Tag Archives: Hackney

Tough on clever, tough on the causes of clever

It may not surprise you to learn that I was a voracious reader as a kid, with a book addiction far beyond what my pocket-money and the resources of my relatives could support. The kind of child who reacted with delight rather than groans to gifts of book tokens each birthday and Christmas, one who always had a well-maintained ‘to read’ list close at hand.

But we were never mega-rich and – without wanting to recreate the Four Yorkshiremen sketch – birthdays and Christmases didn’t seem to roll around fast enough back then. So the local library saved us. I got enough to read and nobody went bankrupt buying me books. Getting my first library card felt like a huge deal, for the promise it held and perhaps most of all, the freedom it offered. My parents would head towards the grown up books while my brother and I would be left in the kid’s section, where we would usually read a couple of books while we were waiting, eventually whittling down a huge pile into the four we were allowed to take out that week. Mum and Dad would cast an eye over our choices and sometimes make suggestions, but I don’t remember anyone ever telling me what to read. For the clever, bookish kid I was, and hopefully still am, it was a little slice of heaven.

That said, I don’t want to you to think that this is some misty-eyed, far off reminiscence. More recently, when I was saving money to retrain as a teacher and come to Japan, quickly realising that the whole plan would fail unless my bookshop habit was broken, it was Hackney Central Library that came to the rescue. A bit different to the one of my childhood, with its architectural wonder of a building and electronic cards, my inner child still jumped for joy on hearing that you could take out 12 – 12!!! – things at once, including CDs and DVDs. And my outer grown up was incredibly grateful for the ability to renew everything online, especially when having to work late on the day it was all due to be returned. It was a love rekindled.

The final stage of my library romance before I left the UK took place, fittingly you could say, in one of the most beautiful buildings in my home city of Liverpool, the Central Library. I was lucky enough to become a member shortly before it was closed for a major refurbishment, enjoying the atmosphere as much as the books I took home. There has been some disquiet about what the redevelopment plans might mean for the library’s collections as, perhaps inevitably, the focus moves away from the printed word towards providing access to other forms of media. I am inclined to be pragmatic, if that is what is needed to keep the library open, then I am for it.

For it should be clear to all who love borrowing books, even if only as a fond memory, that it faces a grave threat. If today’s children are to have that joy of books revealed to them in the same way, we who love libraries need to join the fight and soon. It seems someone has decided that the handing out of books for free is a luxury from a bygone age that can no longer be afforded. In scenes that call to mind other historical outrages, Brent Council in North London launched a ‘cowardly’ midnight raid on Kensal Rise library, despite a campaign by local residents to save it from closure which made the news as far away as Toronto. Stripping the building of books and furniture, which campaigners say the council had promised to leave behind, as well as removing a plaque commemorating the library’s opening by Mark Twain, are unforgivable acts of cultural vandalism. The forces of stupid have won another victory.

As one commentator on Twitter noted:

I know that you might be thinking that while there are massacres in Syria, police beating protestors in cities from New York to Athens to Cairo, economic meltdowns, actual nuclear meltdowns and a thousand other stories of death and destruction, what difference does it make if some children don’t have access to free books, or pensioners don’t have somewhere to go for a sit down and a chat with friends? Books are the past, baby! Everyone has access to all the libraries of the world via their smartphone, libraries are yesterday’s news.

But no.

The decisions we take today have consequences far beyond what we imagine. At present, with the array of problems – economic, political, environmental, technical – that we face, it is incredibly important that we do not do anything which amps up the stupid any further. We need minds open to discovery, wonder and ideas which break away from the norm. Libraries give us that. Often you find books in libraries which you cannot find anywhere else – as I did when I stumbled across a recent reissue by a long-forgotten Liverpool author and friend of George Orwell, James Hanley, in the Central Library – and crucially, you find things you weren’t expecting when you are looking for something else. That would seem very inconvenient and inefficient to the Google algorithms, I am sure, but I believe that it is essential to human endeavour. The things we discover when we believe we are looking for something else entirely are often the most valuable.

So, join in. Kensal Rise has a ‘Friends of’ group which is seeking to run the library for the benefit of local residents. Perhaps your own local library is also being threatened. Or perhaps it isn’t under threat at all, and is still happily open to the public, but you haven’t visited for ten or twenty years. In which case, I suggest heading down there as soon as is reasonably practical.

You never know what you might find.


Filed under Miniplenty

End of an Era

Since every other mo’-fo’ in the universe has managed to con someone into publishing their list of the best/worst films/songs/artists/Pret-sandwich-fillings of the week/year/decade recently, I thought it only fair that ten minutes hate gave it a go.

Except I’m not going to do anything that scientific.  Instead here is a completely arbitrary and slightly esoteric list of five songs that have made 2009 better.  Tell me if you agree or leave your own suggestions in the comments.  And have a Feliz Ano Nuevo!

1. Nadsroic – All Hot

The FACT magazine mixes have provided me with much enjoyment this year, at a time when saving for Japan has meant spending on music had to dwindle.  (Wanna make me a mixtape?  Get in touch!)  I first heard this as the opener of the Alexander Nut mix, which is now sadly no longer available to download, but you can listen to the song on Nadsroic’s MySpace page here.  And you really must, because it is like nothing else you will have ever heard, all ethereal vocals and thumping drums that will be stuck in your head for ages after.  Then, if you have any cash spare because you’re not moving to the Far East soon, please buy a copy of their EP on my behalf.  Ta.

2. Risque Rhythum Team – The Jacking Zone

Needs no additional words from me, I think, this is just a great slice of classic Chicago house that improved my journeys to work last year by approximately 98%.

3. Quixote ft Lisa Li-Lund – Before I Started to Dance

A splendid chunk of French synth-pop type stuff which puts me in mind of old Source Labs compilations.  Lovely.

4. Coconut Records – West Coast

I love this because of where I was when I first heard it.  Also because I want to be able to skate like Mark Gonzales.

5. Kid Cudi v Crookers – Day ‘n’ Night

So I was standing at the bar in the Dolphin, a bit worse for wear, about 1 am and obviously not nearly worried enough about work later on that morning as I had just got another round in.  This video appeared on the screen behind the bar and within seconds the entire clientele was transfixed.  Yes, it’s cheesy.  Yes, it dents any credibility I earned with the previous four tunes.  But, as I’ve often argued, where would we be without the cheese, people? 

Plus, if you don’t laugh at the glee on his face during the bit with the pen at about 2.39 in, then I’m not sure you’re alive.  Press ‘Play’ if you dare, or just ignore and if we ever meet, let’s not speak of this again…

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Whaaat? Issue #3


Oh yes, just back from the printers and ready for you to peruse.  A mere £1.50 of cold, hard cash and in return you get your hands on Issue 3 of the world’s best fanzine, Whaaat?

Featuring finally crafted graphics and articles from writers including me and this bloke over here, it’s like a night out in the pub with some argumentative bastards in paper form.  Or like a blog you can read on the bog…

Get in touch to get yours now!

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You’re gonna need a bigger boat

If only it stays that calm the whole way round...

May it stay that calm for all the journey...

There are days when I feel I should have the words “epic fail” branded onto my forehead because I have never been anywhere that wasn’t Europe or North America, never travelled anywhere where I didn’t speak the language or knew enough words to get by or wasn’t with people who were fluent.  There are other days where I stare at maps of the world and wonder how I would get to there from here, what would it look like when I arrived and then want to shake myself for my complete lack of a sense of adventure.  I’ve read the books, sure, seen the films and surfed the web.  But as yet, never left the comfortable bubble of the first world, never trekked in a hostile environment where I’m not at the top of the food chain and never climbed a mountain that went above the clouds.  What a terrible state of affairs.

So, then I read about this lady and how she is fearlessly heading off to sail around the world, where there are pirates and sharks and waves the size of a building, in a boat that to my inexpert eyes, seems a trifle, well, tiny.  And all she wants me, and by extension, YOU, to do, is bung her a dollar (so less than the value of proper money, heh) and she’ll do all the scary exploration stuff, with the added bonus of sending regular updates on her adventures and even letting you sign the boat.  This is the very definition of a win-win situation, I feel.  It doesn’t get much better than this.  We get to act like members of the Royal Geographic Society or one of Shackleton’s millionaire backers, someone else gets to battle with the elements.

All pledges need to be made by 31 August, so take a look at the website here and get pledging.  Then sit back in your most comfortable armchair, perhaps light a soothing pipe, read your favourite book and glory in the knowledge that you don’t have to go anywhere more threatening than Shoreditch High Street on a Friday night.  Perfect.

I found out about this great adventure via the lovely ladies at No Good for Me, your ultimate fashion mix-tape.  Hopefully this post is grovelly enough to win me a whistle, as I plan to use it to alert my close acquaintances to the presence of suitable candidates  for ridicule on this website.

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Rampant anti-hipsterism

I have been having a lot of fun in recent weeks taking the mickey out of the hipper inhabitants of my neighbourhood.  Ripping them for their lack of irony, helping a friend to surreptitiously take pictures of overly sincere straw boater-wearing, which may end up on here soon.  And I am not the only one.  It is becoming the last acceptable form of abuse: hipsterism.  Yes, I am unashamedly hipsterist.

There are two universal truths.  1. No one ever thinks they are a hipster.  2. Everyone hates a hipster.

Even the word itself is a bastardisation.  The original Beatniks of San Francisco’s North Beach used ‘hip’ amongst themselves as a badge of cool, to be hip was a good thing, usually involving ready access to a good supply of marijuana and an air of knowing which way the wind blew.  Kerouac himself preferred the team ‘Beat’, reckoning that it had an air of ‘beatific’ about it, seeing a holiness and saintliness in his friends that they probably never realised they displayed:

a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way—a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America—beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction

They used ‘hippie’ as a derogatory term, to mock the younger influx to the west coast in the sixties, feeling they were more about the look and the slang than the way of life, too caught up in tuning in, turning on and dropping out to look beyond the superficial at the mind expansion so beloved of their elders.  Now the word has returned for the noughties, back and ready to be used to deride a new generation.

But why bother hating on them anyway?  Isn’t it a soft target when there are fiddling MPs and evil bankers to concentrate on?  Why bother kicking the so obviously down already?

The attitude that wearing the right shoes is a substitute for personality needs to be challenged at every turn.  If it is true, as Nick Hornby said in High Fidelity, that what you like is more important than what you are like, we are in trouble.  There is some pretty heavy shit coming down the pass at us and, if all we have to throw back at it are some people with exquisite taste in vintage clothing and not much else, then we are fucked.  Doomed, I tell you, by our own shallowness.  It is beautiful to express your own nature in the clothes you wear and the lifestyle you choose, this is freedom in its rawest form (‘I am what I am!’) but when it comes as a substitute for rational thinking, it needs to be questioned.  If the Iranians could see how lightly we take our freedoms and how easily we surrender them, would they still be fighting so hard to win their own?

Huge things are going on in the world but the hipster vision is about limiting horizons, ignoring focus on anything that isn’t the self.  There is a spirited defence of the hipster mind state here, which suggests that many possess ‘creative analytical thinking abilities’.  If so, it must be time to use them.  It is not healthy to be so self-absorbed, nor is it healthy to hang out in tribes with people who think exactly as you do.  It is a tragedy to ignore your capacity to transform the world because you are too occupied in clambering up the greasy pole to uber-hipsterdom.  The style exists, but is useless without the substance.  So achieve something too.  Write the book, make the movie, start that band.  Or have those dreams on one side while you crack on with sorting out corrupt politicians, our screwed economy and world hunger.  Demonstrate that you are made of more than a ‘complicated’ haircut and an ability to follow trends.  Make life about more than being an advertiser’s wet dream.  Then I and all the others will have to find something else to hate.


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Normal service resumed

In a bar last night, the DJ played Pulp’s Common People and the crowd, a drunken mass of former St Martins sculpture graduates, sang along without a shred of self-awareness to cause them disquiet.  I felt like pointing out that he was singing at them, not for them, that if you called your Dad he could stop it all, you could stop pretending to enjoy yourselves in these dingy bars, where the smoking ban did more harm than good because now there is no fresh nicotine smoke to mask the smell of the bar, and flee to Fulham where you suspect you would secretly be happier and leave me to enjoy Shoreditch the way it used to be before people like you “discovered” it.

Luckily I managed to resist the urge, which is why I am now sitting here typing these words and not in the Royal London having my spleen stitched back together.  It rarely pays to be the one to point out the ironies of the day, just ask Juvenal.  So instead I sit there in seething misanthropy, before fleeing the place to write something nasty about the clientele on the Internet.  Much braver, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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They met on a crowded dance floor, swapped greetings, pretend-clinked their plastic pints.

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I heard someone was playing.  Name of Dando?”

“Yeah, it’s Evan Dando!”

“I know.”  He laughed.  “It was a joke.”

She walked off.

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The eternal catwalk of life

The girls cross at the lights, weaving in and out of the cars diagonally over the road.  Their heels are vertiginous, six inches at least; they walk as if en pointe.  Mostly they stride, as if born to walk on tiptoes, but there is one, tripping along after her friends, who already looks sunk.  It is the early part of the evening, the sun has yet to set over the 333 and you can tell that she is feeling them, with every step so conscious of how she places her feet.  The kerb almost catches her adrift as she has to negotiate the change in camber, moving as if the pavement slab was Beecher’s Brook.  The look on her face is trepidation with a dash of terror. 

She is the exception, though; most of the girls strut along the eternal catwalk of life.  They trot, skip, run even, some of the bolder ones, all on heels and platforms that look as if they were never dreamt of for moving any further distance than that between chair and bed.  They are fuck-me-shoes, the modern equivalent of bound feet perhaps, they are ruining their backs and their calves, they look amazing, they give every man within range a concrete hard on.  All the arguments for and against stack up, but it can’t be denied: they do look amazing.

Then I remember, this is an evening of gigs, we are attending, ladies.  Not the Met Gala.  There will be broken glass, discarded bottles and cracked plastic cups under foot within moments.  How will you negotiate darkened dance floors strewn with unloved flyers and trailed loo roll?  How are you going to flit between venues when you can’t feel the blood in your toes?  How much vodka will you need to drink to still be dancing at 2am? 

Which is truly sexier: standing in front of the stage yelling for one more tune because damn it, you aren’t ready to go yet or sending your miserable boyfriend out to find a taxi because damn it, you’re not moving one more step?

Then I look down at my battered, once-white pumps, look back up across the road at the girl limping behind her friends, realise the answer and softly laugh to myself.

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The way to work

On the way to work I see two people sitting in the park, looking into each other’s eyes.  A tender moment, I think, aaah.  Then as the bus moves on, I notice a can of Special Brew in her hand, one arm resting behind his back along the bench.  I wonder what we must look like to them, the business woman walking past with firm stride and hand clasped on her laptop bag, me on the bus reluctantly off to sit at a desk for eight hours.

Who are the daft ones?  Which the most wasted?

People are funny as they go to work; some walk like they are on a mission, purposefully.  Others grudgingly, music on, lost to their surroundings but hating every step that takes them closer to the office.

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Friday morning call to arms

Update to advise that this might be worth a look…

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