Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 2 (floodlight failure)

February 1st

I takes me about a week and a half to shoot a roll of black and white film with my old Olympus 10. Another four or five days to get it developed at the shop around the corner from where I work in Brussels, and another few days before I get around to scanning any of the pictures. My intention is to start putting some of the photos up on facebook (and here) to form a dislocated real time lifestream - dislocated by two and a half weeks.

We will start with Friday night,the 1 February.

We are in an African bar in Brussels 'L'horloge du Sud', on the borderline between the congolese bit of the city and the Eurocrat quarter. Itdoesn't actually have any African people in it as far as I can tell, apart from the people working there and two guys unpacking some musical instruments in a corner.

But it does have, pictured here, Lorenzo, a glam rock singer, and Kat, a violinist, ringing Toby to try to pursuade him to join us (he didn't)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Conversation about doom music, Throbbing Gristle and Nico

I went around to my mate Nigel's house tonight - he had got two tickets for a Miko Vainio gig at Cafe Dalston in January so I went to give him the money for my one.

He put on a Miko Vainio CD.  It is stop-start.  No vocals or drums. A long piece of feedback mixed up with what seems like an electronicly generated noise which is like a long slowed down hooter.   Except apparently the noises aren't electronically generated - they are done with a guitar and effects pedals.  From time to time the noises suddenly intensify.  His cat didn't like it.  She was fidgety on the sofa.

So he switched it off and put  Animal Collective on (he had been to see them at the Roundhouse - said they were fantastic).  A melodic singer, drums, but in the middle a kind of ambience of swirly interesting electronic sounds,  in the place where the driving guitars would be in a rock band.

He put on a CD by Earth, and taled about a gig he had seen at the Union Chapel.  Said Earth were the first doom band.  Like heavy metal only slowed down almost to a standstill.  The guitarist would play a long low note and would hold it and hold it.  The drummer appeared to be in slow motion.  Nigel had gone on his own and drunk Camomile tea instead of beer at the gig, just to absorb it all.  His mate had speeded up an Earth LP and reported the drummer's rythymns are very complex, but you can't detect the complexity at the usual playing speed.

Then he talked about another doom band - Sun O)))) .   He saw them at Camden Koko.  A guitarist and bass guitarists.  Playing long deep notes on their guitars.  No drums or vocals. He said there was nowhere you could get away from the noise. Conversation was impossible, it invaded your whole nervous system.

I told him I had never really grasped what Throbbing Gristle was about.  He said he doesn't listen to it anymore but it made a huge impression on him at the time.  It was a whole package, no-one had done anything like it before.  They had a porn star in the band (Cosey Fanni) who carried on with her porn career in parallel with the music career.  Three of the band used to do performance art before the band started up.  Not very nice performance art - blood, semen etc.   He said they are going to release the last album they did which was a cover of one of Nico's albums.  Apparently Throbbing Gristle wanted to work with Nico a couple of decades back but it never transpired.

We talked about Nico.  I have still got her Chelsea Girl LP on vinyl (bought when I was 17 and I tried to get hold of anything that Morrissey mentioned or said he liked).  He said that Nico had very little artistic control over Chelsea Girl.  The producer put cheesy strings as the backdrop to it.  After that she did three LPs with John Cale and Brian Eno, and it is one of the collaborations with Cale and Eno that Throbbing Gristle have covered.

Nigel out on the third of these LPs then the second.  The famous Nico voice, and in the background experimental sounds.  'Eno having a laugh'.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Smiths Xmas quiz

You don't need me, or John Lewis, to tell you that The Smiths are an essential part of everyone's christmas.  So while you are waiting to see whether you get what you want tomorrow (for the first time?), here is a little quiz.   The topic is dreams, and may you all have sweet ones.

1)  In what Smiths song does Morrissey sing of his most painful dream (and what made it so painful?)

2) If we are to believe the lyrics of Smiths songs:
   a) what event triggered the first of Morrissey's dreams?
   b) what was Morrissey's most recent dream about?
   c) what would Morrissey do if you sent him your pillow?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Two self-help books I would like to write

The first will be called 'How to get the best out of self-help books'.

Chapters will include:

  • How to choose a self-help book
  • How to decide whether or not to do the things your self-help book advises you to do
  • What to do when you have finished/abandoned/lost your self-help book

The second will be called 'How to live without self-help books'

Chapters will include:

  • How to find your inner purpose without a self-help book
  • How to decide whether or not you want to achieve your inner purpose
  • What to do once you have achieved/despaired of/given-up-on your inner purpose

Monday, October 15, 2012

Brussels diary -day 1

The Tartan army and I got the last Eurostar out of London to Brussels late yesterday (Scotland are playing Belgium tomorrow). My latest records management job involves me staying in Brussels during the week.  I am renting a flat from J, a friend of a friend, who is leaving Belgium after a decade here.

J wanted to rent the flat to someone who was happy for him to leave his records collection, tape collection,  records player, tape player, book collection and all his other stuff here.  

The LP collection has pretty much all of The Fall, all of Robyn Hitchcock, most of Robert Wyatt, lots of Julian Cope, all of the The Smiths.  The odd treasure - a double LP called 'Communication' with live recordings of bands that played at a Thames Poly in 1985 including The June Brides, A Witness, the Nightingales and Sonic Youth.   

There are a load of cassettes in the kitchen. J offered to move them if they were in the way. I said no. leave them, even though they occupy prime shelf space.  An eclectic mix - Bootlegs (The Smiths playing GLC 10-6-1984),  Billy Bragg at the beeb,  Velvet Undrground, Lou Reed, Television etc.  Some more obscure - Ivor Cutler, This Mortal Coil.  Mix tapes J made up in the 80s.   

We have a handover period of a week and a half before J emigrates.  I've been  chatting to him about the book collection and the music collection. 

I said to J  that I could tell he was a collector/hoarder (I am one too), because he has an A-Z of Birmingham on the shelves (he has never mentioned knowing anyone, or doing anything in that city).  In the kitchen there are two cassette copies of Bend Sinister by The Fall (they are both on the above photo but you will have to look hard to spot them).  He also has an LP of Bend Sinister in the living room.

Some interesting books - Iain Sinclair, Borges, JG Ballard, Saul Bellow, Pilip K.Dick, WG Sebald.  Local history books about London, Brussels and other places in Belgium.  

I will play through the music collection in the order that it sits on the shelves at the moment (respect for 'original order' was installed in me in my training as an archivist).  I will treat the collection as a narrative, to be read.

For both cassettes and LPs I am starting by the ones that are out already:  the tapes piled up next to the tape player on the fridge in the kitchen, and the LPs in the little LP holder next to the record player.

This meant listening to a Van Morrison tape this morning, and a song about going out with a girl with TB (TB sheets).  I found out that his real name is Ivan Morrison. 

I am allowing myself to skip some LPs but only on condition that I am prepared to renounce them for good and never play them at all.  I took 'Lullabies' by Cocteau Twins off the deck after one minute.  I skipped three Madness LPs.  I am listening to 'Un Gars Ben Ordinaire'  by Robert Charlebois while I write this.  Work starts tomorrow.

Monday, October 08, 2012

How to read a poem out loud

Here is a reading of a poem.

  • The reader is Zoltan Latinovits.  I can't tell you much about him.
  • The poet is Sandor Petőfi.  Hungary has had many great poets but he is their 'national' poet - they have named a radio station after him.
  • The poem is in Hungarian - I can't tell you much about it. 

But what I can tell you is that this is how to read a poem out loud - Latinovits brings the sounds of the words that make up the poem alive.

Don't worry if you don't understand what a single one of the words mean - you don't need to.

Monday, September 10, 2012

On being a pigeon-linguist

I have tried (but largely failed) to read books in six different languages, not counting English. I am not polylingual, I am pigeon-lingual - I can speak pigeon French, pigeon German, pigeon Hungarian etc.

 I am aiming for something more than that though. The template in my head is the person that someone I met at a party once told me about. She learned a new language every year. That would be great - three months to get the fundamentals of grammer. Three months to read a few interesting children's books. Six months to read the jewels of their literary cannon. Perhaps do an evening class. Pop over to the country for a week on holiday. I haven't been as methodical as that as my record below shows. In this post I am writing down my achievements or lack of them in each language, as a benchmark of my progress.


This is the language I have tried most often at, and would most like to succeed at. Over the last 18 years I don't think an 18 month period has passed without me trying to learn Hungarian. I don't smoke, so learning Hungarian is my equivalent of giving up smoking, one day I will succeed. 

On my second visit to Hungary in the middle 90s my friends took me to a restaurant themed on the chararcters of the writer Rejtő jenő. It had big cardboard cut-outs of his most famous characters like Piskos Fred (dirty Fred) Holdvilag Ted (Moonlight Ted). Imagine PG Wodehouse writing books about characters in the French Foreign legion or in the Wild West.  I would like to know if there is a single Hungarian character in his books (I haven't come across one yet). 

 My sister always says that it is not worth reading rubbish in a foreign language just for the sake of learning a language. You can tell from the way every Hungarian's smile at the mention of his name that Jeno is a good writer (just like so many English people smile at the mention of Douglas Adams). On various visits I have bought Rejtő Jenő books back with me.  Each time I try to learn the language again I pick up one of his books. 

My highlight in Hungarian was the moment two weeks ago when a lady approached me at Gatwick airport station to ask me if it was the right platform for Victoria. I said yes and asked her if she was Russian. She said no she was Hungarian. I said 'jo estet' and took 'az elvesett cirkalo' (the lost cruiser) by Jeno out of my bag. She roared with laughter and rang her dad in Hungary from her mobile to tell her she'd met an Englishman who is reading Rejtő jenő. 

I have never actually manage to finish a Rejtő Jenő book. I am having more success this time round with 'az elvesett cirkalo'. I think it is because I met a colleague in Geneva who gave me two lessons in Hungarian and actually got me to talk in the language. I am half way through the book and just about getting the gist - I know that a guy (who later turns out to be a woman) tells some adventurers that his (her) brother, who has come up with a potentially lucrative invention, is being wrongly imprisoned in Burma for killing a woman (Helen Addington). They have agreed to sail to Burma to get his brother released in return for a share of the proceeds of the invention.   Most of the humour is going over my head at the moment.


I have tried to learn Russian three times. First time was with very good intentions, when just starting a degree in History, specialising in Eastern Europe. I was going to learn Russian so that I could get a native perspective on the country's history. A Polish friend of my future wife's dad gave me some tutoring which consisted of getting me to read out loud chunks of text from a Russian primer and correcting my mistakes. That lasted about two months. 

Six years after my degree I was on holiday in Greece with my father-in-law. I discovered by chance that he could speak Russian. There were some Russian people in the reception and he started talking to him.   He said it was the first time he had spoken the language since the end of the second world war. There was a  Konstantin Paustovskii book of short stories in Russian kicking around the hotel (the hotel was popular with Russians).  I   gave it to him  and he really enjoyed reading it.   I ended up supplying him with a stream of Russian books - Tolstoy, Pushkin etc.  He read all of them. I had never seen him read a book in English or any other language.

I decided to learn Russian too.  That Konstantin Paustovskii we had discovered in Greece turned out to be an interesting guy, he went to school with Michael Bulgakov and like Bulgakov did not emigrate when the revolution came.  I got his autobiograhy in Russian from my old University library and got about a hundred pages through it.  I also got about a hundred pages of Master and Margarita by Bulgakov but gave up even though I had read it in English a couple of times so in theory knew what was going on. The prose in the sci-fi of Pelevin, and in the retro detective novels of Akunin, was too complex for me. My one success was with Chekhov, who writes very clear, short sentences that give the learner a chance. I got the gist of his short story 'lady with a dog'. 


This is the only one I can properly read in. Best moment was reading 'La Vie Mode d'Emploi' by Georges Perec. A book set in a Parisian 'immeuble' where every chapter is a description of a different room in the immeuble, and the people in it, at one particular moment of time. The moment of time being the moment Bartlebooth dies at his desk while trying to complete a jigsaw. 


I learned this initially to give me an idea of what my mother in law was saying (about me?) to my wife. Best moment was reading 'To Lathos' (the mistake) by Anthony Samarakis. 

It is about a guy who draws two circles on the napkin of a restaurant, and leaves the napkin behind when he goes. Both of the circles had small circles in the middle of them. A detective picks up the napkin. He knows there must be some significance to the circles, and in particular to the two small circles ('duo microus kiklous') in the middle. He has the guy followed and arrested to discover their significance. Spoiler alert - I will tell you at the bottom of this blogpost - don't read to the bottom of this blog if you are going to read the book. It is not a thriller, its more a satire on the paranoia of the authorities and was written under the Greek Junta of the late 60s/early 70s. 


My German teacher did not want to enter me for German O'level when I was at school. I promised her that if she did put me in for it I would try really hard. I told her I had a natural talent for languages and pointed to the fact that I was predicted an 'A' in French. She relented, and put me in for the exam. I got a 'U'. Looking back, it wasn't a natural talent for languages that got me my A in French, it was the fact that I listened to French radio (France Inter) morning noon and night (for the football, cycling, as a change from English radio, and because my dad had a learning-French-fad). 

I have never completed a book in German. I read the first two chapters of 'Das Schloss' by Franz Kafka. I once tried a new technique with a German short story. I read it over and over again, very quickly, without looking up a single word. The repeated readings did help to eventually get a sense of it. But I still cannot claim to have read a book in German. Imagine being able to read 'A Man of Qualities' in German - a book I am determined not to read in translation.


I have read quite a few fumetti (comics) in Italian - Dylan Dog, Hugo Pratt, Diabolik, Guido Crepax. But that doesn't really count. I did finish a Calvino book (the one which contains three stories, one about a guy who leaves his house to live in trees, one about a knight who comes back from war and there is nothing in his suit of armour, and I have forgotten the other one). But I didn't really follow the gist and only persevered because someone had chosen it for bookgroup.

I can just about read a cycling or football report in La Gazetto dello Sport but most of it is just me looking out for the words that are similar in French. 

 (Spoiler - the circles within circles on the restaurant napkin in the book by Samorakis were a pair of breasts)