alexsarll: (default)
Just over a week now since I got back from Prague; the now-traditional late anniversary trip which has taken us ever further afield, first Margate, then Bruges, and this year Mitteleuropa. The first time I've flown in getting on for a decade, too, and I still can't abide the ridiculous mixture of security theatre and profiteering which we still have to go through on account of one half-arsed terror scheme all those years ago.
In Berlin, which even more than Paris seems to have made too many concessions to the automobile, we almost wholly failed even to skirt the fringes of the city's famous nightlife. True, it can't have helped that we were there on weeknights in January, but mostly we tired ourselves out sufficiently doing the hits (museums, Wall fragments, the Brandenburg Gate) that evenings in with Lidl fizz were a welcome wind-down. The exception being the black light crazy golf, which was a truly consciousness-expanding experience (not something one often hears said of golf), even given we left the cocktails until after. And then, a train along the Elbe, all castles and crags. Well, I say that; first there were interminable plains which made East Anglia look fascinating, but I try to forget those. But then the romantic riverside, and then Prague itself, one of the very few cities which to me is a thing in itself rather than a monoculture ultimately traceable to a cutting from one London district. This was my third visit, and I hope it won't be my last, for each time there are new riches, or at least new riches to me - the Cubist cafe, the old Jewish cemetery and the Municipal Hall have all been standing since long before my first time there, way back in the nineties. There's a lot more English spoken now, which I put down to the stag parties and the Internet; also a lot more Thai massage places, which I'm pretty sure will just be the stag parties. But it's still Prague, still cheap by any standards other than the past's, still enchanted. And long may it remain so.

Since I returned, I've managed to be busy without being particularly social, in part because I was already booked elsewhere on the night of the month's big people-I-know-gig. Still, worth missing the odd show to see Daniel Kitson, who remains, well, Kitson - more comedic this time than sometimes, more play than storyteller, but still a law unto himself. Ditto Birdman, a film I like despite it being up for awards from the Academy, whose general cluelessness is finally beginning to become more widely apparent now they've snubbed The Lego Movie (I'm not saying they're the world figures most in need of hanging from lamp-posts, but I would like to see them on that list). Even at the Union Chapel, for my first Daylight Music of the season, I managed to miss many of the people I knew on account of it being unusually full of people I didn't. Who could have known that the mainstream draw they needed was Amelia Fletcher singing about chickens, Sarah Cracknell's new sixties-style side-project, and Darren Hayman doing William Morris?

There's still a ton of other stuff I should write up - most of Autumn and Winter is jotted in drafts somewhere - but let's post this now, at a sensible length, rather than strive eternally for something compressed and complete.
alexsarll: (default)
So, since last posting, I've been to new places. Kensal Green, land of the golden Nando's, whose great graveyard is home to many grand figures whose resting places we didn't find, and one murderous quack of whom I might still be ignorant were his epitaph not so passive-aggressive. More exciting still, a lovely long weekend in Margate! Which in places is a sort of North-London-on-sea, as against Brighton, which is of course East-London-on-sea. [ profile] xandratheblue chose well when she booked us into the Walpole Bay Hotel, which is essentially the sort of place Poirot stays, but festooned with Tracey Emin napkin art, alarming mannequins, a room full of hats and so forth. If Sir John Soane were a hotelier, the result would be along these lines. A similar spirit of eccentricity pervades the town; there's the old world stuff, like the hotel, the Shell Grotto, the Mad Hatter's tearoom and the decrepit lido; but there's also the huge array of wind turbines out at sea who can be dimly seen on the less cloudy days, standing sentinel, and the surprising number of rockabillies for a fairly small town. It is, in sum, Unusual, mostly in lovely ways. And especially so last weekend, because we'd unwittingly turned up at the same time as GEEK, a computer-game-centred thing which enabled Alex to talk knowledgeably about computer games while I pouted at the lack of the advertised strawberry cider. In your gender-defined face, gender roles. The other result of this was that whenever we attempted to just go look at some art, we kept on getting lured into INTERACTING. Fine when it was the squishy stuff in Turner Contemporary, less so when we were sent on a somewhat confused melon-themed treasure hunt/RPG around town, or found that what we'd thought was a small gallery with a show of automata was in fact a couple's basement workshop. Still, at least the latter meant we got tea. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy all the community art, you understand, so much as I wasn't expecting it. And being ambushed by art does start to make one a little nervous after a while.

Margate also has one of two very fine pubs to which I've been introduced recently, the Lifeboat, which doesn't quite have a sea view but otherwise - casks of local cider, lots of wood, a roaring fire - is pretty much how I picture the ideal seaside pub, just as the Earl of Essex is exactly the pub I always hope to find in quiet London backstreets. Both are let down only by some of their food; take your own ketchup to the Lifeboat (outragrously, there's none on the premises!), and avoid the risotto at the Earl.

All the TV I've watched lately has been going for an overall mood of 'unsettling'. Black Mirror, still not quite perfect, but better to have Charlie Brooker not quite being Rod Serling on C4 than degenerating into Harry Hill on the BBC. Utopia, which managed that rare feat of genuinely shocking violence (as much in how it was shot as in who was shot, stabbed, and so forth) in a conspiracy thriller which didn't feel as played-out as the rest of the recent glut of conspiracy thrillers - maybe because spoilers ). Breaking Bad, where the second series had fewer moments of 'Go Walter!' than the first, and a lot more wincing. Even the Honor Blackman episodes of The Avengers all seemed to be predicated on Steed's uncertain loyalties, and beyond that to be odd in so far as they still didn't quite feel like The Avengers yet, and predicated their plots on such TV-friendly themes as the Companies Act 1928, and the evasion of inheritance tax. Whereas the few films I've watched have been thoroughly straightforward good vs evil stuff, with square-jawed heroes - Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness, Christopher Reeve in Superman, which is every bit as charming and *right* as I remember from childhood, not to mention much smarter than I ever picked up on.
alexsarll: (Default)
On Friday I was at Nuisance, and Spearmint's 'Sweeping the Nation' was spun before those bloody tables were off the dancefloor, and it made me sad that this hymn to the overlooked was being overlooked once more. But then on Saturday, as I arrived at the too-seldom If You Tolerate Bis, what should be the first song playing as I pay? Damn right. And this time, there was a floor! And dancing! And two songs later was 'You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve'. HELL YES.
Not that I only go to retro indie nights, honest. Two Saturdays earlier I was out in London's Fashionable East London at a self-parodic art opening, briefly elevated by dance-and-light elements which turned a clear plastic shelf (in itself, an Express writer's idea of modern art) into a sort of phantasmal butterfly. Though even this was accompanied by a soundtrack of abrasive noise obviously intended as some form of confrontation, but which I found quite soothing. At one point someone farted and I wondered if this was also part of the artist's multi-sensory assault. And on the intervening weekend I went, briefly, to a cocktail place on Covent Garden. You know when you're in the West End on a weekend, and you see the normal people up from the outer zones for a night on the town, and wonder where they go? This place is one of the answers, and they're welcome to it.
Also: Hillingdon, which I have passed plenty of times on the Oxford Tube. It always looked - by night, anyway - like a strange, shining city of glass and steel had left its outpost in the wilds. Up close...not so much. It is also very noisy, and what appeared to be a zombie pigeon was on the stairs. But the territory between there and Ickenham is lovely, that edge of the suburbs country where you get lots of waste ground, streams, trees, a rope swing or two on which a friend of a friend is always rumoured to have broken something, just because that keeps everyone alert. The sort of place that's fairly hopeless once you become a teenager but, up to about 12, is heaven.
And now I am in Devon, where I spent the morning in a weirdly Mediterranean fishing village, and have just finished chopping wood. Delightful.
alexsarll: (bernard)
London life appears to be cycling up again, the diary filling and the weeks of temperance (through illness or lack of event, not some talismanic fool belief in detox) coming to an end; if doubt remains, then you always know for sure that it's kicking off again once you're stood in the back room of the Wilmington watching giant robots fight off space dinosaurs with the help of indie rock. Back to the clubs and pubs and dinner parties - and back to Kentish Town. Did ever a district combine side street charm with high street horror to such an extent? Four places I wanted to go before Ale Meat Cider - one simply failed me, and three were on unscheduled shutdown (one by the fire brigade). In the meantime, I've been reading, and putting the new Necron list throught its paces on the tabletop*, and relishing Gregg Araki's Kaboom, which mixes his usual polymorphous perversity with apocalyptic conspiracy and creative swearing, and less so Arrietty which is, like every non-Miyazaki Ghibli film I've seen, faintly disappointing. The visual richness, the gardens into which you just want to melt, are present and correct - but the characters and the plot just feel a little...conventional, up until an ending which is at once conventional and not even a logical conclusion of what has gone before.

And, most importantly, I've been to the Isle of Wight with [ profile] xandratheblue. Yes, it's still definitely England, even if it's not Great Britain, but it's my first time overseas in years, or with her. So we meandered around the island on a bus that seemed to be the equivalent of the Circle Line if it had a view and was faintly reliable, and saw clicking owls and cartwheeling monkeys and a Roman mosaic of a cock-headed man (NOT LIKE THAT), and stayed in a hotel on a lake, and because she's a city girl she seemed almost as excited to have rabbits and sheep pointed out from the train window as to travel on a hovercraft. Though it was noticeable that the other passengers were a lot more subdued on the return trip, presumably because of the Costa Concordia footage on the screens in the waiting room. I don't know why, given we were using a totally different means of transport and the captain wasn't Italian. Though in his shoes I wouldn't have been able to resist a loud 'Mamma mia!' or two within earshot of the nervous travellers.

*With most pleasing results, except against Blood Angels.
alexsarll: (crest)
Spent the Bank Holiday weekend strung out along the 253 route as was - well, with one brief jaunt up to the asylum, but other than that - Bethnal Green, Clapton, Seven Sisters Road, Camden. All very jolly but I was especially glad to have Black Plastic back, rocking and packed. Visually, the erstwhile Pleasure Unit is somewhat less of a dive than previously, although they seriously need to sort out the smell. If only people could try to burn it off, it might help - particularly if the burning items were also themselves fragranced, perhaps?
And I've finished London - City of Disappearances. Which feels strange - it's such a capacious book, so it feels a little like finishing an encyclopaedia, or the dictionary. Appropriate, I suppose, given I am about to take a little break from London - though having also just finished Wodehouse's last novel, Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, I'm wary of expecting too much calm and restoration from my West Country retreat.

Frustrating though it is that HBO's post-western epic Deadwood never got a proper resolution, in some ways it works out rather well. oblique spoilers )
And that, right there, is the birth of America, isn't it? Which is what the series was always about. Hell, you could argue HBO did give us the sequel; once we've seen how the last great attempt at founding a new society was finally bought and buried, all we need to do is spin forward 130 years to watch The Wire and see the long, drawn-out death throes implicit in that stymied birth.
(I got the impression ahead of time that Deadwood's third season was not so well-regarded as the rest; having watched it, I'm at a loss as to why that might be, and of course now I'm not scared of their spoilers, those negative reviews at which I could barely glanced have learned the ways of church mice. Perhaps it was the players, the fire-engine, the loosely-attached subplots of no immediately obvious relevance to the show's main thrust. I rather liked them, myself - they made it the story of a community, not just of the community's leaders)
And with that finished, I'm into a rather different TV proposition: Justice League Unlimited. I love that popular culture has got to the point where Aztek and Alan Moore stories are considered appropriate fodder for children's television.

Hamfatter - yes, I know they went on Dragon's Den to get funding, but they're not that bad, are they? Not great, but in the pop-bands-with-guitars field, one of the less offensive examples.

Am not convinced by the latest rejig of 2000AD's monthly sibling, the Megazine. Packaging it with a slim reprint edition is not an inherently bad idea - but the price has gone up from £2.99 to £4.99, and next week's accompanying reprint is Snow/Tiger, a perfectly good strip but also a very recent one which, like many readers, I already own in the weeklies. And while it's good, I'm not sure it's so good that I can use a surplus copy for comics evangelism, y'know?
alexsarll: (crest)
Spent the first half-hour or so of Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull not really feeling it; the fifties colour was laid on too heavily, the conviction seemed felt like watching a tribute act. A good tribute act, sure, but not the real thing. And it didn't help having Ray Winstone along; it really was just that one role as Beowulf where I liked him, although I guess here he was playing a venal berk rather than anyone we were meant to respect. But then there's that map/'plane bit one always needs in an Indy film, and we're in the jungle, and yes, it all fits into place. I stay on the edge of my seat for the rest of the film, except when I'm cracking up at the sheer audacity of it all. I'm not entirely sure I'd want a fifth but yes, this is a worthy addition to the series.

On Saturday the song 'Jolene' became linked in my head to Joe Lean of rubbish indie combo Joe Lean & the Jing Jang Jong, aka Sophie's brother in Peep Show. I have not yet been able to decouple them, so I might as well share the misery.

The Guardian's redesigned Review section announces "Starting next week...52 - a novel in weekly instalments by Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, AM Homes and Jackie Kay". A novel called 52, in weekly instalments, with four authors? What a terribly original idea.
(Although, one strand of the first 52 did concern two lesbian lovers hounded by an evil religion, so Winterson at least would have been right at home)

Now if you'll excuse me I need to get some breakfast, clean out my cupboard and watch the season finale of Mad Men. I'm glad that the weather is not of a sort to make me feel like these are bad uses of my bank holiday.

January 2016



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