Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Rustle Brands

One of the legacies of my University education was a pretty appalling memory, more down to my extra-curricular activities than cramming lots of facts into my brain. A trip to the Museum of Brands was therefore refreshing, given the amount of 'Oh yeah, I remember those!' moments it triggered. Weirder recollections from somewhere back in my psyche included remembering that 'Imperial Leather' was my Dad's brand of talcum powder and incidentally, who uses that anymore? The man behind the collection is Robert Opie who must have been a nightmare to live with; in 1963, aged 16, he starting collecting and is now reckoned to have more than half a million items, 12,000 of which are here. You can just imagine the trips to Ikea for more storage can't you? Walking through the time tunnel, you can find everything from cans of Mock Turtle Soup (made from calves brains, head and feet to duplicate the texture of turtle meat apparently) to pre-kid Milky Bars. Sections are split into decades and the displays are densely packed to the point of being overwhelming but if there are some black holes in your history then a visit here might help fill in the blanks.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Boozing in the Corridors of Power

I went for a drink at the Houses of Parliament last night. To get into the Palace of Westminster you go through a security check at Portcullis House opposite and then you go back under the road and into the Houses. It'd be a great place for a game of Hide and Seek; there are 1100 rooms, 100 staircases and 3 miles of corridors.  A friend who works there had invited me and she told me a couple of stories about getting lost in its labyrinthine layout.  As we looked about we speculated about secret passageways that surely must exist in there. It only adds to the air of intrigue about the whole place. Firstly, the amount of security makes you feel important as you walk around. The place is crawling with coppers. Secondly, to state the bleeding obvious, the people in this building govern everything that we do.  I know they work for us but often it feels like we have to do what they tell us to do, which brings me to the third point: it feels a bit like school. The older boys are condescending to the younger ones and have more privileges apparently. It's almost like a caste system. The colour and design of your security pass determines the access that you have and this includes the bars. Even in the canteen there is a section that is reserved for those with real clout (the Lords presumably). I guess they don't want to have to mix with the researchers, cooks and cleaners that have to be there so that the machine runs effectively.

We had access to the Strangers Bar. It was only as recently as 1994 that a modernisation committee recommended that visitors were no longer referred to as 'strangers'. The bar was like a small pub from the 70's with a few water-colours and caricatures dotted around the walls.  It felt like people should be smoking in there. There were two TV screens: one showing Sky Sports and the other informing imbibers who was currently speaking in the House and which bill they were proposing should anyone having a drink want to dash back to the chamber and cast their vote. Outside the bar was the terrace that you can see from the other side of the Thames with the green and white striped marquees that seem so at odds with the majestic exterior. We tried it for a while before the rain started and it felt really surreal having a Guinness right by those famous walls that are forever illuminated by orange lighting. Strangely, it made me think of the time that FHM projected a naked Gail Porter onto the side.

Disappointingly I didn't spot any brown envelopes bursting with £50 notes being passed between people surreptitiously in the bar.  Pleasingly though, there were a few old duffers drinking pints of bitter, one of whom looked a bit like Rupert Murdoch, but his suit wasn't up to much so it probably wasn't him.  The Strangers Bar seemed very much the right environment for them to be in.  It was only after we'd left that my drinking companion asked me if I had recognised the bloke sitting to my right.  Finally, the whiff of scandal that I'd hoped for.  It was Elliott Morley, who is probably going to be the first MP to face police investigation into his expenses claims for a mortgage that he'd already paid off.  He put it down to a 'genuine mistake' but was suspended by Labour at the time and won't be standing next time round. Despite paying back the £16000 he mistakenly put through expenses, he still had enough for a drink.  Which is nice.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Feedback from the Guardian

The best thing about this was getting constructive feedback.  I'm here to learn.

Hi Rosie

I called yesterday to see if you needed a review of Spiritualized at 
the RFH and you told me you had commissioned one.  I thought your 
review was pretty good but mine was at least as good.  Its here;

I'd be interested to see what you think and please think of me should 
you need anything else reviewed.


Lee Mannion

Hi Lee,

Have to say your email did the trick in getting my attention, as stating that your own review is just as good as Maddy's is quite bold. And If I'm honest, not true.

Maddy's opening lines very succinctly capture exactly what is so special about Ladies and Gentlemen, which in itself sets the reader up to understand why this gig is extraordinary. She is able to capture the pros and cons of the evening in one paragraph, before delivering her final verdict.

I think your review is far too descriptive and too long. Instead of explaining why, you simply state that it is a special occasion and leave mention of the album till paragraph two. You need to work on your tenses "so there would be no room for anything less than perfection when it came to hearing this one live. If Jason felt the weight of expectation, he didn’t show it." And you need to trim the fat. You make plenty of valid points but not all of them are interesting. Judging by your final paragraph, both you and Maddy seemed to have been left with the same impression of the show. I like the personal touch you give the review, but then Maddy wouldn't be able to use "I" in her piece.

I like the title of your blog a lot, what a great idea. I thought the bit about Samantha in your Sex in the City post was very funny, and I'm sorry to hear your bank is being such a bastard.

Hope my criticism doesn't offend you, the first rule of trying to be a writer is that it takes a lot of practice and a lot of constructive criticism to get good.

all the best, Rosie

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Spiritualized Royal Festival Hall 12/10/09

Going to see Jason Spaceman put together a faithful rendition of the rich tapestry that was this 1997 NME album of the year feels like a rare and special occasion. Albums are usually judged on their merit as a wholly satisfying experience (with no fillers), so there would be no room for anything less than perfection when it came to hearing this one live. If Jason felt the weight of expectation, he didn’t show it. Often during the show it seemed as if he were more part of the audience than the band, looking on and listening, hearing the rich, all-encompassing glory of it as performed by 33 musicians and singers. You can hardly blame him. It’s not exactly the kind of thing that you can ask a few musician mates to come over and bash out. No wonder then that at times he looked like he was trying to concrete every minute of it into his memory. He also looked curious to see how it would all pan out.

What made both the original album and this performance great is that they feel like a very complete experience. Lyrically, despair and elation are simply and pointedly described (‘love the way you smile, stay with me’); musically there are moments of translucent beauty and tortuous pain. ‘Electricity’ in particular, always something that exudes velocity and fight when played live, was accompanied by such a barrage of strobes and white noise that at one point I was convinced that I could hear the screams of devils in amongst the myriad layers of sound. It felt like a horribly delicious sort of madness. If that was a masochistic kind of aural hell, tracks like ‘Broken Heart’ were heavenly; emotional and touching, made spiritual by the glorious voices of members of the gospel choir who, clad in white robes, even appeared like angels.

If on each track there were moments where one section of the ensemble felt particularly skilful and virile (rendering others redundant), they played gloriously together on the final track before the encore, ‘Cop Shoot Cop’. A 17 minute long, swampy, trance like bluesy number on the album, the string section initially lulled us, the horns then kicked in with unannounced body blows and the choir shone a light out of the darkness that Jason’s regular band members had concocted from feedback and screech. Perhaps with a nod to his own pharmaceutical indulgences in an effort to ease the pain of a relationship break-up at the time of release, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen…’ was packaged like medication with the instruction ‘Spiritualized is used to treat the heart and soul’. It’s not really like going to see any other band; when the music stopped, it felt a little like you’d been transported somewhere, that you’d gone on a bit of a journey and come out the other end reborn. Which I think is exactly how Jason would like it.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

First Byline

Sunday 11th October; that's the date I got my first byline.  Click the title of this blog above ('First Byline') to have a look. My delight at finally getting one and being published is tempered by the fact that I think what I submitted is actually better than what ended up on the site.  This is probably a common complaint for writers though I think - I remember a lot of argument and bitching between subs and writers about what should and shouldn't go in when I was working at the Mail on Sunday.  In this case the bloke who edited the copy has more than ten years experience so I have to presume that he knows better than me.

Anyway, its a good start to a sunny Sunday.  And there's still Sunday lunch in a pub in North London at the The Old Queens Head in Essex Road to come later on.  A good friend of mine is sensibly avoiding the English winter by jetting off to Africa. There's always a twinge of envy when people I know do this, given that its been me doing it in the past.

Lastly, really good meeting yesterday with the ladies of the Salad Club, a pop up restaurant in Brixton. Once I've transcribed it, I'll post it here in the next few days.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Park Life

What to do with that lunch hour? Hammer down a treadmill in the gym? A quick squiz at the newspaper and a sandwich at your desk with one eye on Facebook? Forget it; you're better off taking a break and relaxing by getting yourself down to Mint St Park. If the sun’s out you can park your bum on the terrace and watch the world go by; if its not so warm you can have a stroll around, let your nose enjoy the scented garden and set your eyes on the crazy acid house mural you'll find on one wall. You can even shoot some hoops if you’re feeling energetic. This part of London is building heavy so any bit of green can be a bit of a godsend. Once the site of a children's hospital for over a 100 years, the space is still a boon to the local community with local residents and volunteers from the nearby St Mungo's homeless hostel helping keep the park pleasant for the public. Do yourself a favour; get away from your PC or Mac and go and find it. It's a little gem.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Insurance - An idea that prays on insecurity

Before I got made unemployed in April I took out a loan to purchase the freehold on my property. At the time I thought it prudent to get insurance on the loan as recession and unemployment were forecast. Well, whaddya know? I got made unemployed and Lloyds refused to pay out, citing a clause that if I was 'notified of' unemployment within 30 days of taking out the policy all bets were off. I argued that I was notified of only a 'period of consultation'; notice of unemployment would only come at the end of that period. So far, so boring. We have been back and forth since May and in the end the mundanity of it wore me down. I hope the following amuses; its the letter that I wrote to Lloyds cancelling the insurance. Maybe its petty, but it made me feel good. The suit on the left is Lloyds Group Chief Exec Eric Daniels, who claimed this year that his million pound wage was 'a modest salary' to the Treasury Select Committee.

Dear Ms Horton

Thank you for your letter dated 15th September.

I took loan protection insurance out with you as it seemed the sensible option given that the media was full of stories of financial meltdown, mass redundancies and general impending doom. Frankly, we could argue all day long about what constitutes being ‘notified of employment’. I still hold the view that I was initially notified about a period of consultation, not unemployment, but I’m sure that Lloyds lawyers are very good, diligent and expensive. Frankly I can’t be bothered to enter into what would undoubtedly be a very prolonged and boring fight which the massive organisation you work for would inevitably win.

It seems far more sensible to just cancel my insurance with you, which I’m notifying you of forthwith. It is much more satisfying to think that I wont be paying you around £2000 for the pleasure of you finding a clause in the terms and conditions that stops me from enjoying the benefits of the insurance should anything else go wrong.

Yours disillusioned,

Lee Mannion