The other night I was in the queue at the Co-op, buying some essentials. I was next to be served and was about to make my move to the counter when I glanced sideways, my eye caught by a couple of people having a conversation at the head of an aisle. It was a woman with her kid in tow, chatting to another person who had their back to me. The woman was forty-something, vibrant-looking, smiling as she spoke, wearing jeans and a puffer jacket with a fringe haircut a little bit in disarray. I was looking and wondering at how different we were, this woman and me, when suddenly something about the situation was apprehended on a weirdly strong gut level- namely the ickiness of walking about as a creature of a specific sex, among other-sexed creatures. As I moved towards the counter this dizzy spell continued, or intensified even, but it took on a couple of different aspects; I had an impression of the history of the world as a cacophony, then it felt like I was merely going through motions in this shop, a moving part in some careening dynamic which was absurdly clothed, at this point 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. It’s quality stuff- 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 and had 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.
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:
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.
In response to the daily post’s writing prompt An Odd Trio
I’ve considered the possibility of getting a cat. I’ve come to realise that I wouldn’t like to live with a dog. All a dog really wants to do, in its heart of hearts, is put on a gilet and go rowing. But I just want to slink around the house mostly, so it wouldn’t work. I’d spook the creature out. I’d feel like an abuser. A cat would be much better suited. Me and the cat, being wee resentful dicks together. Soup I’m not a fan of at all. It’s actually surprising how awful it is in every regard. There are so many reasons to dislike it: It’s very often the consistency of diarrhea, I scald my mouth every time I have it, this old man I know dribbles it down his chin onto his big gut and doesn’t notice, I’ve sickened myself once or twice on the gloopy tinned tomato version, the metal spoon feels unfriendly in my mouth when there’s only liquid soup on it, the grim, depressed-person spectacle of pressing down on the surface of the soup and watching it flood the spoon, when you get a bit of bread like sodden tissue paper on a spoonful, the fact that it’s associated with hospitals and old people’s homes. It’s just a nightmare foodstuff! It’s profoundly terrible. As far as beach towels go, I own one which I bought in Malta in 2007 when I went on a holiday there with my friends. It’s black with a depiction of a big yellow bus and the words ‘Malta Bus’. They had these rickety old ex-American school buses running around the dusty roads there, with the interiors covered in rosary beads and other Catholic jumble. I’ve had a good long run with that towel, very fond of it.
There’s a clothes shop I quite like called Pull and Bear- it’s like H and M, but originating in Spain, and the clothes are slightly better and £10 more expensive. Their masthead reads ‘Pull and Bear 1991’. I was a bit surprised at that. They’re going all ‘Gap 1969’ on our asses, romanticising the year. That’s jarring for me because for ages I was fully convinced the early 90s were nothing more than a joke. The entire time I was growing up that was the received wisdom, and I didn’t question it. MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, ho ho ho. But now I turn around and it’s ‘Pull and Bear: Birthed in the cultural firestorm of 1991’, kind of thing. Probably there’ll be an ad with a languid whispery voiceover (or maybe a more assertive tone is the thing now, I’m not sure): ‘Pull and Bear: Nighting nighty one’. They’re completing an about-turn that started a few years ago. It appears I’ve been a pawn in some vacuous cycle. All just a bit of fun you could argue, but I’m pissed to realise that I’ve been holding fast to an idea, about the early 90s, that I had no input on. It was handed down to me by the fickle overlords of taste and I complied. I still hold it, this post was originally going to be me joking about ‘Pull and Bear 1991’ being silly, but I realised the joke’s on me. Someone more enlightened than me is going to come along and explain that 90% of my opinions are like that, that this is just a glaring example of it. You live and learn anyway. Blogging saves the day again.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Your Number One.”
What was the #1 song when you were born? Write about how the song relates (or not!) to your personality.
It’s ‘I just called to say I love you’ by Stevie Wonder, or Steven Wonder, as he must have been originally. I don’t like that song at all. It’s miserable. I get frustrated even trying to sing that title line, with the dreary pace of it. You could get up and get a glass of juice in the dead air between ‘I just called’ and ‘To say’, then go ahead and make a sandwich and reply to a few emails before ‘I Love you’ finally arrives. You need the patience of a saint. I didn’t always hate it though. It was in the air when I was very young. In fact I was completely fascinated by it, this person calling to say ‘I love you’. It pulled back the curtain on a netherworld of adult autonomy and telephone use and making weird meaningful declarations to other people. And it wasn’t just some shit sentimental song, as I recognise it to be now, no- it was definitive; that’s what life was like out there mood-wise, I understood. Until the next song came along presumably.