Sunday, 14 November 2010

Real Ale: What’s the Point?

My local pub was boarded up. The landlord had shot someone. I needed to find a new oasis and surrogate family. A short walk took me to a boozer I hadn’t been in for years. I snook in the side door to the tap room, it was early lunch and I was alone, my only immediate company a huge chalk board with a list of beers. Oh Christ, real ale I thought, I am going to have to make an un-informed choice between a beverage of warm mouldy hops or flat burnt treacle.

I sat down with a pint of The Rectors Shag Pile and contemplated the phenomenon. It seemed that these days there was no escape from the stuff. Even women were drinking it! And not just hairy biker’s wife’s but laddettes too. Ok, the price was reasonable bloody good in fact but what was the appeal? Were we just been sold a notion of authenticity? Like Pizza Hut expecting us to believe that its “pizza pies” were first baked by a fat chap called Luigi in1620 for the hungry Mayflower passengers.

My first encounter with Real Ale was as a student. It was a freezing December in the Brighton Lanes. The landlord was just attaching a new clip to a pump “Winter Warmer”...perfect. After about an hour drinking pints at our usual pace we noticed the conversation losing its thread. My friend said “my arse is stuck to the chair” my other mate muttered something about been “unable to move”. Our six eyeballs managed to follow the landlord as he added the new beer to the blackboard. Winter Warmer 9.5% “oh God” I stammered “we’ve all just drunk the equivalent of 3 pints of Blue Nun”

Friday, 12 November 2010

Blue Eyes is primarily about the duality of seduction and the unconscious desire not to be deceived.

The song refers to the danger inherent in any creative action including love.

The Sound: well to me it is a proto-industrial, futurist scratch and scrape fairground psychedelia...which builds steadily until the song turns in on itself like an overworked immune system.

(it is also good to hear a song called Blue Eyes which makes The Whos "behind Blue Eyes" seem like the piece of wet, conservative s*** it always was)

Blue Eyes is not Motown

Blue Eyes is a warning concerning classicism and romanticism

Who would hang civilization on a pair of blue eyes? When in truth they are rotten at the core, or do the belong to an android?

Blue Eyes is the amplified hymn of a deluded patriot.

( on a semi technical note apart from HOLLOWMOONS more obvious influences this one has two influences probably unconscious, the first is the band that said " you have all forgotten Ruldolf Hesse", and the second which may come as a surprise is Kraftwerk, having said that the song does have a bit of a krautrock rumble to it)

Initial gut response to Blue Eyes....

She was Ozymandias
Scraping through loves delusions
The fairground meets officer’s mess
The first narcissus love, are we born to seek hero’s everywhere

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Magpie Runecast

On Midsummer’s Eve I felt like getting down with the faery folk and made my bed at the bottom of the garden. I had been reading books on anthropology (Mythologies by Levi-Strauss) and sympathetic magic (Frazer’s The Golden Bough) which had inebriated me a little.

I hung a magpie feather and a leaf, which fell on my chest the day before, from a branch above my sleeping bag. Some silver half-crowns were left for the pixies and I laid out some runes on a brick.

The night passed uneventfully; I awoke at dawn with around 25 slugs for company. My shock came when I inspected the runes. They had been re-cast!

The wind hadn’t moved them – there was only a light breeze. A fox? No, not dexterous enough. Then I remembered the cackling noise just before waking...a magpie. The reading he left me was remarkably accurate.

Does anybody else have any other tales of bird divination, tarot- reading tortoise- or rune -casting rodents?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Slouch

3rd Annual Huddersfield Zombie Slouch

As a teenager I was obsessed with the dark, unsettling and often ludicrous world of the B movie. Combine this with recent months spent on the settee recovering from severe muscular injury, in a fug of painkillers, immersed in horror films and you are getting close to why I am particularly fond of the zombie sub-genre. Perhaps it struck a chord with my subconscious, my isolation and anaesthetised state. The news items of the time were particularly apocalyptic – unnecessary deaths in a foreign land to a vampiric enemy, global recession and swine flu statistics that made the plagues of the Pharaoh look like a trick-or-treat joke.

With all this in mind, shaking off my cobwebs, I walk slowly into town to witness the Huddersfield Zombie Slouch. It is Halloween and I can almost smell the candle burning the turnip Jack o' lantern I made as a boy. The sky is overcast, ruptured here and there by shards of blue. In the distance a dog barks, jackal-like. The atmosphere is stilled, sounds carry further, are clearer and more distinct. A chorus of starlings roosting early is broken by a stray firework, thrown by an invisible delinquent.

On Halloween there is the impression of it being a perpetual dusk. After all, what is autumn if not the twilight between summer and winter. Traditionally in folklore it is in these "in-between" places that enchantments, apparitions and what-not occur. On All Souls Day, in streets such as these, not long ago, bread cakes were left on backdoor steps: it was a day when the dead were honoured and not feared.

Close to the town centre I encounter what appear to be two zombies which turn out, on closer inspection, to be the usual citizens of Huddersfield. They are heading for the "belly of the beast" – Kingsgate shopping centre, itself gasping for air in the economic downturn. In the shadows some real life ghouls can be seen handing out leaflets for the BNP.

I turn into St George's Square where the zombies are rumoured to meet. Recently revamped at a cost of £4 million, its neon-lit ground level fountains have been compared to a 1970s nightclub urinal. Surrounding Victorian buildings look down at it in disdain. John Betjeman described the railway station facade as the finest in England. On weekdays, evening commuters returning from Leeds spill out and another poet comes closer to capturing the mood of the place:

I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

The Waste Land, T S Eliot, 1922

The Undead are already congregating around Harold Wilson's statue. This is where the Slouch is going to begin and will end with the crowning of its King and Queen. I approach one of them.

"What's your favourite zombie movie?"

"Dawn of the Dead"
"What's the easiest way to kill a zombie?"
"Go for the brains...arghhh!"

I can see I am in for a fun day. My next encounter is a rather dour looking couple dressed as undead bride and groom.

"Is this your first Slouch?"
"Yeah, and it’s the last, too" the bride replied.

I move quickly on to a freakish looking duo.

"Are you going for Zombie King and Queen?"
"Oh no! I'm a dead doll and he's a dead cheerleader"

Some degree of sanity is needed to bring things into perspective. I seek out the organiser Simon Skelling. Other than an ashen face he looks relatively respectable.

"Where did you get the idea from?"
"I took my inspiration from American events, like those in Baltimore and Pittsburgh were they filmed the original Dawn of the Dead"
"Do you think zombies are an apt metaphor for Britain's consumer society?"
"I would definitely agree with that. In fact, I'd love to take the Slouch through a shopping centre. Many of the American walks do just that"

By now at least two hundred zombies have gathered. Simon grabs his loud-hailer and stands on a bench.

"Welcome to Huddersfield's 3rd Annual Zombie Slouch! It’s getting bigger, better and scarier! Let’s keep it that way"

The crowd howls in unison.

"Remember: no killing or damage when walking through the town or the real life zombies on the council will ban us"

The Slouch begins. They lurch across John William Street making loud groaning noises. Bus passengers do an Abbott & Costello double-take before feigning amusement. One participant (a lollipop-man zombie who would later go on to win Most Original Outfit) misjudges the consensus on macabre humour: his attempt to stem the flow of traffic very nearly ends in a nasty road rage incident with the driver of a Subaru. The Slouch passes Wetherspoons where clientele on their seventh pint wonder if their hallucinations have returned. As it passes McDonalds, windows are banged and licked. Children inside pause open-mouthed and seem genuinely worried.

In general, public reaction falls into two camps: the first reach for their mobile phones to photograph, an auto-reflex which creates an instant distance between them and the event, not unlike the biological distancing that makes a zombie a zombie; the second group, pale malnourished kids brought up unable to express any emotion other than repressed anger, shout “Have fun you wierdos”.

The Slouch comes full circle at Harold Wilson's statue. King and Queen are crowned and the throng bays in recognition of their leaders. For an instant I, too, am drawn into this ecstasy. I drag myself away. I feel a fever coming on. My throat is sore and I am becoming very pale. My signs are vital but my hands are cold.

Thursday, 3 December 2009


Bah Humbugered!

A tour-de-farce through zombie-ravaged Victorian London


Not content with dominating cinema, DVD and comic strips, the Undead are clumsily barging their way into the world of literature. Creepily close to the classics section can now be found such titles as My Zombie Valentine, The Zen of Zombie and Pride and Prejucice and Zombies.

Nothing is sacred. And Adam Roberts’s I Am Scrooge loves every gory minute. The book takes pleasure in a punk-like detournement first employed by Andr√© Breton in DADA (where transgression is embraced and irreverence upheld). One is also reminded of the Situationist’s chant “plagiarism is necessary”. Throw in a dash of Milliganesque word play/ humour and you have got the top and bottom of the book.

The Victorians prove to be perfect victims and it is hard for the reader not to take pleasure as they are knocked of their pedestals, have their petticoats lifted while their chocolate-box world hurtles towards apocalypse. Youngsters who enjoyed reading Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories and yearned for more blood will revel in this. Whilst hardcore zombie buffs will be impressed as Scrooge is initiated into zombie lore by the Spirit of Christmas Present who says,“They feed upon is volition and change and potential.”

OK, I suppose we should discuss the plot. Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is a story of haunting and conscience. The three ghosts are present in Roberts’s version, too, and reveal to Ebeneezer (sic) that he is a microcosm of a doomed mankind. I Am Scrooge also hints at a personal morality as we learn that a youthful Ebeneezer was the victim of a knife mugging. This has made him overly cautious:“Darkness is cheap and Scrooge liked that about it.”

The zombie brawls, bloodshed and horror scenes become a little repetitive. But this is counterbalanced by inspired cameos from Jack the Ripper (who gets his comeuppance from a zombiefied lady of the night), Queen Victoria (who grapples with John Brown, no longer a ghillie now a ghoulie and fells him with the crown jewels), and Dickens himself. Bad taste is also taken to glorious limits as Tiny Tim is bludgeoned by his own crutches.

It would be difficult to predict the book’s success or longevity as it sits uncomfortably somewhere between Roald Dahl’s gloomy best and Mervyn Peake’s dreary worst. Peppered with suitably grotesque pen and ink drawings by Zom Leech, it will prove a great stocking filler and a welcome antidote to the Queens speech. Favourite line... “Is the Pope a Zombie?”

Soami Ji

I was lucky enough to arrange a last minute personal interview with my s******* *******. I sat waiting in the blazing sun for an hour until I was led into a small room. It was dimly lit and simply furnished. Soami Ji was sat in the middle on a white cushion sipping what looked like green tea from a chipped mug. I sat across from him; it was like staring at a 100 watt light bulb. He addressed me by my first name, which I was not expecting. It was as if he had reached into my chest and taken hold of my heart.

"Paul, if you tell me that you can crush a mountain with your bare hands, I may believe you. If you tell me that you can drink the oceans in a few sips, I may also believe you...but if you say that you are the master of your own mind, this I would never believe."

"Remember the archer, when he misses the bulls-eye, turns and seeks the cause of the error in himself. Your real work begins when you leave here." As I left the room I turned for one last glance..."Strive to be happy, Paul", he said. I stumbled onto the rusty bus and left the Punjab in tears.

The day before, I had stood on the bank of the river B***. I could not comprehend the immensity of it - it must have been five miles wide...flocks of cranes...almost primeval...I thought of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the words of Elliot from The Four Quartets: "I do not know much about gods but I think that the river is a strong brown god - sullen, untamed and intractable." This strange mirror caused an emotional uprising in me. I blinked and a tear ran down my guide turned to me and compassionately said, "Soami Ji is here, yes ?" "Yes, Soami Ji is here", I said.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

people need markets...

Car boot sales are in decline and recession is still news but markets seem to thrive. Yes, it’s partly because programmes like Bargain Hunt and Cash in the Attic have entered the public psyche, but really more to do with our culture and anthropology.

Much has been written about the psychology of crowds but Huddersfield Market is in the main a sensory experience. The core of this experience will have changed very little from the buildings’ conception in 1888 or, indeed, when Huddersfield was first given the right to hold a market by Charles I in 1671. The first thing you notice when you turn from Market Street into the impressive Victorian glass and cast iron canopy that holds up to eighty stalls is the noise, though noise is the wrong word - more a hum of random sound old restored Dansette record player playing The Beatles on vinyl...snatches of conversation, bartering and laughter. The next assault on the senses is visual...bright Clarice Cliff ceramics, African fetish statues and nude 1920s postcards, old rugs and garden ornaments. Then come the smells, strangely comforting, coming from greasy spoon vans reminiscent of football matches and cheap fun days out.

Compare this to the modern day “shopping experience” under fluorescent lights; (I heard a rumour that they used to pump oxygen into Meadow Hall in Sheffield to make customers shop for longer).Nothing novel or unexpected is found there. The market experience seems so much more organic and the element of chance brings so much delight in our evermore structured and homogeneous world.

As a frequent visitor I will give you one tip - try to get there early. Most of the market traders are set up by eight thirty and you can cherry-pick the bargains at your leisure; watch out, however, for the hawk-like dealers. Observing them, though, is a good way to learn what’s in vogue and what’sselling. This year glassware seems very popular and ceramics from the 1970s, once considered gauche and crude but now very much in fashion.

Everyone’s market experience is different as we bring to it our own tastes and sensibilities but in these days of technology, predictability and boredom the market is real. A friend of mine said hedidn’t like going because it was “downright medieval”. “That’s why I like it”, I replied. Most traders will also freely pass on their experience and knowledge to anyone who shows an interest. I have spent many a happy hour just talking about what they have for sale and not buying anything..Could you do this in Top Shop or M&S? I have been to markets in Delhi and Morocco but Huddersfield Open Market has it all with its broken bits of Victoriana, clocks that don’t work and need a loving repairer, jaded pieces of a lost empire sticking from cardboard boxes. It captures the duality of pathos and joy, high and low art. It is our cultural history in a capsule on a Saturday morning.