Tuesday, 29 September 2009

We Can't All Be Astronauts - at HOMEWORK, tomorrow!

So yes, hooray, tomorrow, Wednesday 30th September, I'll be reading from my first book, We Can't All Be Astronauts, at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club. But wait! Not only will my esteemed Aisle16 brothers in arms Luke Wright, Joe Dunthorne and John Osborne be providing support with new work, but we have a very special guest in the form of journalist and broadcaster Jon Ronson!

Basically, we think he's brilliant. You might suspect me of being sycophantic just to big him up for the gig, but one, you're much too clever to fall for obsequious propaganda, so I simply wouldn't bother, and two, I've posted very prominently before now - on this very blog - what a massive fan I am of This American Life, a show which he has contributed some of the best stories to. Check out Them, Habeas Schmabeas, Pro Se, and It's Never Over. In fact, while we're talking about superb radio, why not check out an episode of Jon Ronson On? May I humbly suggest The Wrong Kind Of Madness and The Worst Internet Date as two good places to start?

So yes. Come. The Timeout listing is here. Doors at 7:30pm, and we usually get started some time after 8:00pm. We'll all have books to sell and sign too, if you fancy one. I suspect it's going to be funtimes.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Games With Stupid Names - #7 The First Funky Fighter

Of all the video game titles we've encountered so far, The First Funky Fighter is the most semantically problematic, colliding various contradictory images into a single, on the face of it ludicrous, claim of primacy. One definition of the word 'funk' is 'the smell of sexual intercourse', thus making the protagonist 'The First Fighter Who Smelt Of Sexual Intercourse'.

This is a movie I would pay to see my friends. But surely lots of fighters have boasted a musky fuck-aroma? That heady pong of spunk, B.O., mackerel and bum juices is universally recognised as the pheremone-drenched calling card of any self-respecting warrior.

On the other hand, dictionary.com defines 'funky' as: 'overcome with great fear; terrified'. 'The First Fighter Who Was Terrified'? Less awesome, dudes. But this radical transformation from log-cocked beefcake to simpering bedwetter doesn't do anything to resolve the central preposterousness of the claim - I doubt very much this chap was the first brawler to experience nerves before a scrap.

'The First Fighter Characterised By A De-Emphasising Of Melody And Harmony And A Strong Rhythmic Groove Of Electric Bass And Drums'? Ah, fuck it.

TFFF sees blond ripped-shirted pugilist Randy setting out on a quest to rescue his bosomy blond girlfriend Chris from an unholy alliance of sharks and bipedal humanoid gators. Randy is a man of few words and direct action. When Randy has a problem, he punches it. Right in the face.

That's not to say he's not flexible. Occasionally, he stabs it in the face.

And, under very special circumstances, Randy will rip the problem's face in half.

Randy is so fucking masculine, his dick has a dick. After studying TFFF, I can't tell you if he is indeed the first fighter to smell of sexual intercourse, but to him, I expect other people's sexual exploits smell like damp cabbage, whereas his testosterone-marinated fucking stinks of roast dinners and burning tar.

SPOILER ALERT. At the end of the game, once every enemy has been punched in the face, Randy takes Chris to the beach, and fucks her completely in half. She loves it.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Poor Old Dead Jeremy Beadle

When I heard Jezza Beadle had snuffed it I were rate sad.

Not in that whole, 'Hay let's get stoned then watch Volume 3 of Steven Segal's Body & Spirit Motivational Workout on VHS' internet-age hyper-irony way - I genuinely remembered him as seeming like a nice guy who was made the target of a lot of (only half-serious, but still) public bile and horrible remarks about his physical appearance. As with Heather Mills' losing part of her left leg, it seemed that the country had convened a meeting and decided that Jeremy Beadle's Poland's Syndrome was not a bona fide disability, but a comic misfortune ripe for mockery and scorn. I feel pretty strongly on this - if you think Heather Mills is a gold-digging batshitinsane scarecrow lady worthy of a wet slap round the chops then by all means say so, but stop fucking bringing her injury into it as if it represents some character defect, you ignorant, prejudiced cunts. It's just cheap sniggers at the divvy kid in class in another guise, and all sections of the media are guilty of it.

I'm a bit shy of admitting it, but I think Jeremy Beadle was a big inspiration to me. In lots of ways, he was ahead of his time. You've Been Framed and his primetime show featuring viewer-created sketches, Beadle's Hotshots, prefigured the monster success that user-generated content would have with the advent of Youtube. I videotaped every single episode of Beadle's Hotshots, and I would watch them and rewatch them. Granted, it was essentially a less esoteric, naughty and cool version of Adam Buxton's Takeover TV, but it was amateurs, with cameras, making really stupid short sketches, and when I watched, I thought, I could do that.

I couldn't, as it happened. Even the appalling 'punchlines', palsied camerawork and leaden performances drastically outshone anything I'd ever produced on the family camcorder, mainly because they kept things simple. But - in my favourite clips at least - the people involved were clearly having a great time pissing around and being silly, and I loved that. A lot of coolness, for me, has always been about not appearing too bothered about what other people think - not in a drink medicine, shit your pants and bellow racist epithets at pigeons way, just in a 'I don't mind if you think I'm silly' way. Anyway, that show meant a lot to me growing up, and it was fronted by the Beadmeister.

Watching a recent 'the greatest TV pranks of all time' clip show, where the pranks in question were chosen and presented by Jeremy Beadle, I was impressed to see that, as number one, he'd chosen Brass Eye, noting that, although it'd caused a lot of controversy, he thought it was peerlessly hilarious. I was surprised at his choice, but it made me respect him, and believe that, despite the fact that the closest he got to gags during his You've Been Framed links was alliteration (Harry Hill is effortlessly superior), he'd got a good sense of humour.

Add to this the fact that, over his lifetime, Beadle raised a reported £100 million plus for charity, and you can't help but wonder just what it was that inspired such hatred, to the extent that the British public voted him their second most loathed person, after Saddam Hussein.

Then you watch a couple of clips from Beadle's About, and oooooh. The penny drops.

The most common modus operandi of Beadle's About was basically: pretend to rob working class person of their livelihood. Laugh at their despair. Reveal the con, and GIVE THEM NOTHING.

Watch Beadle's face after about 0:50: 'Dave Hughes is a market trader. He parked his van, full of his entire business stock, on the quayside at the Docklands Sailing Centre.' Listen to him trying to disguise his mirthful contempt as he says the words 'entire business stock'. Then remember that, at the time of recording, he was a millionaire.

What are we laughing at, exactly? Dave Hughes' howls of genuine anguish as he sees his ability to make a living destroyed in a single stroke? The ridiculous good grace and calmness with which he tries to deal with it? What kills me is how pathetically grateful he is after the 'reveal'. Brilliant. Everything I've worked so hard for hasn't been snatched away by blasé arseholes with more money than me. Maybe Thatcher's Britain does work.

Jeremy Beadle, you brought me a lot of happiness. But you really were a tactless wanker.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


I've been threatening for a while now to do a post about my favourite website, Metafilter. But the pressure of actually putting something together that would adequately sum up why I love it, while encouraging others to go and check it out - the amount of time it'd take me to put that kind of post together - always stayed my hand.

Until today.

In a nutshell, Metafilter is a community blog where people post links on the front page to examples of what they consider to be 'The Best Of The Web'. This might consist of various takes on a current news story, or various websites shedding light on some interesting historical event, or just some kooky or fascinating youtube video. Site members (or Mefites, to give them their proper title) can then discuss the posts in a thread underneath. It's not that the format is totally unique (Fark, Digg and Boingboing all do similar things) but that the quality of posts and comments is especially high. There are a lot of literate, well-informed contributors who make the front page posts and ensuing debates well worth a browse.

I check Metafilter every day, and through it I have discovered pretty much all of my favourite things on the Internet, from shows like This American Life and Jake and Amir to brilliant webcomics like Nedroid, Dinosaur Comics, Hark! A Vagrant, A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible and MS Paint Adventures. Ooh! And Minus! Have you ever read Minus? It's a webcomic about an omnipotent little girl. It's over now. Iit was quite sad and unsettling in places. It's well worth a squiz!

But the reason I decided to post about Metafilter today was this post I read yesterday, in the 'Ask Metafilter' section of the site. 'Ask Metafilter' is like a non-imbecilic version of Yahoo Answers, allowing posters to draw on the wisdom on the MeFi Hivemind for help with everything from 'I think my boyfriend is cheating on me' to 'Is it safe to eat this?'

Yesterday, I read this:

Facing death: I have received a medical estimate of dying within a year, but this is known only to me (within my circle of family and friends, including my wife). I am so lost as to how to break the news in a caring, non-stressful way.

A chap finds himself at this incredible juncture in his existence, and he turns to a bunch of strangers for the internet for help. I don't think of myself as an especially glurgey person, but this got me right in the gut. I'm sorry he's in this situation. It puts all my ludicrous neuroses into extreme perspective. I hope he and his loved ones are able to spend some precious time together now, and I hope he is able to work through this incredibly difficult, surreal and (I use this term in its non-religious sense) sacred period in his life.

What would you do if you knew you had a year to live? Where would you go? Who would you want to spend time with? What things would you want to talk about? What problems would seem less like problems?

Because we've all got a year, really. It's just that some people's year will last a little longer than others'.

The classic AskMeFi thread is this one: Life-altering experiences. Can you point to a single experience in your life, as a child, which you can define as having contributed to the person you are today? The stories, big and small, that come pouring out are riveting.

And for slightly more unconventional entertainment, may I suggest the quasi-legendary (at least amongst members) Metafilter mushroom thread. In it, poster MiHail botches a front page post about a cashier's ignorance regarding portobello mushrooms, acts really shittily when people call her out on making a crap post, then the pile-on of snark and sarcasm begins. Eventually it transpires MiHail is having chemo and isn't very well... The thread is from 2005 and by February 2006 she had died while waiting for her third liver transplant. Mefites respond with the customary mark of mourning in a thread - a single full stop.

Anyway, that's all I'll say for now. I'm off to tell some special people how much I love them.


Monday, 7 September 2009

We Can't All Be Astronauts Shortlisted For East Anglian Book Awards

So We Can't All Be Astronauts has been shortlisted for East Anglian Book of the Year 2009. You can see who else is on the shortlist here.

That's exciting, isn't it? I feel very chuffed that the judges liked it. Hopefully a few more readers will stumble across it as a result. I'll be spinning some yarns from Astronauts at this month's Homework, on Wednesday 30th September at Bethnal Green Working Men's Club. Homework is Aisle16's regular literary cabaret night, with a mix of poetry, stand-up, music, literature, and pretty much anything else we can think of. We've had Kate Nash and Tim Key as previous special guests, and this month's special guest is someone we're all very much looking forward to, since all of Aisle16 are big fans. I'll let you know who in a couple of days...

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Wait, No - This Is What I Did On My *Actual* Holidays

I haven't been on holiday, on an actual, bona fide, you're-here-to-relax-not-to-do-work vacation, since I was in sixth form. This is partly because I'm very lucky to do a job that I enjoy, nay love, that sees me heading off to all sorts of interesting places, and a whole slew of festivals, and getting paid to do so. I often feel like I'm a bit on holiday. Even when I have to fill in applications or calculate tax returns, I rarely feel under the cosh because I largely get to dictate the terms under which I do them, I'm at home with a cup of tea and my own music, and it's in the service of stuff I care about (creative stuff and me), rather than marginally advancing the interests of a multinational insurance conglomerate.

But by the same token, I rarely feel like I'm totally off-duty. There's always work that can be done - right now I have a chapter of the next book that should have already been finished, I've got a new performance poem I should have learned, another I want to rewrite, and there are three uke tunes sans lyrics that I want to finish and try out in music sets. That's all stuff outside of the tasks that are taking up my day-to-day workload at the moment, and I feel a bit twitchy if I can't check my email multiple times a day, even on weekends. Let me make my position clear as an unmuddied lake sir - I'm not complaining. I feel very grateful that I get to lead the lifestyle I do and I wouldn't want to go back to office drudgery for the world. All I'm saying is, it gets a bit muddled, without a clear dividing line between work and play.

So anyways, on a whim, in fact, a super-whim, I ended up booking a four-day trip to Tuscany in August. Then I bought a book on Tuscany to find out where we were actually going, and if there was anything worthwhile there. Of course there was. (click on pics for big versions)

This is a detail from the plinth of a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi in Pisa. Garibaldi was a military commander who believed in universal sufferage, an end to the dominance of the Church, and the unification of an independent Italy. The Garibaldi biscuit was named after him, after he turned up in Tyneside in 1854 and acted all matey with the working classes, who saw him as something of a hero and gave him a sword. Garibaldis are pretty fucking blah biscuits if you ask me - only elderly misanthropes and the mentally subnormal would count them amongst their top five.

Yep. The Leaning Tower. And me doing a goofy clichéd posed like the soulless whore-ist I truly am. We flew into Pisa Airport, and it was a case of either deliberately ignoring the Leaning Tower for the whole time, or sucking it up and embrace our inner ersatz sightseers. The tower leans because the local soil it's built on is soft and silty - awesome for putting a tent up on, not so great for supporting a massive heavy cylinder. They actually corrected some of its lean a few years back, after fears it was going to topple over. Apparently it's now close to the angle it stood at in the nineteenth century. I'm not sure I care that much, but I was glad I went to see it. It looked pretty cool up close. Also there were tat stalls everywhere, and after some frankly disappointing encounters with souvenir vendors it was gratifying to see a decent range of proper genuine tat, often only tangentally related to the Tower, occasionally completely irrelevant, like big ass knives. 'Oh hey peach, I went to the Leaning Tower of Pisa and I brought you back this massive blade. Enjoy!'

Some of my favourite time was spent drinking and not attempting to achieve anything worthy at all. We camped in Marina di Pisa, which is a coastal resort area just outside Pisa, developed under Mussolini in the 30s and largely populated by retirees who bring their chairs out onto the street at night and sit and chat, staring out across the Mediterranean. And who can blame them?

There are some rocky beaches, then a whole series of cramped, sandy private beaches which you're supposed to pay to use. One belonged to the campsite, so we got to use that free. I want to tell you it was tacky and grim, but I had a lovely time. Sure, it made me appreciate how lucky we are in Britain to have some beautiful, expansive public beaches, but at the same time the blue, cloudless sky, the blazing sun and the warm, lapping ocean made me appreciate how lucky I was not to be stuck in Skegness. In the morning, the camping site staff would lug a big speaker down onto the beach, which promptly started blaring out pounding Eurodisco. Just what you need while you're dozing quietly - something to wake that nascent hangover fizzing in your cranium! I soon got over my dismay, however, when I realised that the music signalled the start of aqua aerobics. A girl from the site stood on the shore doing various punchy-clappy moves, while people in the sea faced her and tried to keep up. I joined in, even though I was pretty much the only male involved for most of it. Even though most of her moves looked suitable for the over-65s, I was struggling to keep pace after a while, perhaps because I was standing in chest-deep water, because I wanted to be behind most of the participants so they couldn't see me.

After seven each evening, staff rolled out matting and the beach became a boozy night spot. There was a cocktail bar up the top and lots of big candles. I really enjoyed getting pissed there, even if it was incredibly cheesy, the mood underscored by endless smooth ambient dance tracks with bizzarely literal lyrics pacing the ongoing reality like 'We're on a beach / the sun is setting / so warm and beautiful / it's the evening and we're here with each other'. I know. Fucking shut up and help me pour this Southern Comfort down my throat.

There were a whole messload of lizards in the campsite. This pic is of a baby one. They're very cute and amazing up close, but they move like shit off a greased shovel and I wouldn't have appreciated waking up with one skittering round the tent or gnashing at my exposed corneas. Not one bit!

So we did a day trip to Florence, and when we crossed over the bridge to south of the River Arno, we found this cluster of padlocks chained to the railings, as if they'd accrued there like weird barnacles. As far as I could tell, each padlock seems to have the name of a couple written on it. Perhaps they're sort of like carving your names into a tree - only shitloads of couples have done it now, so it's like a vast ungainly schmaltz orgy, with the original lovers buried corroding and forgotten beneath the ever-growing heap of new ones. Sort of like a metaphor for how we eventually forget about and in our turn are forgotten by everyone we've ever known or cared about, smothered by a procession of newer, shinier people and memories. That might not sound very romantic, but frankly, if your idea of love is a padlock with no key then you've already set the tone, you shambling co-dependent twatmunch.

Yeah so Florence had some architecture and art and all that jazz and some of the buildings were quite impressive. I was more about the ice cream, though - we hit up gelateri every day, if only to fight back against the intense heat. I had some awesome mango flavoured ice cream, and the Nutella cone I had was a super-strong choice that I feel proud of even as I relate it now. Also, one night in Marina di Pisa I got a delicious seafood pizza that was covered in fresh mussels. By the time I'd finished I had a big stack of shells next to my plate and I was beaming with replete contentment.

So yes, that is my first - and probably only - genuine 'What I Did On My Holidays' post of the entire year. I sweated lots, relaxed, drank too much Diet Coke, often felt deliriously happy, rode buses without tickets, bailed on a half-paid bar tab, and did a whole bunch of other stuff that's none of your goddamn business.