Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Why so serious?

(originally posted on myspace here)

Nearly there. Jonah opens tomorrow at Shunt (or tonight, depending on your sleeping patterns). I haven't performed it in three years, and a number of props were in this pile behind a curtain just outside my room. Be happy you just have to scroll...


A pleasingly large proportion turned up (and much more: most interesting find, twelve embracing artist's mannequins in a plastic bag. No idea whose.) But the surly, blue bum-face I wear as a cherub turns out to be even more squashed and brittle than I remember. I tried to work it open with some vaseline but it simply unravelled. And now my clothes look like the kind of evidence that might send Bill Clinton to the chair.

Tonight's subject line, meanwhile, refers of course to the tag-line Warner Brothers have been using to advertise the HOLY SHIT BATMAN suicide of Heath THE JOKER Ledger out OF NOWHERE months before his WHAT!... which I learnt about from Miss Meikle over the phone by the Thames at eleven... So eat THAT death, you "Britney six moths to live" byline writers (I don't actually know what a byline is. I don't actually know what I'm talking about. But all the stars are bursting. God damn.)

And not since Diana died have I so stingingly, instantly felt: "Now this is going to be interesting..."

But poor Heath.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Notes towards a definition of Mastodon

(originally posted on myspace here)

On Tuesday I'm going to record a voiceover for a "documentary for the Sci Fi Channel". That's all I know so far and I'm simultaneously very excited and sure I shouldn't be since I've no idea what the Sci Fi Channel actually documents. Nevertheless yesterday found me pacing the floor of Plague fruitlessly speculating which words I might be called upon to intone ("Cosmos" was one I hoped for. "Shelley" another.) And then in the evening, changing the subject somewhat, I went over to John Finnemore's where the conversation among those assembled inevitably turned to the root of the word "Mastodon"... "something teeth" was as far as we got before Robbie looked it up: And a mastodon, it turns out, is an extinct straight-backed elephant, slightly smaller than the Mammoth, whose teeth "exhibit a pattern of cone-shaped cusps ideal for browsing". Which must be why the committee of paleontologists called together to name this lesser mammoth settled on the name "Nipple Teeth". That's what "Mastodon" means. That is the lesser mammoth's defining characteristic according to those namers. It's teeth look like tits.

And does anyone remember those Italian Scientists who published research into the number of glasses of wine you should drink a day? Four, they'd discovered. They sound fun too.


Sunday, 6 January 2008

Brittle Sticky Liquid Issues

(originally posted on myspace here)

No photos for a while I'm afraid, as I dropped my phone into some coffee this morning heading out onto the floor of the Dungeons and all I can get it to do now is either vibrate or electrocute me, I'm not quite sure which it is. I was at a party the night before in Hammersmith. It was very good indeed but left me lolloping quite a bit. Laurence and Gus were there and it turned out that the Abraham and Isaac sketch I'd written for them had been recorded after all, nothing was censored, so hooray. That'll teach me. Apparently it's fine with Radio 4 listeners to pick holes in the OLD Testament as long as you're not making fun of Jesus. "And," as Laurence points out "the appearance of God automatically makes everything cartoony".


Morgan meanwhile, Morgan from next door, he has been censored. His hoardings-based portrait of Da Vinci with the lobster claws, and the slogan "THE WORLD NEEDS A PAINTBRUSH AND A HUG" have now been - a little ironically - painted over by the builders. In their place can now be seen a number of large colourless slabs that make the Tate's Rothko room look like the Wide Awake Club. Or they did until Morgan joined them up to form a large, grey smiley face.

And speaking of large, grey smiley faces I've started searching for "latex masks" on ebay. I do recommend it. There's a cornucopia of cheap, weird heads out there. I was sourcing materials for Jonah Non Grata because the "Constipation" mask I used to wear to play a cherub is now pretty much unusable. I used to fill it with Greek Yoghurt so my head would be good and gooey for the scene inside the whale, but now it's gone brittle and cracks. And electrocutes you. Okay it doesn't but I don't really understand latex and they don't make that mask any more, so I'll probably have to find a new face for the cherub. And here's a very small sample of the current ebay front-runners. See?


Friday, 4 January 2008


Ahhhhh, "Credit Squeeze" says the radio, and as a "sup-prime" I skirt blithely like a coyote in a batsuit around my overdraft limit of whatever it is and look around me to see what I might sign up to next. Inspired perhaps by the jumper my parents have bought me for Christmas I investigate the Campaign for Real Ale and a copy of the "London Drinker" that I picked up in an pub in High Barnet. I don't really know anything about CAMRA to be honest, but I do know that any organization so clearly estranged from the insidious influence of marketing and homogenised thought as to produce an advert as impenetrable as this...

... is clearly onto something. Or rather not. Which is the point. Surely these cosy, beardy, sedentary men who drink "Santa's Wobble" are more like the kind of guys I should be hanging out with than the shiny-eyed zeitgeist pilots I find myself drinking with at Shunt.

But then I come across the obituaries. 
There are two, and while they're both written with obvious affection for their subjects, they also contain quite substantial cause for qualm. I'm reprinting here only those details that led me to reconsider which is of course grossly unfair to the dead men in question, but... sorry:

Andrew Cifton, I never knew you. It says here that you were found dead in your home "aged just 56 years and 5 months". It says you "had a heart of gold and will be sadly missed." It says you were "the bane of present and past CAMRA national chairmen, given to heckling at meetings whenever a perceived injustice frustrated him, often culminating in a theatrical storming-out, with a tirade of invective, and occasionally having to return to collect a jacket (or cuddly toy) that he had left behind!" It says "Unwelcome questions that he didn't wish to answer were often fielded with a shrug of the shoulders, while if he was unhappy about something, he would mutter away about it under his breath."

And "'Arry" Hart... It says here that many stories were shared about you in the Sultan in Tooting after your funeral on 22 October. It says many precious memories were shared by "Sue". It says you were "a very private person whom few would have known closely, except when riled, as he could be." It says "When things were promised and those promises broken, he would become quite vocal after a few beers. The spelling lesson in Dudley when he was refused orders after 2am will live in everyone's memory. I remember Sue had to take him back to the room quickly. On another occasion he flew into a righteous lather on the Isle of wight when told he could not redeem tokens he'd been promised were redeemable."

A deep, dark mirror...

So now I'm thinking of joining these guys instead:

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Rigidly Defined Areas of Doubt and Uncertainty (A New Year's Thinky Bin Clear-out)

(originally posted on myspace here)

Hooh! Sorry about the absence. You want a piece of me? Okay here we go. Here's Herne Hill at five in the morning. I can't now remember why I went out. Yes I can. I'd slept in late after the last night of the pantomime and wanted some air. The fog was a bonus actually. I wasn't the only silhouette knocking around at that hour but, kid, I was monarch of all I surveyed:


And here's where I did my Christmas shopping the following morning:


And here's how I got there:


You couldn't see further than the length of a plane that day (a unit of measurement I was entertaining because I had to fly to France the next day). I walked blindly but with grace through the gates of Greenwich park, found an incline and made my way up to the observatory where I pottered cap in hand about the space exhibits freshly reminded of how little I really knew about the old place... I know less about space now than I would if I were five. For example there are officially NOT nine planets now: a five-year-old will know this but it's not what I was taught. And while I'm finally big enough to make my presence felt at the interactive exhibits I'm now too big to get my knees under the desk. So I just walk on, past all the education, and have a go on the meteorite instead. That is, I touch it. "This is the oldest object you will ever touch!" says the sign. So it's even older than the Earth. There is of course absolutely no way of being able to tell this by just touching it however, an obvious but still disappointing reality.

Happy New Year by the way. I hope anyone reading this is well and rested and has cleared up a bit rather than just burning a bit of incense like God's going to decide to come down and do the hoovering. All four of us in the house have beards now. A pit was dug in the garden for New Year's Eve, fifteen pits'orth of found firewood stacked beneath the fairy lights, didgeridoos and twelve-string guitars brought out, friends invited and, unlike the last time we tried this, nobody got branded. I'd popped up to my room quite early on, intent on putting this post to bed in time for my New Year's resolution (at least one post every two days, regardless of whether or not I have anything to say: the whole point of this blog was to wring some kind of thinking out of me) and accidentally went to bed. Well I'd had a busy day: By noon I had already stocked up on smoked salmon, run a bath, finished "The Drowned and the Saved" and impulse-bought four videos from Barnado's for 95p (an anachronistic indulgence that included Derek Jarman's back projections from a Pet Sop Boys' tour, and two episodes of this:
- the proto-Booshian, secret-identity-rockstar classic "Jem" whose opening song's manhole-facilitated hijacking by the Misfits kicks every ounce as much ass as I remember). I was woken in time for midnight though by Jamie banging on a steel drum with a cane (someone clearly knew that drum was going to come in handy when they dumped it in the corridor nine months ago) and even though we were going by the kitchen clock which is set four minutes early so that people don't miss their trains which I've never really understood, it was an exemplary social gathering. Glamour and glitter. Fashion and fame.

Hooh! continued: I actually started this post back in Languedoc, where I spent Christmas with the parents, where the birdseed is daily replenished, where the air is clear and the land quite flat, but not so flat you can't pop up a ridge to catch sight of the snow on the Pyrenees (so as my Dad pointed out we had snow for Christmas). And I gave my Dad a book of morally fortifying Magic Lantern slides. Here's one:


Here, rather shockingly, is the next (it was a simpler time):



And Santa gave me "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, which I'm tucking into now and finding as problematic as expected (see Jun 19: "Heaven's full of Machines" passim, won't you). It really is a very long-winded and patronizing piece of writing. And I can't agree that the question "Does God exist?" is scientifically important (see Sep 21: "Qui Makey Ipsum Makeyman?" or whatever it was called, passeeeem). I don't believe in God, mine is a vast and Godless Universe and that's fine, but (or maybe "therefore") I can't conceive how his existence might change what scientists should investigate, how they should investigate it, or how any of us should behave towards each other? Also… as nasty, wretched and wrong as atheism's enemies are I can't agree with Dawkins that religion is my "enemy" either, any more than I can agree that sculpture is my "enemy", or football. Religion is a form of assembly. It's a subject for art, it's a medium. Where does the imagination fit into all this? Somewhere surely, and at the risk of sounding quisling, the question "GIVEN that God clearly doesn't exist, WHY do people believe in him?" is probably a lot more interesting than Dawkins' answer "Because they haven't grown out of it" suggests, although I can agree that people should be given every opportunity to quit (which is what this book purports to give, so good on it I suppose). The numerous examples he cites of institutional oppression meted out to the opponents of hokum are unbelievably depressing – and I'm only a hundred pages in - but what do they prove? Clive James once wrote that a ban on televised beauty contests would do nothing to stop thick ladies wanting to turn up on the telly in their bikinis. He was spot on, and I rather feel the same way about religion and tribal violence... Anyway the real problem I have with the book is its tone, and it's not a superficial problem. As I mentioned earlier I'd just been lent "The Drowned and the Saved" by Primo Levi and – I wasn't actually lent it by Primo Levi, sorry... – and baffling as religious belief is, Levi's writing rings out with insight into a subject no less baffling as the direct result it seems to me of the tone he feels obliged to adopt. At no point do you feel he's writing to give anyone an erection. His tone is angry but not insulting, impartial but not agnostic, respectful but unwavering, and it's this tone that's missing from Dawkins. That's all I'm asking for really, insight. Sound like a scientist. Surprise me. As I said though I'm only a hundred pages in.

And I should probably declare a couple of interests as well, in the spirit of looking back:


I once fell in love with a woman who told me she spoke to God. And I don't believe in God but I didn't believe she was lying and I didn't believe she was wrong. No, I quite happily entertained two completely incompatible cosmic attitudes, and that decision seemed at the time the closest I've ever come to Being In Love: She had her cosmos, I had mine, an attitude that would probably strike Dawkins as detestable intellectual cowardice, but Love is an act of faith as I've written before (I can't agree with the idea that falling in love and monogamy are Darwinian chemical imperatives... if they were everyone would live happily ever after and the Earth would shine like the sun). Love is unprovable. That's why weddings normally happen in churches, and are normally frightening. And why this woman's religion made it so much easier for me to go "Right, I love her", although my atheism made it so impossible for her (let's say... let's just say that was the reason). It's also why I began to find going to weddings so hard.

Then there was that sketch I wrote for Laurence and Gus in a lunch break a couple of weeks back (I've never written a sketch so quickly... I'm sure that's a good sign) the sketch about Abraham and Isaac that opened with "And on the seventh day God rested. And on the eighth day, God rested. And on the ninth day, God rested, and so he basically rested, and then drowned everyone and invented the rainbow. And then rested," a sketch that was pretty clearly not going to be recorded, although it went down very well at the read-through. Actually I should check up on that. I couldn't make the last recording as I was doing the pantomime (It was based on Pride and Prejudice, I was the baddie, the second time in two months I've been asked to wear green tights). I should also state that it's only the commission to write for Laurence and Gus that got me turning this stuff out in the first place, but if it hasn't been recorded then hooray, I can proudly count myself among the Censored Satirists. I mean it was a funny sketch. I mean she did love me. It's just… you know, religion.

Michael's wedding was lovely though. That's what I said I'd write about in this post, didn't I. The reception was a month ago now and took place in a huge brick hall in Wapping that had once been responsible, so I was told, for powering every hydraulic theatre curtain in the West end. Its floor was covered with leaves and bare trees had been installed in a downstairs chamber where flamenco dancers served mulled wine. What can I say about it? It was a month ago. It was not frightening. I was sat with friends. We danced. It was hilarious.


And I'll leave you, in the spirit of looking forward, with a New Year's message from the celebrated, short-sleeved turkeyperson Arthur C. Clarke. I found this pinned to a board in the Carnegie Library. Enjoy the sunshine, wherever you are...

"Our galaxy is now in the brief springtime of its life – a springtime made glorious by such brilliant blue-white stars as Vega and Sirius. Not until all these have flamed through their incandescent youth, in a few fleeting billions of years, will the real history of the universe begin. It will be a history illuminated by the reds and infra-reds of dully glowing stars, visible only to whatever strange beings have adapted to their light. Before them will lie not the billions of years in which we measure eras of our geology, but years to be counted literally in trillions...


"They will have time enough, in those endless aeons, to attempt all things, and to gather all knowledge. They will not be like gods, because no gods imagined by our minds have ever possessed the powers they will command. But for all that, they may envy us, basking in the bright afterglow of Creation; for we knew the Universe when it was young."


Yes. Happy New Year