I was in the queue at the Co-op when I noticed a couple of people having a conversation at the end of an aisle. It was a woman with her kid in tow, chatting to another person with their back to me. I was wondering at how different we were, this woman and me, when suddenly a gut-level feeling overtook me of the ickiness of walking around as a creature of a specific sex, among other-sexed creatures. As I moved towards the checkout this dizzy spell continued, but it took on a couple of different aspects in succession. First I had an impression of the history of the world as a disorienting cacophony, then it felt as if I was just going through motions in this shop, a moving part in some careening dynamic which was absurdly clothed, at this moment in time, as ‘the Co-op’.
‘It Takes a Killer’ on CBS Reality
It’s not Mad Men or Girls, but I really can watch episode after episode of this. Each instalment chronicles a real-life murder or series of murders and the police investigation around them. The show is very fast-paced and has an assured, modern style. The video-game Metal Gear Solid springs to mind. Stuff flashes by: photos, maps, text, talking heads, stock visuals and snatches of reconstruction. On paying a little closer attention I noticed that every move is accompanied by either a ‘whoosh’ or ‘blade unsheathing’ sound effect. The guy working the sound board must surely have developed arthritis. The voice-over is as you’d expect from the title- grave, heading towards devilish- but not dorky and overdone in this case. The experts are compelling characters in their own right: Weary LAPD guy, distant 30-something English woman and slim pork-pie hat dude. There’s a lot of background material, footage and police evidence from each case, some of it jaw-dropping, and interesting wider perspectives are presented. I think much care has been taken. Two thumbs up.
I first heard the term ‘podcast’ back in 2009/10. To me it sounded like something both second-rate and troublesomely technical. I was aware that Ricky Gervais was doing one and I didn’t like the sound of it either- him and his mate laughing at a buffoonish third guy. That was it for me until 2014, when the podcast ‘Serial’ appeared with HBO-like credibility. They’ve crept up in a big way since then and I have various ones on all the time now. Life is better for them- it’s ‘take what you’re given’ no longer culturally speaking (or even more-so now anyway), plus they make dull tasks tolerable.
Carry on luggage- The last hold-luggage holiday I was on was to the South of France with my parents in 2009. My parents go to the South of France for a summer holiday quite a lot; they’re off there again next week in fact, the spazzes. We stayed in Juan Les Pins in 2009, just down the bay from Cannes. I remember helplessly repeating ‘wan ley pan’ to a surly bus driver one afternoon, until a long-haired Frenchman in his forties leaned over and slurred ‘jou-an ley pan’ at him, then shot me a wink-and-click-noise ‘sorted’ thing.
The Carry On films- Parochial British sex-comedy films of the 60’s and 70’s. They still show them regularly on ITV and the even more downmarket Channel 5. I flicked past one late at night recently and thought to myself, with a surprising strength of feeling, “I’d rather die than watch that.”
Carrie Bradshaw- The wish-fulfillment little princess materialism thing on Sex and the City is unpleasant. Samantha was good though; that voice and manner are very memorable. Kim Cattrall is kinda interesting.
There was a pile of recordable VHS tapes in my house growing up. They were stored in the cabinet below the TV at one stage, then later on they were relegated to the end cupboard in the little study room. My dad had an extra one stashed away at the top of his wardrobe I discovered. It was labelled ‘The hand that rocks the cradle’ and, as it happened, genuinely was ‘The hand that rocks the cradle’. I think there was a pattern to the stuff my dad recorded off the TV, because the only other full movies in the general pile were the ocean-set Dead Calm, Basic Instinct, and Someone to Watch Over Me, all of which are also about cheating, with maybe a ‘wicked woman’ to blame, and that being an exciting thing. In other news, I quite like this song:
The best compliment I ever received was from my girlfriend of a time. It was a warm evening and we were stood in shadow on a little balcony overlooking a courtyard. She said “You just get better and better.” It was music to my wonky self-esteemy, introvert ears. I’m sure it would be music to anyone’s ears.
The prompt threw up a lot of bad memories, of fucking awful insults and generally unhappy situations. I was going to just avoid them. But, so I don’t come across a prick with my balconies and courtyards and gushing admirers, I’ll say what the worst insult I’ve received was. It was a hectic setting as opposed to a peaceful one- the center of town on a Saturday night, on a busy main road outside a nightclub. It was said to me by a friend of my American flatmate, both of whom essentially had no respect for me. (I should have been striking out and making a better life for myself, but I wasn’t capable of it). She said “You’re weird, but not in an interesting way”. Anyone reading this might be totally unmoved by that, consider it inconsequential silliness. But Good Lord, it did sting at the time.
I’ve started counting my daily calories. I’m using an app called ‘Diet Diary’. It’s as vanilla as they come, which I love. The icon is a cartoon cucumber and notepad, with the words ‘Simple Diet Diary’ in a comic sans-esque font. It’s the pure-hearted underdog of diet-tracking apps. It has only the few computational conveniences you want and no more. I keep track of calories and protein. The app shows me my totals so far for the day and I can copy and paste past entries. For the last seven days my average daily calories has been 2172 and my average protein 141 grams. The idea of recording calories for evermore isn’t such a wonderful prospect. It sounds a bit of a strangled existence. The thought of it gives me butterflies. But not counting them is also a headache. It may well be a thirty-days-to-build-the-habit kind of situation, by which point it will have stopped feeling uncomfortable. I’ll have to see.
Barbarian Days- William Finnegan
I’m currently reading this. It’s a surfing memoir written by a 63 year old guy- a lifelong surfer. When I bought it, for my kindle, I was vaguely hoping for ‘What it’s like to be cool: from the horse’s mouth’. The author isn’t the outlaw I expected though. He’s a deeply reflective chap- a journalist for the New Yorker magazine of thirty years standing. I hadn’t bothered to look him up or even read a review of the book before purchasing, so sold was I on the title and premise. So it’s been a pleasant surprise. There’s highlight-worthy lyricism and insight on his full-to-bursting, counter-culture skirting life every other page. It’s great.
The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli
A famous 16th century how-to, in short chapters, concerning holding onto power/influence once you have it. The main thrust: Where certain group dynamics are involved, life is such that you have to think and act like a bit of a bastard if you want to live constructively- it’s not possible to avoid it. When faced with social grappling I tend to just disengage and get by on a feeling of martyrdom instead. Above it. But I’ve had valuable things snatched from my grasp a number of times following that strategy. Perhaps I need to go over to the dark side and become a calculating kicker of asses. ‘Old Nick’, for the Devil, supposedly comes from ‘Niccolo’. I once saw a guy bench-pressing with this book opened face down next to him- man on a mission clearly. I was meaning to read it since.
Submission- Michel Houellebecq
I’ve enjoyed this guy’s previous novels. He does modern-life disillusionment with hair-raising power- he really means it. So I was disappointed to realise this one wasn’t really working for me. It’s set in a 2017 where France is in the process of being remodeled around Islamic values, after the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has come to power democratically. It’s a higher-flown setting than in all his other novels- academics and politicians at the Sorbonne- where the permanently drunk yet revered narrator, Houellebecq, is a lecturer. I suppose that aspect pissed me off- those are perspectives I don’t share much with and probably resent a bit. And he compounds it by taking long chunks of each chapter to talk about the work of some obscure French writer, Huysmans, that seems unrelated to the other goings-on in the novel. Perhaps the point his was making with that went over my head, but it felt to me like he was playing a joke on the reader. He speaks eloquently through other characters’ voices, as the sozzled narrator listens on, about what will be the shape of the new Islam-centric society: Patriarchal family units as a force of social control and six wives for anyone with heft, like the narrator and his colleagues. You get the impression Houellebecq is pretty down with much of that, but it would be nice if the whole thing wasn’t such a frustrating guessing game.