inner (though not very well hidden) frustrated rock star likes songs it can imagine me standing on a stage singing to a huge audience. I certainly let rip when I’m alone in the house. And now and then, when events overtake me or changes wash over me, these and other songs come back to help me through.

Specifying Democracy

The Open Rights Group (ORG) is a organisation dedicated to raising awareness of the issues surrounding privacy and civil liberties in the digital age. I’m one of the Founding 1000 supporters (hence the badge at top right) and on Tuesday I attended a screening of the HBO film Hacking Democracy, at the nicely-named Gustav Tuck lecture theatre at University College London, followed by a panel discussion and of course the obligatory ‘drinks in the pub’ (a bonus level if you collect all the tokens) at the Jeremy Bentham. This was all because the UK government is strongly considering the use of e-voting, with apparently little caution regarding the risks. The ORG has a special campaign underway to keep an eye on this.

The film was very interesting, albeit in a rather sensationalist way, with ominous music during the bits where they reveal some corruption. But, I suppose that is necessary when you’re dealing with such an important subject, and with television audiences – keep ’em riveted. The film had a lot in it that I was aware of, and also some welcome details of the stories behind the bOINGbOING posts. It had a rather sad ending, with hundreds of brand-new voting machines being delivered from Diebold (pron. DEE-bold, as it turns out). Diebold are the biggest provider of U.S. electronic voting “solutions”. “Solutions” – like elections are a problem. They came out of the film looking pretty bad, but with no change in Federal policy. One amusing part was a part of the Diebold system called The Central Tabulator – a reference to Frank Zappa?

After the film, some luminaries took the stage for a discussion, and after some initial statements took questions from the audience. The panel consisted of (left to right) Jon Pugh MP (Lid-Dem, Southport), Russell Michaels, co-director of the film, Jason Kitcat, the host and a researcher in e-voting, and Dr Rebecca Mercuri PhD, a computer science expert, who makes this statement regarding e-voting.

During a lively debate, I asked the question, “Is there a written standard or specification for what constitutes a free, fair, and secure election system, be it paper or electronic, and do these new e-voting systems comply?”. The short answer to that is No, and No.

The longer answer is of course more complex. The way we vote now in the UK, with paper and pencil and ballot box and human counting, is not perfect, but it has come about through hundreds of years of evolution, and it is pretty robust. The level of security and reliability is something to aim for. So when e-voting systems aren’t secure (as was shown in the film), or reliable, and when the hasty introduction of them breaks all of the processes and activities built around paper ballots, there is something very wrong.

Perhaps what is needed is an open statement of requirements for e-voting, peer-reviewed by all who care to take a look. If, and only if, a system can be proven to comply with every one of the agreed requirements, then maybe we can go ahead. This statement would include requirements governing reliability, security, the human processes surrounding the ballot, the transparency of the systems used, the independence of any and all private companies involved, etc. Perhaps ORG can help write this up? It certainly shouldn’t happen behind closed, locked, legally guarded doors.