Archive | September, 2011

Balls 1

20 Sep

You may have inferred from the lack of recent activity on this blog that its author is rather busy. He’s not. Trust me. He’s spending his mornings getting wired on cheap Spanish coffee and dancing to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, while his afternoons are pissed away reading René Depestre novels in a third-rate Bloomsbury café. It’s his pathetic attempt at a pathetic attempt to familiarise himself with Haitian Literature. He generally knocks off at around six pm, and heads off to a pub nearby for a lonely half-pint. From that point onwards, the day is done and so is any hope of extracting even the most meagre drop of achievement from it.

As you can see, doing nothing is very tiring and time-consuming. I am actually beginning to look forward to having obligations once again.

At some point over the course of my idle summer, it came to my attention that a new buzzword had arrived in town. At the beginning of August, glued to the news for want of anything better to do, I noticed that the only consistency between the reports (other than utter cluelessness) was the ubiquity of a powerful and peculiarly amusing little adjective. About a week after the cities of Britain had fallen quiet, I noticed the same word cropping up in articles on everything from the Libyan Revolution to the Venice film festival. No matter what hits the breaking news alerts these days, it is in some way or other a “ROBUST” proposition.

I first heard the word in question from a guy called Ed at school in Scotland. He used it incessantly, regardless of whether he was talking about his favourite mediocre sitcom character, Rab C Nesbit, or the idiot pet project that was his plan to manufacture BB Guns in his Mum’s garden shed. He had a glint in his eye that suggested visionary brilliance… actually, on second thoughts, I’m pretty sure he was just a lunatic- he insisted on being addressed at all times as “Commissar” and had an unhealthy fixation with using spray-on deodorant cans as flamethrowers. Nice.

Perhaps you can now better appreciate my difficulties with the R-word.

It is slightly cheap to suggest that the phrase “we will tackle this with a robust response” (as trotted out to death by politicians and the Police top brass in the wake of the riots) is now code for “we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing”, but the abuse of the adjective in the media smacks of journalistic laziness. Take this phrase, in today’s Guardian, for example;

“Leading scientists have accused the world’s top cartographers of making a blunder in their representation of the effects of climate change in Greenland, prompting a robust defence by the map-makers’ publisher.”

Blimey. I never really imagined a map-maker’s publisher could come on so strong. How, exactly, does one defend one’s map robustly? Like this, apparently…

“You will always have a level of generalisation. But we have compared like with like. The same criteria were applied to the 1999 data to that of 2011.

“We are not saying that all of the ice loss is due to climate change. It is the lion’s share but the data has improved over the period.”

It’s a defence, I’ll grant John Vidal, the Grauniad’s Environment editor that. How, though, is it in any way “robust”?

In the last instance, the word is just filler- it’s pointless, a slap in the face for concision. It’s annoying- very annoying- but not unforgivable.

Much worse is this extract of a statement from the Metropolitan Police, which appeared in another Guardian article yesterday;

“… The MPS cannot respond to the significant public and political concern regarding leaks from the police to any part of the media if we aren’t robust in our investigations and make all attempts to obtain best evidence of the leaks.”

In this context, “robust” is just plain wrong. Surely the word the Met were looking for was “thorough”? The image does not suggest diligent police work, but rather a broad shouldered, pot-bellied riot cop charging at a filing cabinet and smashing it up for scrap with a truncheon. Dunno about you, but I do not find this a reassuring choice of vocabulary.

I raise my hands. Inactivity has clearly turned me into a pedant. Or possibly not. Make what you will of my internet “research”, but I’ll leave you with this thread I stumbled into on a forum purporting to be “the largest network of teachers in the world”. I am, it seems, not alone.

If, as another well-worn political platitude would have it, Education, Education, and Education are still the three main priorities for government, then perhaps there is hope after all.

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What I did on my holidays

13 Sep

Alright, I admit, the header above is not exactly the most eye-grabbing of titles (nor, for that matter, will this be the most thrilling of blog posts), but it’s been a while since I put anything up here. For consistency’s sake, I reckon it’s about time I gave some recommendations for any readers who might find themselves at a loose end in London over the next couple of weeks.

This summer may have been the worst blockbuster season on cinematic record, but reports from the film festivals have been encouraging, and there’s already a glut of event movies on general release. I went to see Ben Wheatley’s second feature, the truly terrifying The Kill List at the Ritzy in Brixton last night. This film has single-handedly boosted British Cinema’s credibility by around 85%, but unfortunately weakened my mental stability by around the same proportion. Who says audiences have become desensitised? Not even the most autistic of torture-porn aficionados could watch this without later suffering from a degree of trauma, and a fairly crippling one at that. I’m pretty sure The Kill List is the most disturbing movie I have ever seen- it takes apart the formulaic skeleton of the Horror Movie and reassembles it with the mangled corpses of a dozen different genres to create a nightmare beast that, frankly, I should erase from my memory rather eulogise if I ever want to sleep peacefully again. For a proper, y’know, review (which at the present moment, I’m too terrified to even contemplate writing), I’ll direct you to Lucian Robinson’s amazingly articulate summary for the FT…

Phew. As I mentioned earlier, the blockbuster season was a near-total washout. Proof lies in the fact that, in all seriousness, the most fun I had at the cinema was watching the Cameron Diaz vehicle Bad Teacher, which despite the unremarkable reviews, was a masterclass in mean-spiritedness. While not exactly deserving of such high praise, I also enjoyed the adaptation of David Nicholls’ One Day far more than I expected to. In spite of some very icky-sicky mawkishness and Anne Hathaway’s much-derided Yuuurkshiaar accent, it was a pretty bold attempt to repackage the recent past for the costume dramas of the future. Of particular note was the Jim Sturgess-fronted 90s yoof TV show, with a actor presenting himself as a repellant hybrid of Chris Evans and Terry Christian, and a scene at an engagement party at the turn of the century, where the cast bawled along badly to Robbie Williams’ Angels. The latter was scarily accurate. Okay, so not Kill List scary, but weirdly not a million miles off. A Robbie Williams karaoke moment is about the best cinematic shorthand for the Millenium years as could be. What, I wonder, will be the soundtrack for those future 2011 nostalgics?

Not Baxter Dury, that’s for sure. Whatever Robbie was to 1998-2003, Baxter is the inverse for 2005-2011. Over three albums, he’s built up a persona that is as low-key as it is supremely confident, and I mean this in the nicest way possible. “Low-Key” usually denotes a singer or group wearing their “authenticity” (what the fuck does that actually mean?) as a badge of honour- Yeah, man, keepin’ it real- but Baxter’s new one, Happy Soup is a long way from the nauseating false modesty of the Nu-Folk set.

For sure, Baxter Dury has his whimsical affectations, but there is nothing disingenuous about this lovely record. Equally, though, there’s no hit, no Cocaine Man, no Love in the garden, but the CD more than deserves repeated listening. It may sound like damning with faint praise, but when I say it’s good music to type to, I mean it with all the heart and soul- and after The Kill List restructured my psyche, that means rather a lot.

Finally, if you haven’t yet been, get down to the South London Gallery for the last weeks of Paul Etienne Lincoln’s wonderful show, which takes in, amongst other things, a giant singing robot pig, a plan to turn Giles Gilbert Scott’s Battersea Power Station into an enormous beehive and the Sinfonia Torinese, an attempt to interpret Punt e Mes, Turin’s signature vermouth, through the medium of birdsong. If that doesn’t sound interesting, I seriously fear for your capacity to be impressed.