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scallmorpheedy

scallmorpheedy
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      15.11.2007 18:33
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      A shaving cream that does the job

      Scowled decades pre lube-strip, The Fall lyric “. . .You won't find anything more ridiculous, than this new profile Razor unit, made with the highest British attention to the wrong detail. . . ” probably wasn't a specific critique of the increasingly preposterous modern disposable razor. Instead “The classical,” was to me a more general rail against commercial and political modernism and the self-deluding falseness masquerading as progress it brings. Within this, razors were a good example of marketing's contribution to the madness.

      Shaving, i.e. the process of scraping-off body hair with a sharp piece of metal, is essentially a simple procedure. Yet, like most essentially-uncomplicated grooming rituals, it has been hijacked by the marketeers. The net result? A market plethoric with artificially-convoluted and utterly pointless technical aids. Witness: gee-gaws requiring batteries to sonorically pulsate hairs into erect scythe-fodder, or others with the cutting equivalence of miniaturised combined harvester. Witness too, their promotion by grotesque masculine stereotypes fostering blokey clichés to convince that shaves are better, easier, faster, more technical and sexier than ever before. Cobblers.

      In this, we, the British public, have been brainwashed out of the opportunity of enjoying the simple art of shaving -that noble art -that is perfectly well served by and requires nothing more than a stick with a blade on it.

      Oh and of course a luxurious shaving cream, which, with extracts of sesame and coconut, softens the beard and skin and which also, by nature of a glycerin base lubricates and moisturises – leaving a hydrated complexion in the post-blade-scrape period.

      A squat and rotund body shop tub, first encountered as a 1990's bran tub present, brought me all this.

      Prior to this Christmas gift, I was a parky shaver. Miserliness oft saw me ignore razor manufacturer's guidance with respect to frequency of blade re-use. This and shaving foams/gels of dubious quality regularly saw haemorrhagic rashes on the jugular region of my jowls, lending my neck a complexion akin to the pimpled buttocks of obese Geordie footballers. Only a face scrape frequency of less than two per week could check this issue. Alas, this frequency led to days of ginger beard breakthrough, giving my chin, set against a pasty skin-tone, the appearance of a cigarette filter.

      Body shop shaving crème changed all this. Best of all it did so in an understated manner. Essentially a thickly-unctuous, pale-yellow, semi-solid plonked in a tub, there is no brouhaha about or around it. Beautifully plain and simple there are no great attempts at engineering needless solutions to problems that don't exist. This product is what it is and nothing more – a tub of cream. All it needs to spring to life is a few fingers to scoop, a few more to smear and of course its raison d'être -hairy parts.

      Initially easy to dismiss decoratively; comprising basically a tub with a screw top lid and plastic protective insert. Yet in its rotund, puck-like dumpiness lies elegance of practicality. Other shaving products tend towards the elongated metallic cylinder form. They also opt for click-on caps that become too claggy with product and eventually fail to click. Rendered useless said tops then bounce all over the bathroom floor. Never more so then when a trailing elbow sets into place an aerosolised version of domino rally on the bathroom windowsill – a cacophonous cascade in which modern shave cream dispensers are complicit.

      In contrast Body shop's tub quite simply can not fall over; it would require a thwack from a hockey stick to dislodge it from its sink-nest. The screw top too, and its counterpart insert, never fail, this prevents solidification of the unguent at exit point and makes for a tidier compact toiletry abode. It is the embodiment of minimalism.

      The only criticism form-wise, is in the reaction of airport security staff. Once, pre-war-on-terror, I bundled my shaving crème, razor, spare blades and alarm clock into one elastic-banded compact unit -this I placed in my hand luggage. I did have to concede as physically restrained by security that under x ray conditions the bundle did have a passing resemblance to a time-bomb, and when opened the Semtex-appearance of the shaving crème only reinforced the image.

      But back to the product.

      Efficacy wise a little goes a long way. The tiniest smidgeon is required to ruffle up a compact but effective lather. Less is more; it seems is the product's genius. Whereas other products particularly those hailing from supermarket tin-can-alleys generate more voluminous coatings, they tend to be all air and no substance. This crème forgoes such bluff and delivers substance where it is needed, directly to the skin and hair without the need for dramatic latherisations borne of gas.

      Once applied, the ingredients (see appendix 1) kick into effect from the first face-scrape. Thick with glycerin, the cream allows the scraper to glide across the scrapee, reducing friction and thereby reducing niction and its capillary rupturing consequences. It does this not once but twice, thrice and more. Repeated strokes in the same areas are not a problem, the glycerin component adheres to the face to allow even the trickiest areas with multi-directional crop to be repeatedly and smoothly harvested to the bare soil. Marvellous.

      This however may not be to everyone's taste. Once the shave is over, a significant amount of the product remains on the face and it can feel a touch gunky and a thorough wash is needed. I, however, like this and in fact I encourage it by agitating the remaining product into a thin lather, leaving it for a minute or two before washing off. This to me prolongs the hydrating nature of the product and helps keep the skin cooler for longer.

      Overall the product is a shavers dream, it permits a more thorough shave while minimising damage, the skin is left soft and cool and in personal experience cuts are dramatically reduced.

      Inevitably for a quality product it isn't cheap. £7.00 for 200ml initially raised my eyebrows, but with experience I see there is an economy to the product. Used correctly and sparingly a tub will last for months – up to a year in some cases – less if genitals, head, legs and face are regularly scraped. This compares most favourably to rivals, generally shorter lived and occasionally cut down in their prime due to propellant issues.

      There is also conceptually the moral component to the price. Self-hailed as an ethical company, with environmental, anti-vivisectionist and equal opportunities at its core, the extra cost may enhance your middle class sense of worth. I can't comment on this, I hope they are true to their word, but something about big businesses shouting about their ethicality makes it seem more marketing than substance. Essentially I have to leave the moral cost worthiness for you to decide. I do however have a perspective on the ingredients, if you can be bothered see appendix 2.

      On balance, the true value – to me- lies in the honest simplicity of the product, it is effective and unencumbered by unnecessary engineering shenanigans. Furthermore it does its job discreetly, enhanced by packaging that boldly eschews patronising male stereotypes.

      I'm not sure if Mark E smith would approve but for me this product definitely falls under the term classical.

      APPENDIX 1

      Glycerin is the main ingredient, but it could not do the job without the following emulsion fellows:
      Water – this is essential for emulsion nature of the crème and also acts as a solvent/diluent for other ingredients.
      Myristic Acid and Stearic Acid are emulsifiers which along with Coconut Acid ( a surfactant) allow the relatively immiscible water and glycerin to maintain a relatively happily cohabiting emulsion
      Benzyl Benzoate acts as solvent for later ingredients that are not soluble in water
      Tetrasodium EDTA is a chelating Agent which binds elements, usually metals that could degrade other components
      Sesamum indicum (Sesame Oil) acts as an Emollient to soften the skin
      Potassium Hydroxide, Triethanolamine and Sodium Hydroxide combine together to buffer the crème and maintain the acid base balance within the desired pH range. Butylparaben, Propylparaben, Methylparaben, and Phenoxyethanol are preservatives to prevent skankiness
      Eugenol and Coumarin are components of the perfume – which to me is barely perceptible
      Retinyl Palmitate, and Panthenol respectively a vitamin A and Vitamin B5 product both enigmatically described by body shop as Skin Conditioning Agents.
      Tocopheryl Acetate, a vitamin E product that is described as an Antioxidant, which may have some effects on skin but is probably included to enhance stability of crème.


      APPENDIX 2

      Ingredients- wise there seems to be quite a few, and a fair few preservative in nature. Ordinarily this would be a negative point, until I consider why. Like an open wound, the products relatively exposed packaging could encourage micro-organism growth and exposure to other degrading elements – oxygen for one. The preservatives are therefore essential to maintain the products integrity.
      Alternative products are inherently more protected and conceptually require fewer ingredients. However to do this they must be encased in a hermetically sealed environment that maintains a positive pressure differential on dispensing. They then require some form of propellant to expel them. All of which necessitates manufacturing processes and chemicals.

      And therein is the quandary, do you accept some preservatives to achieve a long-lived, low-packaging product? Or do you go for complex packaging and the attendant manufacturing processes in preference to a few preservatives.

      I opt for the former.

      Put it this way, if Body shop were sneaky they could call this an antibacterial shave crème and hey presto the preservatives become antibacterial, and much more socially acceptable

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        03.11.2007 21:07
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        Visual feast that slakes the senses

        When reading a la recherché de la temps perdu it is all to easy to feel that time has stood still or fallen into another dimension in which deja vu is the norm. Its meandering circuitously repetitive plot and luminously textured backdrop lulls the reader into another world in which context and direction are effectively meaningless and all that binds the mind together is the fleeting moments of action and engagement.

        Those unfamiliar with the book could find a modern day equivalent in in the night garden.

        Set in a never ending landscape of perfect lawn interspersed with trees and fantastical blooms the feeling of timelessness is as tangible as the childhood recounted by Marcel Proust. Add to this the hyper technicolour characters and effects, and what you have is a psychoactive tv programme devoid of a contextual timescape and epic in scale.

        Opening with a small child being lulled to sleep with gentle strokes of the hand, this madeline-esque trigger ushers in Derek Jacobi, our narrator and guide into the dream world of the night garden.

        We get there by boat skippered by a blue-furred, red-quiffed humanoid by the name of iggle piggle. This mitten fisted individual drifts on his tiny boat to a landscape largely based on a Victorian town park, complete with bandstand, but vast in its scale and hyperreal in its execution. Here we find another humanoid, this time female but clearly a different species. Sporting a skirt, top, dreadlocks and a recognisably human facial arrangement she -oopsydaiy- is the nearest thing we will encounter to homo sapiens sapiens.

        Together these two variously roam around the parkscape either on foot or by the parks two modes of assisted transport – the plinky ponk and the ninky nonk. The latter is the parks train, a multi-carriaged polychromatic death-trap that hurtles around the undulating terrain at break-neck speed. The former is its airborne cousin, a bloated Zeppelin device that has the clumsy handling, ruddy proboscis and pneumatic vociferousness of an asthmatic and gout ridden country parson. How the humanoids safely negotiate their days in these vehicles is beyond me.

        The principle interests of the two protagonists appear to be admiring flowers -oopsadaisy- or flirting outrageously and overreacting (mock feinting) to the slightest thing – iggle piggle. These interests inevitably bring them into contact with another park inhabitant – makka pakka- a kind of park warden, who armed with his modified zimmer frame “og-pog” and “noo noo” device, keeps the park tidy – although principally focusing on polishing and arranging pebbles of the kind scened in Ikea lounge-pictures.

        Encountered too are the sub-subterranean trio of tomblyboos, stumpy dwarves though taller than makka pakka, they have podgy features and are distinguishable only by varying colours on their striped under garments. Add to these characters the pontypines – a large family of miniaturised chimeras of morph and monty pythons spanish inquisition- and their reclusive next door neighbours the wattingers (identical but shod in blue) They inhabit adjacent semi detached houses nestled under a tree and do little more than gad about making squeaks and coos of varying pitch.
        Occasionally we may also see the haahoos – essentially vast hot air balloons they are restricted in appearance (for presumably H+S reasons,) to the full-cast dance-off that centres around the bandstand and represents a dizzying spectacle of scale and grace to draw the programme to its closing phase.

        This closing phase consists of a call to bed by a parliament of birds – collectively known as the tittifers- they comprise visually enhanced hoopoes, toucans, what appear to be green grouse and an unidentifiable species. Once called to order each member of the cast heads to bed, is tucked in verbally by Derek Jacobi and then they are off to sleep as the screen fills with stars and night.

        Confused? Not surprising. The show is as dizzyingly mesmeric as the cast list itself. Plot lines are thin, but who needs plot when you can just have technicolour humanoids of varying stature communicating with each other via barely decipherable ga-ga and overblown hand gestures. All you need is Mr Jacobi who knits the show together with sparse dialogue and stories that are little more than synopses of the show's preceding events.

        Produced by the same team responsible for the teletubbies, this is children's television in its most basic but highly scientifically developed form. Everything about it is calculated to meet one end – namely to wind kids down. Some shows hyper stimulate kids and wind them into a frenzy – that is too easy. The makers of the night garden have spotted a niche. The urgent need in the children's schedule for a programme that acts as a timely sedative ushering kids effectively but stealthily into the bath time or bedtime routine that gina ford obsessive parents require.

        The show is mesmerically brilliant and surprisingly so. It is astonishing that such a visually vivid show could be so sedating. Visually it draws comparison with tartrazine but psycho-actively it has more in common with valium. The only draw back to the show – which will no doubt dominate the world – is that the sedative effect is just as potent on adults.

        Screened on cbeebies between 6+7pm the timing is perfect. This timing in fact is so perfect that it calls into question the very need for the DVD to which this review section pertains.

        The bbc have toyed with showing alternative programmes but written backlashes have seen it re-instated and unchallenged for months. To have/need a DVD would suggest that either:
        The buyer does not have Cbeebies -no parent can live like this.
        The buyer is going on holiday – worldwide domination beckons and DVDs will be thus obsolete.
        The buyer has a favourite episode -impossible they are virtually indistinguishable.
        The buyer watches at a time other than bedtime – this is reprehensible and may lead to addiction.
        The buyer wishes to utilise the interactive component -they may, the watcher will not wish to use, or even be able to say interactive.
        The buyer wishes to use the parent guide- nobody will be buying this cold, nothing beyond what is clearly elucidatable from watching will require clarfication.
        The buyer can't think of what else to buy for christmas - buy books.

        With none of these reasons valid or advisable it is hard to see role for the DVD. Non TV elements of this programme such as the webpage just don't work and the DVD shouldn't either. The show has such a spectacular niche and is so specifically adapted to it, that it is hard to see how it could work in any other ecosystem than Cbeebies bedtime hour.

        No doubt however it will sell in its trillions as will merchandise that misses the somniferous point.

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          02.11.2007 22:44
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          Purported political analysis of a threesome with czech lit on the side

          Encountered first in an edition of Granta – and described therein as an example of this country's best young novelists- Adam Thirlwell promised much. His contribution to Granta was a perfectly pitched account of a visit to an abortion clinic, told with an engaging voice and an honesty that created the degree of tension and empathy that the subject demanded. I have to admit I enjoyed it very much.

          Politics, then, his first novel was highly anticipated not just by me, but the literary world in general. Many of whom were eagerly anticpating great things from this All souls fellow and New college oxford graduate with well publicised good grades.

          Tangible then was the disappointment when at last after a day or so's holiday reading it was finished. Disappointment not that it was finished, but disappointment for the entire contents. Almost from the off it is an exercise in ego onanism. Written in the style of Kundera (an inevitable reference in any review of his) but without the easy restraint of his idol, the self referential posturing throughout is sufficient to sour the palate.

          I don't mind novels being aware of and referring to themselves, it can be a useful aside to break the tension or can help to elucidate some vaguely implausible plot lines. They key however is restraint and their actually being a point to be made – being self referring for the sake of it just smacks of arrogance or even worse of contempt. Unfortunately Adam Thirlwell in politics lands mid way between the two

          “I think you'll like moshe,” he tells us, referring to the male interest in a one-man-two-women ménage-a-trois. In doing so he is issuing a challenge to the reader based on over confidence. Nobody minds confidence of course providing it is is well placed. Unfortunately it isn't, neither I nor my wife can find anything to like about the character nor his cohorts. Moshe is one of the least believable and least memorable protagonist I've ever encountered. Unbelievable because he is without a shadow of doubt the least likely individual in the literary world to find himself embroiled in troilism. Barely memorable because of the pedestrian encounters we follow him through. He essentially meanders through his utterly fantastical relationship encountering the various “issues” that one would expect when spreading the quilt thinly thus.

          These issues presumably comprise the politics of the title and burning too are these issues that Thirlwell identifies, if by burning you mean an ember in a pint of water. Presented in a near preposterously epic fashion by Thirlwell they are the most overblown and pointlessly facile issues that could be encountered in any relationship irrespective of whether they involve one, three or more of any permutation of animal, mineral or vegetable.

          “Who sleeps where?” is a large issue in his mind. Who cares is the answer, its left, right or middle or take turns -end of discussion. Ditto all the issues of the threesome. Nothing that is discussed is truly individual to a menage a trois everything discussed with just fine variations could be encountered in any relationship. The fact that he has chosen a threesome just smacks of gimmickry or sensationalism to give another wise drab stage some spark.

          There is such a lack of true engagement in the subject that it is hard to tell whether Thirlwell has ever been involved in such a relationship. The novel sometimes reads like the tissue-supplemented daydreams of a troilist wannabe, but then it veers dramatically into a banality that only an experienced and jaded sharer could achieve.

          From this, his characters suffer, with nothing to believe in and nothing to remember them for there is nothing to like.

          This is perhaps his biggest failing -the inability in politics to engage or convince in anyway of any personal insight or experience. His abortion piece – which of course I have no clue as to the authenticity of – at least made me feel as if it were real. This is an important element in any relationship piece, providing its intent isn't to sound patronising.

          To make matters worse, Thirlwell intersperses the pointless plot with mini lectures on various weighty topics such as Czechoslovakian politics, its literary scene and inevitably his dream-dad Milan. Undoubtedly well researched and with an angle that gained him his significant academic credentials set against the backdrop of his overly self pleased literary style, the topics radiate the word smug and have a little too much of the essay about them.

          This is a shame because being honest – and perhaps slanted by my own interest in them- the literary bits are quite interesting. Furthermore in the discussion of czechoslovakia, its literary scene and the czech people at the time of the communist revoltion we finally perhaps see the point of the threesome backdrop. The relationship of the three with exile and national pride as co-themes demonstrate more effectively then moshe and co the complexities of a multi partner relationship. More of this, and less of the sex-lit-lite other would have given the novel greater weight .

          All in all, the man can write and he can write well. Other reviewers find in his voice a uniqueness, some go so far as to describe it as their favourite debut novel. I read these reviews quizzically. There is nothing in his voice that is unique, crtainly not if you have sat in a pub overhearing literature students vocally enhanced by magners. Based on this novel alone Thirlwell's voice could never be described with an adjectve beginning with un-. His voice is un-un, it is hyper, hyperkundera, hypersmug and all just such a shame. Perhaps maturity will calm this voice, allow him to focus on his themes and stopshouting me me me. His latest novel released recently may well tell

          Tone it down Thirlwell.

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          23.03.2007 18:13
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          Restaurant promising perfection, and almost delivers

          The sweeping façade of Newcastle’s Clayton Street has a good end and a bad end. The bad end hosts hideous furniture shops, big-is-best electrical showrooms for people with CCJs and nail parlours. It is a monstrosity of shop frontages raped into a Georgian terrace. The good end fares better. Relatively unsullied by commerce it has retained a grand simplicity in its classical black doors and large sash windows framed serenely in sandstone blocks. Its location too has an air of serenity, surprising given its hop-and-skip proximity to the central station and view over Newcastle’s most well know lane of ill repute.

          Nestling discreetly within this calm, lays the black door restaurant. Anonymous almost, save for the combined glow of menu holders and welcoming lights, it merges gracefully into its surrounding. Opened a few years ago in a site previously host to an Italian café (Lucy’s) it couldn’t be less like its predecessor. Previous experience of Lucy’s included a hideous tuna salad with the ingredients sourced from tin and bag, it did however have the plus points of being easily accessible and cheap – very cheap.

          The black door is the opposite. Rave reviews aplenty, it is no longer easy to get a short notice reservation, and it is certainly not cheap at three courses for £42. It is however far from hideous. Described as French the short and succinct menus belie the level of skill and quality involved in each dish. A recent roasted foie gras and duck egg starter was superb – a full English fit for a French royal. Elsewhere unexpected treats turn up in unusual places including a delicate bhaji with a liquefied aliquot of foie gras in the centre. It isn’t however all foie this and foie that – a slow cooked dish of oxtail with beetroot and creamed vegetables was simultaneously manly and delicate, even if the presentation had its toes dipped into the bad side of poncoid.

          Criticism of the place lies mainly in the eating area. Depending upon the table in question, the small floor plan can be a bit cramped, no more so than in the conservatory. This add-on to the building -with a glamorous aspect over a car park- requires diners to breathe-in whilst manoeuvring their carcasses onto their chairs. At my last visit an osteoporotic dowager huffed and puffed her hump into place, while the couple next to us were so close that only the electric radiator between the tables prevented us from being a party of 4.

          Disappointing too are the loos. A considerable walk -often a pleasant excuse to stretch the legs- the march detracts from the air of sophistication the restaurant tries to pervade. Inside the loos you will also find the chiaroscuro of individually rolled and warm hand-towels plonked next to wash basins seemingly reclaimed from a primary school.

          Of course an upside to this small scale is that bawdy corporate diners -ruddy-nosed consultants on a drugs-rep-freebie or law firm braggards- are few and far between. This makes a pleasant change for Newcastle especially when dining mid week, it is perhaps this very fact that makes the Black Door such a pleasant place to be.


          The bar and reception area on the other hand works so much better. Capacious and welcoming, leather sofas and delicious olives, make it the restaurant’s real strong point. Here attentive waiting-staff take your orders from a small, (read un-garish) cocktail list supplemented with bottled real ales and lagers. Then the wine list– just the right size and pretty varied but with a French slant. It ranges from the reasonable (House R/W ~£13) to the only reasonable-if-some-one-else-pays. The mark-up looks to be about 50-100% annoying but alas the norm. There are quite a few available by the glass, my wife recently let me finish a highly delicious, Viognier-tinged Ch. Ste Michelle Pinot Gris, after I had walloped off a bottle of Ridge Geyserville. The only concern with the bar and its operation was the sight of some fairly careless decanting of some unfairly pricey wine.

          Orders taken you’ll enjoy a good few minutes relaxation before transfer to table with wine ready decanted. Then your fare, interspersed with amuse bouches, which are pleasant enough, but –with the exception of one cauliflower froth and a mini Christmas pud- never quite thrilling. All too soon all is scoffed and dessert menus appear. With mango ravioli, or crisp chocolate cake with salted caramel, it’s very good reading indeed. But then the ludicrous punch line of a £6 supplement for a nice-but-not-that-nice cheese board.

          Perhaps this last note sums the place up. On the whole everything is just right, but the odd things do wrangle. Be it cramped seats, a sloshing sommelier, disappointing loos or unnecessary gastro-sculpture, little details can mount up. Alas, so too can the bill, and at this end of the market faults and cost should not be compatible.

          To close, and fearing the last paragraph may be read as a negative slant on the place. I’m not saying I don’t like the place, in fact far from it. I like it a lot, it’s my second favourite restaurant in the toon.. Unlike many dining establishments in the city -not least of which Secco and The Baltic top floor- The Black Door almost delivers on everything it and its price tag promises. In that sense it is something completely different to the Newcastle norm. It’s just that when something is so nearly perfect, imperfections appear enlarged. If they could rein these few things in a very very good restaurant could be very very great.

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            08.03.2007 14:51
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            A genre-crossing mix to accompany night time actvities.

            Almost fully-enveloped, a last strip-of–sellotape spotting of “Ring of fire” by Johnny Cash, prompts a hasty rethink. Intended as a present for my wife (like I, a belle and sebastian fan,) this fantastic compilation instead spent months unopened in the nether regions of a jam-packed pants-drawer.

            Until that is one cold and dark January evening I unearthed it when looking for something else. With nothing but wine and marking to do, I decided to give it a spin. The result was an hour or so of ear-opening delight and eye-popping horror, the former due to the album, the latter due to the plagiarism of my students.

            Opening in a smoke-heavy subterranean jazz club, the creak of a door reveals a booming usher leading us into the skunk-tinged cut-and-paste underworld of rehash. Ahead of us a 70odd minute corridor with side rooms and cross paths hiding all manners of delight.

            Room one has the beseeching vocals of mama yancey recalling a partially-requited love, her gravelly voice drenched once with woe and next in hope. Beside her, her husband keeps time with a delicately lolloping piano piece that tinkles silently away in the gloom of pained love. Next door, and echoing undoubtedly, a degree of this sentiment, a soothing, yet upbeat procession of inner emotion is provided by the clearly besotted RJD2. The album cover describes this and the next track as Hip-hop, I’m not sure if RJD2 falls into my idea of this, but Loot pack certainly do. I haven’t the earthliest idea what the fellas are on about but the accompanying back track perfectly continues the flow of the album -a consistent beat descending into more abstract sound flows.

            Somehow, punctuated only by my baited breath as to how it can be possible, the album’s abstraction dissolves seamlessly into the utterly-broken and despairing vocals of Demis Rousoss before emerging with the urgent insistence of stereoloab’s “French disco.” What an album, from feeling momentarily like a betrayed sheep herder I’m suddenly 21 again flailing to European indie.

            By now I’ve put down the pen and take stock. Where can we go next? Backwards, that’s where back to when the word cool was. The peddlers glide in, I drenched in sweat and parisian smokes, they, cut in Italian suits, are the very epitome of cool. They tell us that you can see forever on a clear day. “That’s all very nice,” I reply “but it isn’t clear down here and its certainly not day.” They ignore me and continue dragging the bright blue of above into the world down below.

            Drawn by the light I head into a different door as the tempo steps up. Cissy strut by “butch Cassidy sound system,” greets us, hailing us to partake in something called “funky reggae time,” whatever the hell that is. Then, creeping ever near to mad-cap is Johnny Cash with the song that would have raised my wife’s eyebrows. So wrong at other times now it seems so right the clashing mix of ska and country echoing the ebb and flow from one genre to another. I begin to tap my feet just as the Ethiopians shuffle in to keep them dancing.
            What follows next, led ably by the soul of Elsie mae, is a segment that can be only be described as a wee bowlie’s wet dream. It’s almost the perfect northern soul night. It is very good indeed.

            This melds ultimately into the deranged brilliance of Lost in the paradise, by Gal Costa, a song that would sit very well in a 60’s spy movie or in an early 90’s album by corduroy. Following this Innerzone orchestra and then a song called uhuru develop the nineties theme recreating brilliantly the long forgotten meld of acid jazz and easy listening that made portions of the pre-lad nineties so embarrassingly hip.

            Then can you believe it we descend into ambient. Not the bleepy current manifestation but instead the blissed out meanderings of the Steve miller Band, through Donovan and into the Green Grass of Tunnel by mum -a song that has an undefinable visceral quality that moves me almost -but not quite- to tears. Lovely.

            Still the mood continues but beginning now to tingle with the sense of it own end. The warm enveloping corridor widens and light chinks in through unnoticed gaps. Day is arriving, the evening has been spent in a reverie and now it has to end, the comedown cooling of the extremities that follows any good trip is upon us and we are ushered out by something by Bach.

            What a delicious album, so many genres but essentially the same mood; heartfelt, fuzzy, warming and short. The insert blurb speaks of other albums in the series, each supposedly a montage of the influences on the contributor. This raises a smile, the album lends weight to my suspiscion that the prim tweeness peddled by b+s (and in latter albums verging on cartoon,) is a facade, deep down they have a seedy side that may in fact be a bit naughty and on the evidence of this they probably don't go to bed at nine with horlicks.

            Looking further into the series, the name of b+s appears incongruous alongside its dance-biased predecessors -the roll call of which suggests that previous issues have been akin to the back to mine series - however having listened to this it fits neatly into this ethos. I have no problem envisaging this album forming the soundtrack to after-pub activities of various natures. Its just a shame that my current activities have been so dull.

            Finally my marking is finished and my wine only partly touched. Beneath me lie twenty or so cut-and-paste monstrosities that barely warrant a look. This generation that I mark have had it easy, no cassette compilation tape for them. Instead, they can cut-and-paste in a matter of clicks -hence their incompetence in the act. They could take a lesson from this album. No rip and slap routine is this –instead a referentially delicate assembly with the finest of ears.

            Still I take my students lead and insert a track list below.

            "Gratuitous Theft in the Rain" - Rehash
            "How Long Blues" - Jimmy and Mama Yancey
            "Here's What's Left" - RJD2
            "Questions" - Lootpack
            "O My Friends You've Been Untrue to Me" - Demis Roussos
            "French Disko" - Stereolab
            "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" - The Peddlers
            "Cissy Strut" - Butch Cassidy Sound System
            "Ring of Fire" - Johnny Cash
            "Freeman" - The Ethiopians
            "Do You Really Want to Rescue Me" - Elsie Mae
            "It's an Uphill Climb to the Bottom" - Walter Jackson
            "I'm in Your Hands" - Mary Love
            "Coś Specjalnego" - Novi Singers
            "Lost in the Paradise" - Gal Costa
            "People Make the World Go Round" - Paperclip People
            "Uhuru" - Ramsey Lewis
            "Fly Like an Eagle" - Steve Miller Band
            "Get Thy Bearings" - Donovan
            "Green Grass of Tunnel" - Múm
            "Casaco Marron" - Belle & Sebastian
            "Taireva" - Eric and Mondrek Muchena
            "Let Your Conscience Be Your Guidance" - Space Jam
            "Watch the Sunrise" - Big Star
            "Bedinerie from Bach's Orchestral Suite No.2 in B Minor" - Boston Baroque
            "When I Was a Little Girl" - read by David Shrigley

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            • Top Gear / TV Programme / 22 Readings / 17 Ratings
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              09.09.2005 00:42
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              Car show suitable for those not in the least bit interested in cars

              Unmissable, Top Gear, to a non-driver like myself, is a wonder to behold.

              Fulfilling in my life the much-needed role of a dadaist Russian sitcom produced by sixth formers, its weekly hour-long slot is filled with incomprehensible language that intermittently heralds smug guffaws from its assembly of onlookers. Inexplicably, however, I near-religiously sit and watch, transfixed with bemused satisfaction. A devotion that is almost impossible to explain, were it not for its Sunday slot

              Plonked unbelievably conveniently in a plum early Sunday evening slot there is simply no alternative but to watch Top Gear. You may not like it, you may well love it but both camps must agree that it is at least better than The Royal or Heaven forbid Heartbeat.

              In its latest incarnation it has at least got the benefit of being relatively upbeat and free from the Sabbath's obsession with schmaltz. Shrugging off the behind-desk formality of its past, it now opts for a cavernous studio approach. Flitting from one informal set to the next and surrounded by drooling throngs of hangers-on, it has the interactive feel of a roadshow, or trade fair all ably reigned together by its three hosts.

              These three, grotesque stereotypes each one of them, form the centrepiece to the show. One a be-bungled clot with all the visible signs of acromegaly, another a trying-to-hard dwarf whos little man syndrome is manifest not by aggression but by an amphetamine-like desire for participation combined with a sartorial brief that could be described as preposterously natty. The final stereotype in the trio a louche individual with a sinister nay demonic affability.

              And yet, they have some degree of chemistry. Their intrinsic competitiveness, manifest by frantic technical exchanges punctuated by overblown similes of the kind popularised by the comedy of the Oxbridge eighties, can be amusing, albeit barely masking their evident desire to man-wrestle each other –in particular the Robert Pershing Wadlow and Tom Thumb characters. They leave me thinking “good for them, they’re having fun” I’m genuinely pleased for them –I just thank god its not me. I have at least a semblance of dignity.

              "But" I hear you cry. "Surely they are not the centrepieces, surely it must be the Cars or at least the Gears that the title declare so proudly as Top". Well I'm afraid not. Whilst I'm conscious of the criticism that my pedestrian eyes may miss certain vehicular nuances, I can not remember a single detail of one single car from the latest series. Instead I can recall with absolute clarity that in a car they failed to beat a marathon runner around London, they drove three fast looking cars on a beach, they were on quad bikes for a bit and then a hovercraft, they drove a snow plough thing across water and also acted as moped taxi-men. Oh and of course a host of celebrities drove a reasonably priced car quite quickly around a race-track.

              This then, is for some, one of the programme’s limitations. Those actually wanting an informative review of motors may feel left short due to the lack of details. Alternatively they may be left seething at the shows endemic sense of machismo flippancy. They may also feel overlooked particular as they hear “and best of all the new Neeeooown # 3 somehow manages to come in at a measly 42k.” Worse still their car may well appear and if it does not comply with the near moronic definition of media cool it will be summarily dismissed. A colleague of mine was recently apoplectic about the ludicrous treatment doled out to his silver car. His points, I’m sure, were valid even if the details of his 15 minute lecture elude me now.

              In contrast, for the disinterested- like me- this lack of excess detail is also the shows strength. The show is not really about cars –it’s about the fun of driving or more accurately simply fun. I, as I seem overly-proudly to re-iterate, am a non-driver and my view of drivers on a daily basis is one of grim looking individuals crawling at a snails pace across the Tyne bridge. Locked in their well-furnished metallic cells they toot at each other, yawn, grimace or break the monotony by chatting on their phone. Top Gear however has it in a different light. It actually look as if the humdrum inbuilt series of unconscious responses that comprises driving might actually on occasions be a bit fun. And for a committed pedestrian this might begin to change my view.

              This then is major stuff. Perhaps Chris Evans, one of the stars in a reasonably etc, put it best. “I like what you guys are doing” he said relaxing on the sofa. And well he might. The show has more than one air of the TFI about it, indeed it is as near a homage to that show and the era it represented as you could possibly get. Presenters not caring what other people think, boorishly-defending their right for fun. An audience that is hypnotically transfixed by the presenters -revelling in hearing someone give voice to their own murky thoughts and feelings- or dizzily bobbing to get there face on screen.

              Indeed the only deviation from the TFI mould is the music policy. Mr Louche, in the last series most tedious item, begged votes for the best ever driving song. In response a short list that was as contemporary as wooden teeth and comprised the worst selection of songs that I have ever encountered since a terrible night in a midlands rock club.

              So . . . an inexplicably good show, less for content than fun. A show that despite and possibly because of its presenters will pull in those that aren’t really interested in cars.

              Good on them I repeat. My only word of warning? Remember what happened to TFI

              “and lets welcome tonight’s star in a reasonably priced car . . . Shaun William Ryder.”

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              • More +
                06.08.2005 01:52
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                Iconic location, plus points can hinder but plus points shine through

                Once majestic, the proudly-functional Baltic flour Mill, –hammered into the barren Gateshead quays- gave, in its bold singularity, an exclamatory testament to the fatal optimism of an industrial past. The deeply black and eponymously-borne font reinforced this sense of a confidence ebbing slowly away. Yet for all this it had a sense of beauty. The time-softened hues, viewed by eyes swaying in the nostalgic redolence of tab-smoke and beer, seemingly melding into the orange sky of a summer evening.

                An iconic and beautiful monolith, then. All the more reason for tears at the grotesque parliament of high-rise executive blocks that now crowd behind it. Gone the sky backdrop that made its great bulk so impressive. Now in its place, a rear guard of architectural mediocrity that threatens to drag the entire quayscape down to the level of a university campus. Feeding on the Baltic’s beauty, their parasitic presence drains an essential essence of the Baltic’s charm. Aware of their own shortcomings and with ceiling to floor glass facades on their top-level duplex apartments, they stare owl-like contemplating the gulf in intent and execution in the architects attempt to match them to it. (To who? They say.)

                This then is the all-new Gateshead, a chitter-chattering crowd of gawpers.

                It’s difficult now to see the Baltic as anything other than a confused old dear. Abandoned and derelict, its interior had become little more than an oversized kittiwake coop. Ageing shambolically it had settled into its fate. Watching, through a fogging monocle, the sinister development of the millennium bridge’s hump-back form, “What’s this?” it thought, “Neanderthals from the north!?” And then they came shooing out the residents and tonguing licks of paint hither and thither creating an art factory. Gone the days of productivity, sweat and bird shite. Now troops of gawpers staring at ludicrous abstractions before gorging themselves in either of the two ubiquitous modern British restaurants -one of which is tolerable the other of which is a carbuncle of corporate entertainment.

                For a building of such dignity it is all a bit of a shock.

                Inside, the Baltic consists essentially of several floors, each, with the exception of the top floor eatery, vast un-segmented spaces in which to house displays. And indeed they are huge spaces -on first viewing they were so individually vast they seemed to have sets of individually applicable theorems relative. The envy of many a public space they cry out for action, something, anything to fill their void. Great you might think, the bigger the better. Yet in this size there is a problem.

                It is clear that the art, which the factory produces, is lead excessively by the space. With the area available it is almost inherently human that you either wish to fill it with the gargantuan or tend towards minutiae to emphasise the space. No better example of this than Lionel Opie’s opening day display. Consisting of huge stick men and women painted onto the walls of the building, bold in intention but witty in their simplicity, they combined minimalism and maximalism. The intention I suppose was to define the space as both open yet constrained, to make the viewers the viewed, to turn the experience of a gallery on its head. Fine intentions indeed but little more than a two second pun. More cynically they had the feel of a logo; mass-produced on diary covers they form an ideal mid-price gift for your art friendly pals.

                Plasterboard divides can of course resolve this issue of too much space. Yet in this there is still a problem. Firstly there is still a sense of too much, secondly and in tandem the orientation of the building’s thoroughfares –positioned at one end of the building only- has a sense of the Ikea about it. If you can’t find the short cuts you must see everything. This depersonalises the space, preventing free movement and giving the impression of being spoon-fed. Of course I’m just being parky.

                In truth the less monumental displays are more enduringly engaging – providing the balance is right. When overbalanced there is a tendency to overkill. Hannah Hoch’s montages a fine example of this. Individually absorbing, the sheer number on display diminished the relative potency of each. It put me in mind of the Guernica room at Madrid’s Reina-Sofia, in which the preamble of preliminary sketches leaves you “Yeah, yeah, yeah” ing at the end result. Had the same display been honed and set alongside other dada artists or works by earlier or later female artists it would have been far more effective. In contrast the wealth of available wall space was ideal to demonstrate the variation of styles used during the career of Carol Rama. No other gallery in Newcastle could have housed this and still only used one floor.

                Similarly no other space could house at any one time the range of mediums employed at Baltic. At any one visit you are likely to see vast film installations, an abstract gargantuan mish-mash, encased volumes of art books and hordes of visitors adding generically vapid declarations against Messrs Bush and McDonald to a socio-political experiment.

                Perhaps this is the key to the Baltic’s success; the variety the space allows and the public enthusiasm it generates. Misplaced occasionally –a recent mass nudist photo shoot an example- but well meaning, it works for and deserves its success.

                On balance where I feel the Baltic is most successful is in the background to the displays. In many cases the background processes -often filmed and shown alongside the works- are more intriguing than the end product. As an example, the process of producing Anthony Gormley’s domain fields was far more interesting than the piece itself. Similarly a recent Phyllida Barlow piece “Peninsula,” in which the film of the construction process stimulated much more than the pile of wood and gaffer tape that comprised her installations end result.

                Aware of, and playing on this Baltic has the feel of a family concern. The whole family is welcome and the whole family can be involved. Be it a trip just for the enviable views or a chance to lecture the kids on the principles of abstract assemblage. The Baltic is the place. And what’s more, Gateshead poll tax aside, it’s free with a capital £.

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                • More +
                  05.07.2003 01:52
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                  • screech

                  And with one mis-timed swing of his foot a buck-toothed marionette of a man mis-kicked summer 02 into touch. What now we wondered, what now for the syrupy months ahead? Time began to blur. Kevin, a lad on my 5-aside team, tried to staunch the dismay, “Has anyone heard. . .” he began, “the new album by. . .” And I sighed, sure that I wouldn’t have. For you see, Kevin is the kind of lad that has just heard the latest thing by whosoever. I knew in an instant that I wouldn’t have but we allowed him to go on. “Sonic Youth,” he says, and my ears prick up. Not because I have heard this new album, but because I have at least heard of the group. Things it seems are looking up. Sonic Youth. . . now weren’t they the fellows from years back that liked a bit of the old screechy screech? Adored by their fans but quite inaccessible to others, “That’s them,” he says. Spurred by my fleeting acquaintance with them I give them a try. And buggeration if it isn’t great, it’s just lush; it’s the album of the summer, so says the fellow with the interesting hair at the checkout. And indeed Murray Street is a great address. We start off at home sucking in the moist warm air of a sticky summer evening. From the back of our block rolls a park with a babbling brook and all our pals sitting on the grass. We head out to meet them “The empty page” leading us there, “ to drift the town where secrets lie, where friends and neighbours keep drifting by.” And ahead, the evening’s events are set to reel off a tale to fill the page. Moving further from home ever relaxed we stroll on and on, merging into a fuzzy Polaroid of 70’s summer. Around us, gorgeous guitars and a footstep-drumbeat, lulling us along, while honeyed yet earnest vocals -almost too lazy to speak- warn of an impending “Disconnection notice”. W
                  here we wonder is the screechy screech we once thought we knew? And yet who cares this is just lush. But then, alas, the weather turns and we find ourselves diving into the corrugated-roofed shed of our mates down the road. “Rain on tin,” brings us a lilting guitar partnership yakking to each about the rains insistence and it’s gradual build up into a tumultuous downpour and then secession into a light sun shower. We sit back, have a smoke and wait it out and enjoy. And then the air is clear, fresher, still hot but less sticky. We head out, a touch dizzy and distorted by too many smokes in too small an area. Then we see her; that girl. We’ve seen her around but we aren’t too sure about her, “The acid queen,” we call her though I’m sure she’s called Karen. We may have had a past. . . and well. . . we kinda get it on, as the kids might put it. And as oft does in those situations our senses blur and sounds become noise and everything around us distorts. Outside it seems frenzied but somewhere in there, wrapped in the world is us and outside doesn’t matter it just carries us along in our dissociated union. But somewhere we remember, somewhere, in the back of our heads, we remember the screechy screech and we smile. But then as it also does when you get it on, it becomes over. Buoyed by our success we fancy a bit of a rip up, booze, swallows and the like, we hop a train and fling around town. As we do we become gradually more incoherent, our pals in the background holler “Radical adults lick godhead style,” and worst of all we understand them. Briefly we are young and briefly we boil with the energy of our former years. And then. And then we meet her. Lady mentalist. Do we know her or do we not? Is it Karen revisited, fuelled by some rage beyond our comprehension, or a lady unknown? What the hell have we done? She spits venom at us, hate is on her tongue, and
                  some one has stolen her grass. We sympathise, we do, and we wish we could do more but our instincts tell us to beat a hasty retreat. And as we do her bile and its punchy backing track ends. Running and running we turn a corner to find a friendly sign. Home is on the way. We stop for breath, our smokes and Jim Beam receding. The haziness of the last wee while begins to fade and gradually clarity returns. The soothing sticky summer air returns and we concede to its power. Strolling we chat amongst ourselves, mates again and safe. A long languid walk and we are home. I sit back. The sun massages my face through the window. This is indeed the perfect album for a summer evening, the chilled beginning, the stealthy incoherency, a blast of rain, frenzied ends to blurred nights and then calm and the promise of more of the same ahead. If only, I ponder, If only this country could live up to it. I open the sleeve notes and I see. The devoted fans, the ageing members and I try to find more. I buy the previous album and sense a similar though more contrived feel. I read and I hear a mixed commentary, disgruntled fans decrying the lack of sonic and the maturation from youth, long-term fans and the love of the return to form. I hear all of this but nothing takes away from the album. Why? Because. Because what? Because for all this, be it the confirmation of lost youth or the structured harnessing of all things sonic, or a bit of both, this is a lush lush album. It’s the kind of album that you can love so much it’s embarrassing. It has everything; context, mood, lyrics, engagement, dissociation, technique and simplicity. And And what? Ronaldinwho?

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                  • More +
                    28.05.2003 06:06
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                    Sammy’s had a hoofing. And it was the polis that did it too. He’d been a wee bit naughty because of the juice and they’d given him a seeing to, a right braying! They’d kicked the living sight out of him. And so here he is, blind. He aches all over, he’s lost his shoes and his recollection of the event is at best non-existent. And then he’s turned out onto the street and “try to be a good lad.” We follow him out to watch his progress. Mr Kelman, bless him helps us along. He knows Sammy’s type. He’s lived around them for years and he knows how they think, how they feel and the lives they live. He can steer us around Sammy’s environment and he can open us up to his thoughts. Sammy on the other hand is not so lucky, there’s no steering force for him. So he has to make his own way from now on, renegotiating his way home without the use of his peepers. The dark world of the newly-blind all noise and contact and panic and nausea. The world we can see him in is that of Kelman’s hand. It is a world of boozers, bingo halls and blocks of flats. A world of working men and women be they employed or not. The inhabitants of Kelman’s worlds are frustrated -we feel them mulling things over and over and getting nowhere fast. We sense their frustrations, their spiralling ambitions ricocheting against the walls that hold them prisoner. We see these walls and feel them, they are both self-imposed and of the situation. They are walls erected over decades of governmental neglect and the restraints of the culture. They are a stunted generation, too young to have enjoyed posterity and too old to grasp at it now. Opportunities withheld and opportunities missed. Yet for all of this they are alive, seething with emotion and ready to fight with it. They smack of that thing that stories –with their inherent fraud- usually strip away, they smack of the real. Sammy is typi
                    cal of Kelman’s characters. He is a no-nonsense blokey who likes the drink and the banter it brings. He is self-critical. He likes a laugh. He loves and he lets down. He strives to do the right thing, to live life the right way and he would do too if it wasn’t for the fact that he is plagued by lapses, temptation arrives and he can’t resist it. Honest his tombstone would read, “he tried to be good but god made him man.” We see this unfold as he tries to piece together his life. He struggles to adjust to his new senses; he battles with disbelieving doctors and the even more doubting social. He tries to figure out where his girlfriend has gone; mulling over their relationship and the argument that he may or may not remember having. These are all revealed in a spiral of thoughts and scenes belched out in Glaswegian. He plays the same things over and over again each time coming to a different conclusion or gameplan. It draws you in giving you a frustrating insight into the man, frustrating because it is relentless and ultimately blind. Sammy is blind and that’s for certain but not just organically. What becomes clear is that he is blind to his situation. We can see it and its bad. His girlfriend has invariably done a runner, the authorities do not believe him, he is alone, virtually penniless and blind, it cannot get any worse. Yet for all this he brims with optimism, if only he could do THIS then THIS will happen, she will come back, it will get back to normal. Alas we can see it won’t, he’s gone one little caper and one pint too far. It is at once inspiring and tragic this resilience in adversity. It reveals a powerful human soul battling and battling with no hope of victory. Unfortunately this central theme can become tiring. Because the story is about one character and is played out intently within his head, it does become a touch repetitive; further reinforced by the subject matter –
                    ;repetition and memory being an essential part of Sammy’s coping with blindness. Also his metronomic switching from resilience to despair and his seeming inability to see this makes you want to slap Sammy into reality and also to slap his society too. Because of this the book becomes a wee bit testing to persevere with. However it is worth the effort. Kelman writes really well, his short story compilations “not not while the giro” and “The burn” are good introductions to the style. Its predominantly good old fashioned twang that he can trot-off fast paced and aggressive or slower and more reflective if need be. As for this book, inevitably it makes you think about the consequences of going blind yourself and the way that society responds to that. It rattles with solitude whilst also drumming of independance. And also,and most strikingly, it gives you an insight into that personal thing to which we are all sometimes partially blind. Seeing Sammy and hearing him thinking things through, made me think about the aspects of my mind that I don’t normally see, namely those never-ending self-obsessed entities that are buried by what we see and hear around us, those relentless egotistical voices that are our thoughts. And on thinking that, I re-judge Sammy. Perhaps he isn’t blind at all. Perhaps free from the distraction that vision can bring he is able to see his thoughts and consequently see himself. Or perhaps I’m just seeing things that aren’t there.

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                    • More +
                      08.08.2002 03:21
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                      • "Not really how your head works"

                      The lady at the till was absolutely positive I’d made a good buy. I was the first person to buy it and she’d quite fancied it herself. She hoped I’d enjoy it and she smiled and I did too. Oh lordy hot weather!. I was off work and it was sunny, a lady had smiled at me I was heading for Whitley Bay so the book just seemed so apt. Sandychips a la scrumpy it was the start of a nice couple of days. The cover told me it was an anthology of contemporary short stories based loosely around beaches. Travelling on the train my mind began to pre-empt it. I had images of bandstands and sticky rock, I foresaw sand in the sarnies and I could feel it in my whatnots. My tongue was a file and my hoo haas were emery boards. Yet despite my discomfort I couldn’t have been further off the mark The book grabbed me instantly. Any thoughts that the book was going to be a plodge in the rock pools were sent to Derby for the day. The opening story reeled off a fascinating tale of a marriage held together by contempt, enacted brilliantly against the backdrop of a child’s reluctance to swim. It was a fantastic start and it just got better. After a few stories I sat bolt upright and put down my pint. What I had in my hands was a brilliant piece of cohesion. This compilation, that could oh so easily have been a low-tide of flotsam and jetsam, resonated with one common voice. It was as if a great swathe of twine had rafted each story together binding them into one buoyant whole. I picked my pint up worriedly. My mind had gone annoyingly nautical aaarrgggh shiver me timbers it had. I drank. Scrumpy. Still this one voice rang through the stories. Yes it had a different accent here and a different sex or age there, but the voice was common. Yes each story was wildly different -one minute telling us of a young boy learning to fly, a woman meeting her dead husband and a moving account of an octopus’ de
                      ath- but they all had a strong coherent thrust stringing them together. I wondered what the binding force was and I came to the conclusion that it was humility. Humility that is and simplicity. The contrast of the human stories and the environment -whilst an easily overplayed theme- just seemed to work. The sea imbued a tremendous sense of humility, then innocence and then fragility, both by its power and its constancy and also its irrelevance a strange blend and not necessarily in that order. In many cases the sea didn’t actually need to do anything, it was sufficient to act as a backdrop to the events played out around it. Working silently in the background the sea and the beach allowed the tragedies and joys that befell the human occupants to unravel at a pace that sat wonderfully with the air of summer. This pace and its consequent delicacy gave the human stories within it an air of being at once trifling and significant. They seemed tragic and inspiring yet uniformly simple, verging on naïve despite their weighty terrain. Picking my way through each tale I met all of the lovely L’s, there was love and laughter and longing and loss. Their cousins long and lazy and languid had came for tea too and in the corner, keeping himself to himself, was old uncle loathing wondering where the hell was lament?. Just about every human emotion thrashed itself around, yet uniformly it resolved itself into a sense of calm. But pleasingly I don’t mean I was conned by happy endings. What el nino’d me of my seat was a sense of acceptance as a feeling of disordered calm soothed over me. I think I was left with the impression that for oh so many things in life bad and good are not so different, they are simply matters of perspective and when you get right down to it perspectives can change just like the sea. And so the book carried on until just about halfway with the voice narrating as if one interlinked sequence of chap
                      ters rather than a collection of disparate tales. Then, at halfway, the mood began to change. It somehow seemed to mature. The voice in the first half had been that of a child, fighting and kicking, full of discovery and awe. This slowly began to change as the voice in the second half had a more reflective air. It was a voice that had its own set of keys. It became a mature voice, a sense of “had a good innings,” but “there’s still wood in the fire to burn.” With this change in voice came a move in the stories. Some of the stories were inconsequentially majestic, they began to transcend the everyday moving from the human condition -the obsession of middle age- and delving into fantasy – the pleasure of the content and relief of the riled. The offering by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was one such tale, forsaking pain and joy for a good old ripping yarn. Even the stories that “I-didn’t-like-the-look-of” were great, in fact one was my favourite in the book. “Unnamed Islands in the Unknown Sea.” by Kerri Hulme had question marks flashing after the first paragraph. Ordinarily I would have dismissed its style as lyrically inaccessible but soon I dived into its rhythm and I was off. It turned out to be mysterious, passionate, tragic and open-ended and it was a delicious centre point for the collection. But that is the great thing about anthologies isn’t it! It gives you the chance to read people without going to the time and cash investment of umpteen novels. I’d read some work by the contributors but the majority were new to me. Now I’ve read this collection new book paths open up to me. It’s like having a taste of that god-awful cheese that they offer at the end of supermarket aisles. You’ve looked and wondered and now you know keep clear, but in this case I want to dive in. I want to goggle up, don some cut-offs and dive bomb in for some forbidden heavy petting wi
                      th a few of the authors herein. Spladooosh, Ho hum. And then, inevitably, after a few sittings, the book ended and I gave a sigh. The notes on the back of the book tell me there is a Penguin Book of the City, also edited by Robert Drewe. I think to myself that if he’s edited that book as skilfully as this one then its well worth a shot. I slapped the book shut and supped up my pint. I was inland and pondering. Something in me felt refreshed; some dark little cranny that had needed a blast of ozone was sparkling and ship-shape. I was sorry it was over; it had been a fun few days and I suddenly realised that I was being nostalgic about an episode barely minutes old. Lords NOSTALGIA that’s what it was Nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia how fitting for a book about the beach. It may be because I live near the coast but this compilation spoke to me, it tugged at something fundamental in my being. It summed up my adult life and plonked it right in front of me in the setting of my youth. Nostalgia and optimism, drowning in divorce, sunburn and swimming, death’s dark course, Ice creams and sand castles and dog poo and glass and speedos and sun burn and sand up my . . .

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                      • More +
                        14.03.2002 00:58
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                        • unhappy

                        How fickle is the road we call life. Imagine the many things that could have been or the things that have been and shouldn’t have in your own little existence. Take that decision of yours to buy the red jumper instead of the black. Had you gone for black then that special person you met once, very briefly, may have taken a wee bit of a shine to you and whisked you off on their yacht or something. Instead you chose red and they laughed at you spitting in your face as they raced past in their black Prada suit to the latest gallery opening. Imagine if Oasis been told to sod off when they pulled that stunt back in King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut or even more tragically had Alan McGee been struck down with gastroenteritis just as they babooned onto stage. One they may never have made it. Two they would not have been millionaires. Three they would not have had the champagne Charlie lifestyle they enjoy today. In short they may not have had it easy. “I wish they hadn’t,” some might say. Perhaps if they hadn’t we’d have been spared the trundling embarrassment of their decline from grace, perhaps bands like The Stereophonics would not be forsaking honest to goodness fun in favour of trawling out meandering structure-less dirges like that handbags and whatnot song. Or more to the point perhaps Oasis may have turned out a bit like The Cooper Temple Clause. I’m sure they will not thank me for saying it but TCTC remind me of Oasis. Indeed on one or two of the songs like Who needs enemies? and Murder song it actually sounds as if Liam is doing the hooting. The difference between them is that TCTC look and sound like the glue sniffing cousins that Oasis are scared of. If you would have second thoughts about asking the Gallaghers to babysit then you wouldn’t let TCTC look after a cat you weren’t even particularly fond of. Whereas Oasis strut and preen in their own self-congratulatory optimism TCTC are
                        not happy. They are not happy at all. The first song Did you miss me? plinky plinks along quite merrily for about a minute and then a menacingly restrained voice asks a former “acquaintance” the question of the title, revealing that he has a new and better acquaintance as the song picks up pace becoming more and more distorted. It gives the impression of an angry telephone call in the early hours by a man with pints onboard, either “showing her what’s what” or trying to convince himself his life is better without her. Underneath it all you suspect he achieves neither. The next effort, Film-maker, is a blast of rolling action. It cuts in with a serrating burst of guitars and then cycles over and over with a fine pace and an aggressive fatalistic voice. The poor fellows are faring no better in the look for love as his lady has fallen into the arms of another. He has taken it badly and the general impression is not of an amicable parting. You suspect that ladies would be well advised to avoid courting then dumping any member of the band. The song is magnificent no more no less. Next we are twiddling the knob of an archaic radio listening into the whistles and whirrs of the frequency changes. Finally a channel rolls in and we are poleaxed by a running commentary on a Friday night brawl. Panzer attack flails you as it blitzkriegs its way through four minutes and one second before tuning out. Ouch. The pace slows as we are treated to a big band style entrance to Who needs enemies? It is now that you think Liam has taken over. The vocals have a self-assured rough edge to them and the only thing that separates the voice from that of Gallaghers is that Liam is so rich he can afford longer vowels. What this voice lacks in drawl it makes up for in range and he uses this to great effect leading the song through four and three quarters minutes of something sleazy-sounding. Its like a disgraced forties crooner
                        performing the day after a tabloid has printed the details of a scandalous affair involving live rodents, cocaine and an air steward. After hearing this song I grabbed that What’s the story album and another similarity appeared. On the Oasis cover we have a jaunty looking fellow strolling along an empty street and forsaking, I notice, socks. Inside “See this through and leave”’s cover we also have a man but he is a fat old man marching uphill with a carrier bag.. I also notice that the photos of Oasis show them very jolly or poignant in nice jumpers. The assembled TCTC look as if they have seen the better side of a can of butane before watching the rocky horror show. Ah the many contrasts of life and yet I digress. The next song Amber is less jolly than the previous one. Detailing a man in the throws of a breakdown borne of alcoholism it brilliantly captures a sense of tragedy with a lilting opening before rolling off in a disjointed rumble that amplifies the sense of dislocation and disorientation of the subject. It builds and builds revealing the hopeless lucidity of the alcoholic before falling to a deathly close. Digital Observation follows and this neatly links the start and finish of the album. It trundles slowly and gets a bit tied up in itself never quite reaching anywhere. Perhaps, however, this is intentional, it seems to be about unfulfilled optimism and at over seven minutes it fails to fulfil anything despite having every opportunity. Lets kill music gets back on tasty track. Its one great big wall of a tune strung together very tightly by the vocals. Lord only knows what the lyrics are all about, something about daring us to mean a single word we say and killing music before it kills them. The words are not important in this one, (not that I mean that,) it’s the overall effect that counts it’s a great growing track that has hummliness all over it. 555-4823 is one of t
                        hose songs that is all about sounds and their composition (unlike other songs presumably. . . I do talk cack.) Anyone who has listened to Cornelius will be familiar with what I mean. Here though its more mood than magoo. I guess the overall idea is to sound anonymous and impersonal and it works. Whilst the composition is good it just lacks that something that would ordinarily stop you pressing skip. Been Training Dogs is next and you’ll probably want to cuddle your mam when you hear it. It’s a bit scary; all distortion and lyrics like “We take pride in our work, the keys the execution and hey that’s what we had in mind, but we’re not just having fun. I wouldn’t wanna be ya cos we’re drawing blood when we see ya.” Lordy and I was expecting that nice Woodhouse woman. The lake follows and just like Digital Observation it goes on a bit. Its much more upbeat but it sprawls a touch, it gets into a bit of the old “scratch the guitars” caper and “lets play feedback.” This is fine for a while but it soon becomes just noise. You can see why they are doing it -its very atmospheric and well in keeping with the second half of the album- but a bit of light relief wouldn’t go amiss. Unsurprisingly a song called Murder song does not bring light relief. Again it gets Liamified but again with a sense of gloom. It puts me in mind of champagne supernova, a song awash with joy; this is the direct opposite of that song and yet it is beautiful, it neatly sums up the album. A haunting set of skilfully crafted and executed songs demonstrating a naive optimism and furious anger set against a backdrop of failed relationships, depression and violence. For all it falters here and there it is quite quite lovely. And the cover is amusing too.

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                          09.03.2002 03:16
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                          • "The place"

                          You think you know somebody quite well, you’ve been friends for years, you’ve shared many a boozy session in which you’ve discussed this that and the other. You think you have a connection a bit of common ground, you think, naively, that you have similar opinions. Then out of the blue they suggest that you try the Waterside Palace for their birthday. You look at him in horror. Perhaps this is irony one of his little jokes. Unfortunately it isn’t. He actually does want to go there and worse still he wants you to go with him along with two of your other mates. It’s a complete nightmare. How do you tell him? You can’t very well just come out and ask, “Are you an imbecile?” It would end in a punch-up and he’s bigger than you. So you hope that the place itself will put him off, you hope that the view of it will be enough to shake him from his torpor. Walking to the place you find yourself at the derelict end of Newcastle quayside, amidst structurally unsound warehouses, broken glass and socialist slogans from the seventies. You actually find the place quite fascinating. Its not very often you venture down here and each time you do the place reveals a new bit of interest. You get all nostalgic as the area lulls you into the world of Cookson that great harpy of inaccurate nostalgia. Then the restaurant jack-in-the-boxes into view. Like a great lumbering oaf of a cousin it slavvers and stumbles down the hill at the end of the quay. It is an appalling green and red MFI pagoda that looks as welcome and appropriate as a turd in canteen custard. You look at your mate and he smiles. “Isn’t it cool,” he says. Lord of the high heaven you think, can this be happening. Here you are about to enter this single most gaudy building in Newcastle and what’s more you are going to have to eat in it and then pay for the pleasure. Inside it is clear that restraint is n
                          ot a word in the owner’s vocabulary. The place looks like the aftermath of an explosion in a bamboo processing plant that was playing host to a convention of fan manufacturers. Worse still, the walls are smeared with a chow mein of Polaroid’s recording the serving staff meeting local stars. These local stars are generally toon players, local TV weather girls and commercial radio DJ’s, and consequently they present a mosaic of tipped mullets, Nehru collars and fake tan. So to the food, you might as well eat now you’re here. The first obstacle to this is the serving staff. After ten minutes it is clear that a sniper has struck us down with an invisibility rifle. They waltz past the four of us umpteen times as if it was commonplace for people to meander into the place just for the view. They then spot us and ask us if we want to eat. “No” I want to tell them “We represent the inspectorate of obscene constructions and you my dear are nicked.” I try to say this but it comes out as “yes.” We are seated and the menus are issued. Flat diluted lagers are ordered and served at room temperature and we make our choices. The wine list is riddled with gee gaws; overpriced Moet ( the “I know how to treat a lady,” brigades fave) is the pinnacle of their ambition and the rest is just tat, it only just excels “My Mum’s best Liebfraumilch.” From the quagmire we go for a couple of bottles of generic Australian Semillon for a tenner each. As for food the place if you hadn’t guessed is Chinese, they have all the standard stuff; sweet and sour whojammawhats and crispy this, that and the others in plum sauce and the like. To start we have chicken, crab and sweet corn soup served from an immense tureen. We picture distended innards ahead until the tureen is whisked away before the ladle gets a chance to sweat. The soup has never heard of seasoning and the
                          prawn crackers are unfamiliar with aquatic life. Together they concoct a blandness that gives relief to the senses distracting our focus from the appallingly “authentic” décor. For the mains we have a mixed banquet -the design brief of which was presumably to satiate Lilliputians- served on crockery that appears to have been designed by the Botulism Ceramics Company and was modelled on the living room of George and Mildred. The fare is accurately described as various meats boiled in a mixture of pritt-stick, vinegar and sugar served sullenly on appalling crockery. Alternatives to our choice are to be found on the a la carte menu. This looks good but experience kicks in and you know that each dish will be murdered and every ingredient ruined. You look at the list and suspect that given half the chance they would do a foie gras casserole. There is a range of fish dishes and specialised meat dishes but judging by the price and the range its all aimed at people who ask for “I divvent knaa what its called but I’ll have the most expensive thing ye dae and Debbie here’ll hev the same.” This unfortunately sums the place up. It is tasteless and cheap in all but price and there is much better elsewhere. The trouble is, the people who come here are impressed by the fact that toon players go there and they will be chuffed if the host of the morning radio show is on the next table. The regular clientele love the décor, they love the “realistic” Chinese look and they love this place. As a result it is usually full and people look as if they are enjoying themselves. The place is rarely empty of an evening and there is a genuinely good atmosphere. But. . . it’s all an illusion it’s the idea that costly compliance with popularity indicates taste and choice. It's hard not to be patronising but they simply don't know how bad it is and worse than this there is better not a million miles awa
                          y. The difference is that this building is so eye catching -albeit in the same way a fish hook might- but it is a fact, people see it and remember it and that is why people go there. They say to themselves "ooooh that one on the hill let's try there." Of course that’s just me being poncy and jealous. But truly there is nothing in this place to distinguish it from any other terrible Chinese restaurant in any other city other than its mundanity and its atmosphere, or rather paucity thereof. We all nod in agreement. Then just as we are coming to this conclusion the restaurant takes an even bigger nosedive ably abetted by the staff. For some reason the staff single us out for particular attention. Four of them encircle us, training their eyes upon our every move. Fair enough, four Geordie blokes on the pop -recipe for trouble some might say. Yet this doesn’t stop it seeming strange and uncomfortable and then to make matters worse a battle commences. Our wine has been chilled to the point of tongue bleach and it is tasteless. We decide to leave the bottles out of the cooler so they can warm through in the hope of lulling out some taste. We do this until the staff intervene; they want the bottles in the cooler so they put them back. I explain and take them out. They put them back in and I take them out. It carries on like this for minutes until we have to stand our ground. It almost ends in a fight, its insane. Eventually they concede but they turn up their staring rays to triad level. We begin to get nervous and look for lost fingers. What is worse though is that other guests are looking our way and we can see lager louts and scum on their lips. I imagine the headlines “Thugs jailed following over-chilled Semillon demo.” Oh the embarrassment if the lads read that. The evening has been a shambles from start to finish. There is nothing that can provide testament to the disappointment. My fr
                          iend is disconsolate; he has been well and truly shaken from his delusion. We get the bill and stump up seventy quid laughing at how for four it doesn’t seem too much but for what it was it seems scandalously overpriced. We get our coats on and flee, looking over our shoulders as we go. Once outside my friend apologises, we boot him around the head mercilessly and we meander off into the night for a kebab and a fight.

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                            30.01.2002 00:27
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                            • "the girl"

                            Scuffing him around the neck you laugh at your youngest brother, “talk sense, clown.” Why? Well. . . he’s just told you that he is in a band. What’s more he’s the lead vocalist. “Vocalist??” since when did he start using words like that. It’s not that long ago he was line-dancing to Cotton Eye Joe. Then he informs you that it’s a nu wave punk ensemble not a band. Oh dear perhaps he isn’t lying. Months go by with day upon day of increasingly venomous sarcasm. Then just as you are about to launch into another merciless lampoon he hands you his latest CD. What the. . . Somehow without you knowing it your little brother has gotten himself a recording contract and is now bringing out a CD. When did this happen and who cleared it? Luckily the CD is packaged in a shoddy box by a dodgy sounding outfit called poptones. “It’s cardboard, not plastic,” you hoot at his face. “And that name “The Hives,” what’s all that about?” It makes your skin crawl. But then you see the title “your new favourite band” and you appreciate the irony. “Marketing men surely,” you declare, not this half-wit sibling of yours. Inside the lyrics seem to confirm that this substandard end-of-line version of yourself has actually had a hand in the writing process “do what I want cause I can and if I don’t – because I wanna be ignored by the stiff and the bored – because I’m gonna” “Been at the butane again?” you ask him. “Howay then, stick it on muppet.” How you wish you hadn’t. Not because its pap but worse than that you actually like the thing. Song one “hate to say I told you so” kicks off with a quietly distorted strum that becomes overlaid with a drum that starts off as the Who and then rolls into song 2 by Blur. There is then a momentar
                            y repose and then half-wit kicks in roaring out his lyrics. Somehow what read as unstructured inanities, now takes on a new light. Whilst it is still meaningless pap the words and their pace make the song what it is; a thumping rattler, total nonsense but forced out at brow raising pace. Hard fast twangy tat, the perfect punk record. Song two “main offender” is in the same vein but even better because its shorter 2m33s vs. 3m23s. In this one your kid starts letting rip with some vocal shenanigans over a tune that puts you in mind of some of ya fatha’s albums from the 60’s when he had hair and plenty of it. Then you begin to wonder whether, when you were wearing retro tracksuit tops and listening to rehashed classics by Blur and Oasis, was he actually listening to the real thing? “Supply and demand” doesn’t take the theme any further and despite only being 2m26s you want it to end because it doesn’t do anything. Aha you say, two trick ponies. “die, all right!” changes your mind because it’s a corker. Everything about it is great, it’s the perfect length at 2m46s and it never lets up on a thumping rhythm that has the graphic equaliser bars pogoing. The only thing that seems odd is that it appears to be about work; a world that you know for a fact your kid has never inhabited or even visited. A bunch of kids screaming rubbish for a minute and a half is the next effort. Appropriately entitled “untutored youth” it is notable primarily for this insanely long line hollered in a gap in music “and when people tell me what is ok and what is not, it should not be an unexpected scene seeing I extend my middle right hand digit and say.- would you like lemon or lime with that piece of advice mister?” With the next song your brother’s face splits into a turd dining grin. You can tell this song is a big two fingers up to you specificall
                            y. It’s about how you thought you were clever and intellectual but now he's the top dog. He literally tells you he’s “the one who put shit back in place and threw it back in your face.” Oh dear you wonder, is this the come-uppance you’ve had coming for a long time? It is and you spend 2m20s pondering why it was you wasted your adolescence pondering exactly what made a verse frightening and quite why a mancunian with a quiff would be sending them to buck-toothed girls in Luxembourg. You realise that you should have been having fun and thrashing around with instruments you couldn’t play. The next three songs “mad man” “here we go again” and “aka I-D-I-O-T” reaffirm this. They are all high tempo clangalongicas with screamed words that neither make sense nor claim to. They all remind you of groups you’ve heard in the past but they remind you of too many to name them. Honestly to try and pin yourself down to one definite influence is difficult indeed impossible, they seem to have taken referencing to a new level with hundreds of musical snippets pasted together from the last thirty years. Be it the heavy metal comedy guitar entry to “aka I-D-I-O-T” or the rumbling bass of “mad man” that turns into a tribal drumbeat reminiscent of Adam and the ants the thing is too varied and short to get a clear picture. It’s literally just as you recognise a sound that it changes form altogether. “Trouble is ponceoid,” you tell him “is that its all a bit samey and there’s no real theme.” You concede bitterly that, hands up give him his dues, songs 1, 2 and 4 are quality, but the rest are okayish at best. “Well you’d be better off buying our EP Veni Vidi Vicious which has songs 1 – 4 off this album.” He gloats. It transpires that this album is a mish-mash of previous singles cobbled toget
                            her here for the purpose of greater glory. “Curses who could have believed the imbecile would make something of himself.” Worse is to come. Not only have they made videos for the songs four of them are present in MPEG format on this very album. His smugness as he plays them on your computer knows no bounds. There before your very eyes your daffodil screen saver makes way for the grinning buffoon himself and unfortunately he looks okay. The video for aka I-D-I-OT is not really up to much but the others are okay. In the main offender video we have a black and white animated affair that looks continental cool as if Air might have been involved. In die all right your brother looks as if he has been cast as a member of the animals set in a hammer house of horrors film. But more alarmingly it’s the video for hate to say that really showcases him. Here the band is clad in trendy black-shirt, white-tie clobber and they are basically standing there thrashing it out. All his mates are there, the ones that could barely talk when they came round, now on the monitor in front of you are Vigilante Carlstraem, Nicholaus Arson, Dr Matt Destruction, Howlin' Pete Almqvist and Chris Dangerous. He, the runt of the litter, has the same gurning expression that you’ve found irritating for years but now the camera gives it a new angle. What you see is the usual fool flailing around like he’s trying to encourage doctors to administer unnecessary electroconvulsive therapy in his direction. What young ladies will see is a quirky chap who dresses well and has a bit of character. Yum yum they will think I’ll have a bit of that. Lord on high this is the single worst day of your life. As the weeks fly by and you listen to the album on shuffle function it seems to grow even more. The last three songs that you never got a chance to hear earlier seem better when they crop up out of sync. “automatic schmuck
                            221; with its distorted sound grows and grows. The brilliantly short “hail hail spit and drool” slips in anywhere and is a whistle stop tour of frenzy. Ultimately the ludicrously titled “the hives are law, you are crime,” hails into view and is one of those instrumentals that sounds like a good introduction to a great song that never arrives. But overall the thing that strikes you when you hear this album is that things could have been so different. All of this could have been you. If only you had been born five years later, perhaps then you would have got the true Britpop message that talent isn’t everything and plagiarism goes, rather than the message that cosy is good and stadium cosy is better. If only you hadn’t thought that maudlin was happiness and poetry was real, damn S. Morrissey and O. Wilde. Why couldn’t you see what your brother had seen; that basically life is for living and there’s only one way to do it, short and sharp whilst punching a guitar.

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                              22.01.2002 02:44
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                              • enfleurage

                              Sniff your fingers. What do you get? I’ve just done it and mine are onions that have perhaps seen better days. My index finger is the strongest and as I conquer mount middle digit and descend to the valley of the small the smell begins to wane. At my little finger the onions disappear and there is something there, something I can’t place and yet something that is essential to me. That smell, that tiny note that is imperceptible and ever present, is my smell. The effects of preparing roasted onions aside, imagine if you had no sense of your own smell. How would that affect you? Perhaps not that much, given the lynx and Givenchy juices that we squirt up our pits and dab behind our lugs. Imagine, though, that as well as having no odour of your own, you were born with the most sensitive sense of smell in history. Imagine on top of this that you were born to an infanticidal fish-gutter in the fetid air of eighteenth-century Paris. Again you’ll probably draw a blank. Don’t worry that’s not a failing on your part, after all why on earth would you or anyone else have given even a minute of time to this unlikely circumstance? Well for some reason or other that is quite beyond me Patrick Suskind has put himself there and he came up with Grenouille; a nasally gifted yet inconsequential, socially-invisible misfit whose lack of odour smacks to others of evil. Lovely you might think, but where can this story go from here? Well here goes. Grenouille is born at a Parisian fish market where he is cast amidst the guts and gills to die. His mother is subsequently executed for this act and her previous acts of post-partum neglect. Orphaned, he is passed from one wet nurse to another until finally he is taken-on by a member of the clergy. He is then raised in an orphan house in which his strange ways nurture murder attempts by the other children -attempts he somehow survives. Whilst enduring these attacks he is riddled
                              with disease after disease most of which were invariably life threatening in the day. Each seemingly strike him down and violently smash him down onto the step of death’s door. . . And, yet, he survives. Even more astonishing to those around him, he thrives. This is made all the more amazing given his diet of homeopathic soups and scraps. He gradually develops into an utterly forgettable individual who is camouflaged by the gargoyles that roamed the Paris crowds of the day. Consequently he is an unattractive proposition to say the least. Eventually he has to earn his keep and he is sold to work at a tanner’s, processing pelts and handling chemicals that would have been described as risky even in the Chernobyl power station staff juggling society. He works and works and eventually earns a regular half-day off on Sunday. On these he begins to hone and indulge his hobby of smell. To him smells are more than anything else. Even the smell of horse sweat has, to him, a power and a beauty. Everything is manifest only in terms of odour. The world around him becomes an ordinance survey of pongs. Additionally he is able to recreate any smell in his mind and as he does he relives his life redefining it to the point that all emotions and experience are olfactory; passion, pain and pleasure, all of these are lived through his sense of smell. Needless to say this gives Suskind the chance to rattle off adjective after adjective and he takes the chance with open arms. His words ooze with sensual comparators. These initially paint a delicious, if grotesque, picture of Paris that reads fantastically but soon descends into list making prose. The pages become a compilation album of smells that are unfortunately more filler than killer. Then, just as the lists begin to take their toll, Grenouille murders his first little girl. He is attracted to her by her scent wafting its way across Parisian streets embroiled in a festival
                              . Upon seeing and smelling her he becomes transfixed. He loves her and needs to claim or experience her, so he murders her and drinks her smell. This to him is perfection. Every inch of her body has a brilliant perfume that sends him into oblivion. Then he leaves the scene and over the next few years he relives the scent over and over again. During this time fate transpires to place him in the company of a Mr Baldini, perfumist to the hoi polloi. Baldini is going through a rough patch. He is not the man he once was, new young bucks have wrenched his king perfumist crown from him and he is hapless to alter his lot. Grenouille transforms his failing career with the development of a brilliant new perfume, created by virtue of his impeccable hooter. Tarantino/Travolta; Grenouille/Baldini; bankruptcy/fortune; Look who’s talking/Pulp fiction. Grenouille then becomes a journeyman trainee in the art of perfumes. Baldini takes the young fellow's prodigious talent and mixes it with the science he has learned over his long years of practice. Suskind takes this opportunity to delve into the art of scent production and at first this is interesting but then, as before, the prose lapses into listmanship. We are given a great and unnecessary grounding in the art of the C18th perfumist, which is all very lovely but simply page-eating rubbish. This is a shame because everything else about the story is dealt with a succinct yet evocative brevity, the pace is great and yet the texture is still there. Unfortunately for a few periods Suskind tries to give too much detail and you sense that he is trying to let you know how much research he has done on the topic. You get the impression that he thinks that if he’s done the work he’ll bloody well let us know, unfortunately this occasionally stalls the tale. Eventually Grenouille leaves Paris in search of a town that has a perfect extraction method for perfume. It is in this
                              second part of the book that things pick up for our hero. First off he goes into years of hibernation in a cave right up a hill. “Hmmmn, hibernation and picking up of plot. Don’t exactly go together do they,” you mutter quietly, as you yawn. And “is this nearly finished?” Yes-ish. Whilst hibernating he intoxicates himself with the smell of the murdered girl. And he once again falls in love with her. This though is not a true love, naturally, given that she is dead. This is a love of perfection. Day after day he revels in the memory of her smell, dining as he does so on frozen bats. Then he is shocked into reality by a sudden overpowering smell, this smell being the absence of his own body odour. He tries as hard as he can and there is nothing there. Consequently without a smell he makes no impact in his own world. So what does he do? Well he returns to the real world and sets about making his own scent using murdered young woman as his source of smell. He does what? I know. From here the plot hits you one of two ways; you either herald it as a masterstroke. In which case you see the ending as a commentary on the impact of our senses and the nature of society, in particular it may be seen as a brilliant commentary of near-revolution mob rule France. Alternatively you may think the story lacks a true sense of ending as if a poor, best-of-both-worlds compromise is reached. Perhaps this split is inevitable. The main character is difficult to place, you think, “do I love him or hate him?” He is wicked, self-obsessed and utterly distinct from society. He is also dangerous, murderous and worse than this unrepentant. Of course we should dislike him. But then, what has society every really done for him? Contrasting his life and actions with his skills and upbringing, Grenouille cuts a sorry, likeable figure that enacts outrages that society cannot tolerate but, which,
                              for him, are essential for a sense of himself. In the story he should either get away with or pay for his sins. You get the sense that Suskind is reluctant to put his chips on either result and the end is a mish mash of both options. Ultimately his end is neither punishment nor amnesty he becomes incorporated into society but in a way that is quite sinister. Whilst unpleasant for Grenouille it is society that comes off worst. Society appears to be no better than this murderous little oik. Society appears as stupid, easily led and equally murderous. We are stripped down as base individuals acting in herds responding to the panic of word of mouth and the allure of the chemicals hitting our senses. In summary, for the most part this book makes for a good read, particularly when Suskind shows restraint and a sense of direction. He captures a moment in time and tells us about it in a way that wafts images out of the page. The story ebbs and flows building up some great characters that are on the whole loathsome and who get their just deserts. In contrast, in the final analysis he does not know what to do with the main character. It’s an ending that I can’t decide upon, some days I love it and on others all I can see is indecision in the writer. Which is worst? I don’t know. I like to feel as if an author likes or loathes their characters and has a firm idea what is happening to them compromise is unacceptable. On the other hand indecision has a natural charm and holding a good character in your pen can make decisions on life or death, crime and punishment, difficult. Yes that’s definitely what I think, indecision in this case is good but, there again, having said that. . .

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                                18.01.2002 08:32
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                                Give them fifty, that’s the motto. Fifty pages and that’s their whack, if you aren’t hooked by then it’s their fault not yours. I once believed that not finishing a book was a sign of weakness on my part so I plugged away and away and hence my Marcel Proust op. Then, a young lady pointed out that every page you endure is approx 1/3679200’s of your average life. Lordy thank god I’ve never been tempted by Cookson, I thought. So here in reverse order are my top ten unfinishable books. Amidst them are books that I genuinely couldn’t finish and a few that I will never start, be that due to an informed choice or good old fashioned, honest-to-goodness, irrational dislike. When we were orphans. Kazuo Ishiguro. Faber and Faber £6.00 ISBN 057120516X A friend of mine recommended this to me, she’d bought it whilst abroad and I suspect that her holiday falsely enhanced her opinion of it. I began to read it hoping that the first page was a dull cousin to more exciting family members further in. It transpired that this was not the case. The main character, a detective living in England but originally from Hong Kong or some other oriental outpost of tedium is quite simply as transparently forgettable as He somehow manages to engender in the reader a total lack of interest in his life and yet an unwavering desire to witness his grotesque and unnecessarily brutal death. There is simply nothing loveable about the character, at least not from the first fifty pages, and, to be honest, beyond that point who cares? I could have run eight and a half miles. The Inflatable Volunteer. Steve Aylett. Orion. £6.99 ISBN 0575402652 Quite simply I have not got a clue what is going on. Other reviews on other websites hail this as brilliant. I am of course referring to the site www.hashaddledhippiesandadventuregamersthat havedranktoomuch scrumpyandnotwasheddenough andneveropent
                                heircurtainsorwindowsand like fraybentospieandaskwhenyousaysexwhatdoyou meanbyopposite.co.uk And the Waterstone's one. I. . . a toad in the hole with mash The Pelzer Books and in particular “Help yourself” Dave Pelzer. Harper Collins £9.99. ISBN 0007114796 This is adequately covered elsewhere. I will of course never even open this book, not just because it is a tea-room-no-brainer-all-emotion standard but also because, judging by his previous efforts, the first and only page reads “Get yourself abused by your mother, find this terrifying and emotionally crippling, then ease your suffering by re-venting your feelings for $several million per paragraph over two more volumes before releasing a pointless and harmful self-help guide.” Were I cynical I might suggest that his abusive mother gave him a better start in life than most “good” parents. I . . . walked to the offy and back five times High Fidelity. Nick Hornby. Penguin. £ 5.59. ISBN 0140293469 This man has seemingly transformed the British male, given them a voice and an avenue of social relief. Tosh. That’s Cosmo or the like talking. How many ways do I find him unreadable, let me count them. First off that book he wrote about football and how it affected his life well. . . . It’s little more than twaddle from someone with little other to focus on than his own tedious obsessions. He tries to disguise the football overtones with some ill-conceived drivel about it being to do with a lady. Rubbish, it was to do with Arsenal having been good and then not being good after that and him focussing on this to the detriment of his life. What we have is a story of a man whinging about his bad luck at having been a supporter of perhaps the third or fourth most successful club in Britain. Oh and surprise surprise his lass leaves him as a result. You’ll never gues
                                s what happens next. . . Then High fidelity comes out and this is a book about an obsessive male character with a frankly unbelievable poor understanding of his own relationship. This time, however, he chooses obsessive record collection as his hobby of choice. He also builds in the frankly ludicrous idea of twenty/thirty something men compiling meaningless lists to be shared with the public. Clearly this idea is preposterous. I. . . played keepy-up, a five a side match and phoned a lady friend to tell her the result. Middlemarch. George Elliott. Penguin. £1.25 ISBN 0140620761. Don’t get me wrong! I think George is a talented writer. Silas Marner is one of the most beautifully balanced and structured works of the last hundred or so years, it doesn’t get half the acclaim that the same story as written by Dickens or Cookson might have achieved. In fact it was the second best thing to happen to me on may 30th 1993. Middlemarch, on the other hand, is the biggest hapdash of ill defined and poorly executed, barely-worth-a-note, character sets that I have ever read. The problem with the book is one of two things. One may be that George is unable to handle multiple complex personalities (Silas being primarily individual voices and brilliantly so) the other being that he is listening too much to his feminine side and confusing story, sub-text and direction with endless meanderings of inconsequential and emotionally analytical thought processes. There again she may have had an off year. I. . . asked the duke for her hand in marriage. The Doors of perception / heaven and hell. Aldous Huxley. Flamingo. £6.99. ISBN 0006547311 Brave new world. That’s the one you’ve read and good decision. This book is about the author taking some hallucinogen or other; basically something a lot weaker than what you’ve tried. What does he feel after his hit.? Well he finds chairs and the like
                                to be alive. He sees new levels within flannel trousers. Now, fair enough, we aren’t all the same person but surely there’s more to drugs than trousers. I wonder what he would make of a modern nightclub. “Before me a female of Olympian beauty cavorted in a two piece of the most alive material I had ever seen, perhaps this, this beauty, was the inspiration behind the 1850 Dutch school of . . . “ No Aldous that’s a lass having it, etc. . . I . . . sorted. Capt. Corelli’s Mandolin. Louis de Bernieres. Minerva. £7.99 ISBN 0749397543. A bit of a departure for the boy is this. Most of his work is set in the volatile countries found in the South American continent of his mind. This book starts in the same vein; a beautiful story, well written and textured with a detail that seems excessive but fits in with the gentle island life. You find yourself sucked into this fantastically idyllic setting and loving it. Then the violence starts and like most of his books this is such a stark contrast that it literally smacks you one on the back of the head with a pickaxe. The story transforms into a brilliant anti-war story with the firing squad scene one of the most detailed and delicious episodes of 1990’s literature. And then you see the end coming. Oh no! You think. Don’t tell me he gets the girl, and certainly don’t tell me its after umpteen years. Lord on high, I thought they’d banned this kind of thing after “From dusk till dawn” became a schlock vamp obscenity. Alas no. So unfinishable it is, and the film confirms it, but readable it is so forsake the hype and give it four fifths of your effort. I. . . met somone else in the meantime. Spectroscopic Methods In organic chemistry. Dudley Williams, Ian Fleming. McGraw Hill Publishing Co. £31.99 ISBN 0077091477 Physics and the idea of electricity. What is all that about. No
                                body knows. Or rather nobody can explain it. “Flow of electrons around a metal,” they say and fine, but how does that make the light glow? They cannot answer that, “it simply does and that’s all you need to know.” Spectroscopy is the same, it’s blindly believed without explanation. Electricity, religion and spectroscopy, they are all the same in my book no proof or explanation but widely taken to be true. This book was supposed to be invaluable and self-explanatory but all it contained was indecipherable lines described by comments that were arranged in the syntax of another world. In reality it was as much use as an albino migratory bird that forgot to pack its sunblock.. I. . . identified the breakdown the products of mescaline by the Huxley tweed slacks method Bridget Jones’ diary. Helen Fielding. Picador. £6.99. ISBN 0330332775 I couldn’t even get past fifty words for this and don’t assume that I didn’t try. One, I hate diary style novels. Two, I am absolutely staggered by the seemingly blind popularity around this book. Fair enough it may be well written and the character wittily observed but do women really identify with her? My female friends seem to say “yeah,” worse than this they say “Eeeh that’s me that is .“ In which case all of the intelligent women that I know seem to be happy to identify themselves as weight neurotic, emotionally aware but inadequate, big pants wearing half wits. Now parts of this are true, none of them are power suits and they are all normal but surely normal is not Bridget Jones. It makes me think of the suffragettes, what would they think about this book? “You mean I died by throwing myself under a horse at the derby and this is what you believe some hundred years later.” Was it worth the bother they may ask themselves. The answer is no. Existence seem
                                s to run in cycles, civilisations ascend then decline, species flourish and then die off and with this book we see the first loose foothold in feminism. I. . . really wished I was thin over and over again. And so, what is number one in my top ten unfinishable books, we

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