Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shooter's Hill, Autumn

Picture, if you will, a small, oddly shaped bedroom in Plumstead, 1993. The room is roughly square, but the walls curve and kink. The furniture--a desk, some shelves, a wardrobe--has been concientiously adapted to the room with offcuts and glue.Generations of thickly-applied paint have settled like snow on the fastidious edwardian woodwork around the door and window. Through the window you can see a garden that rises steeply: at its summit an asbestos garage stands level with the room, distorted by climbing ivy, gathering darkness, and lumpy, postwar glass.
On the bed sit two boys, one eight, the other ten. They are listening to a small radio. Not so long ago, they would have listened to stories, curled up and cublike. Now they wait for songs. They have favorites, but not the pocket money to buy them. Once, they tried to record them by holding a cassette recorder up to the radio's small speaker. This failed, because the younger one wouldn't stop chattering over everything, singing along, barking like a dog. So they wait, hoping that the unpredictable playlist of Capital radio will bring their songs back around.
The radio--a strange black Sony, with a jagged hole in the plastic of one corner--is propped up against bedside clock covered in stickers from the Young Ornithologists' Club. Their interest in birds passed quickly, just like the dozens of other hobbies that these boys had applied themselves to for a few short days; drawing, carpentry, knitting. The fearsomely armed model-kit warplanes that dangle from strings above held their attention for longer than most; they appealed to the older one's neatness, and the younger one's love of chaos and destruction.
After a time, their mother comes into the room. She persuades them to switch off the radio, the younger one protests effusively while the older one gets into bed. Still protesting, he is half carried, half dragged across the hall to his room, where he runs-hops-leaps into bed (on account of crocodiles). It's not fair, you see, they never play the songs he likes when he listens to the radio.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Me and Kristen were in TK Maxx* today, while she rummaged around for a pair of cheap but wearable shoes. Shoe shopping, generally, is one of my least favorite activies. I don't hate it as much as I hated, say, the process of buying new trousers back when I was a fat bugger, but I do dislike the way shoe shops operate. The whole process can usually goes thusly: First, find a shoe you vaguely like the look of, then spend five minutes trying to get the attention of a clerk. Once this has been achieved you wait five minutes for them to come back with the shoe, at which point you invariably find that the shoe is the wrong size. So you spend a further five minutes waiting for said clerk to return with bigger/smaller size. They then inform you that the shoe is out of stock in your size. Repeat until too bored to think, leave.

It is this process that led me to get my last pair of shoes from marks and spencer (it was a freak event -- I was in there buying some smart clothes and happened to come across some shoes that looked to have been designed for/by someone under the age of seventy).

At TK Maxx you get the simpler approach of just pulling stuff off the shelves, combined with the cheapness of a shop stocked only with things other shops couldn't sell. So Kristen got some cheap new shoes, and I got to marvel at some astoundingly ugly footwear. I took pictures of my favorites

This isn't a particularly unusual boot, until you realize that you're looking at what Doc Martens would have looked like if they were invented in the 19th century. Think of it, victorian skinheads! Twirling their moustaches and moshing to some punk piano rolls.

What you can't see in this picture is just how heavy and inflexible these shoes were. I know they look heavy and inflexible, but they were actually more so. They look like the ideal shoes for people who have a tendency to blow over in strong winds, or take off when they fart.

This shoe is truly the masterpeice of the whole store. I mean, just look at it.What's not to like? It's got inexplicable woodgrain vinyl, a strange photographic print of a forest and a deer, and it's lined with white fake fur! What possible market, what hypothetical consumer group could this shoe have been designed for? Is it for urban ghetto kids who want to express their desire to live in a cabin in the Canadian wilderness? For geezers who secretly want to become gamekeepers in the Scottish highlands? Sadly, this is a mystery we'll never be able to solve, because I don't think anyone will ever buy them.

EDIT: It has just been brought to my attention that the "Deer Shoes" pictured above come in an even uglier hi-top version.


*I have no idea why they changed the name from TJ Maxx to TK Maxx in the UK. I've known two people who've gone by the name TJ, in both cases it was an abbreviation of Tajinder. I can only assume that in focus groups the name TJ Maxx made Londoners think of a Sikh superhero.

Monday, February 08, 2010


I like poetry, I like hearing poetry read even more. You can imagine my glee, therefore, when I found a huge collection of recordings of poets reading their own work. It's here, at PennSound.

I recommend the Allen Ginsburg and the William Carlos Williams.


The Winchester House

I read an article a few weeks ago by a technology writer which asserted, essentially, that the internet used to be lovely, but now it's all gone to shit. I can't remember his name, but he was apparently a big evangelist in the early days of the internet -- one of those people who went on earnest late-night discussion shows and tried to persuade people that the internet (that churning, slowly-loading sea of animated gifs, embedded midi, and browser frames) was going to revolutionize politics, culture, and generally change the course of human history. In his view the modern internet, with all its commercial success, has abandoned the anarchic personalized spaces that made the old internet (web 1.0, if you will) so exciting and powerful.

This isn't something I've ever really given a whole lot of thought, as I'm not really inclined toward nostalgia, but now I think about it, the internet has changed a lot in the last 5 years. However, I don't think that it has got worse -- even if you accept the basic tenet of this bloke's argument (commercial success and user friendliness bad -- a line I hear from hipsters all the time) I don't think it's true that the internet no longer allows for strange and personal spaces as well.

I was reminded of this when I discovered this amusing website. It's rather enigmatic, no idea who wrote it, or why. But it's written with a clear, likable style, and provides an interesting perspective on a subect (the winchester mystery house) that always seemed like it could do with a little more incredulity.