4oD over Christmas

Originally uploaded by Catfunt
I spent most of yesterday putting together the pages on 4oD for the Christmas break. Do you promote the Catch Up stuff that's on telly or the huge amount of archive that we've just added - what will people want? You run through the different scenarios of how people's TV consumption changes over Christmas alongside questions of whether they'll have broadband access and the like. I had an argument with nice guy Charlie, the 4oD marketing guy, about the rates of broadband penetration in the UK ("Will people have broadband access if they're at their parents?"). The head of new media operations overheard us bickering and suggested as it was past 6pm on the channel's last working day maybe we should just head home. Anyway, I've gone for promoting the archive up to Boxing day and after that it's the four free series of Shameless on 4oD in anticipation of the new series that starts 1 January.

Back in the day when there were only three channels people used to complain about the number of repeats. Now we have whole channels that are effectively the repackaging of repeats (any channel with the word 'gold' in the title). I guess the other way of looking at video-on-demand services is that they're just repeats on demand or repeats that you missed the first time around. Happy Christmas.


Arctic Monkeys at Ally Pally

Went with my sister-in-law, my niece and my wife to see the Arctic Monkeys on Saturday night. My niece (I guess being 12) is deeply uncynical and originally wanted to get there as soon as the doors opened at 6pm so as not to miss any of the action and the promised "Special Guests" supporting the Arctics. I managed to convince her that this would be deeply uncool so we compromised on 7pm. My actual choice (as is my wont these days) would have been to arrive 5 minutes before the band came on when the bar's nice and quiet and you're less likely to get in any fights with drunks.

The upside of being there so early is that there were no queues at the booths were you get your drink tokens. One token cost £1.75 and a pint of Carlsberg in a self-destructing paper cup that allows you 10 minutes to drink your beer before it starts leaking on your shoes costs 2 tokens. Soft-drinks are a token each. I didn't look any further than that. So with drinks we went and stood near the stage just as the lights went down for what turned out to be the first of the two support acts.

Alexandra Palace is as big and grand as the name suggests and also slightly shit as a venue to see bands. Cavernous and lacking in any charm on the inside, it could actually be worse in that it could all be seating but then you might actually be able to see what's happening on the stage without resorting to the giant video monitors on each side of the stage. If I wanted to watch a band on TV I'd go to Glastonbury or stay home. The first band were like a sixties Arctic Monkeys: singer/guitarist and some mates on drums and bass and northern floppy haircuts. Pretty entertaining I didn't know who they were until later as their name was written somewhat incomprehensibly on the bass drum. It turns out they were The Rascals and you can hear their tunes on MySpace or buy their EP which is out today.

After they left there was another long pause while we jostled down the front with the crowd. This wasn't just my niece's idea, I think her mother was also keen on spending the next 90 minutes or so by the stage waiting for the main show to begin. It gave me a chance to survey the crowd who were (to me who doesn't get out too much) an interesting bunch. The large group of lads immediately to my left reminded me most of football fans in the 'eighties: smart casual, little animal logos on their polo shirts and jumpers, sharp haircuts, plain white trainers. They popped some pills, smoked in a vaguely surreptitious fashion cupping their hands around their cigarettes and drank beers with spirit chasers and looked at me menacingly as I clocked their outfits. By way of a total contrast there was a young group of boys, maybe on the verge of starting shaving, all colourful T-shirts and Oasis hair who I figured to be a bunch of posh school boys dropped off by parents for the evening. I liked them, they weren't scary and they apologised when they pushed into you. Elsewhere there were couples, small groups of girls who'd dressed up - nothing terribly remarkable. And then the second support act came on.

Even as they took to the stage I could see that this wasn't necessarily the greatest idea a promoter could have. Black skinny jeans, goth hair, biker jackets, hairspray, Dayrl Hannah's make up from Bladerunner. The Horrors (because that's who they were) seem like a reasonable bunch of guys, the usual mix of Bowie, art school and Penguin Classics made palatable by the fact that they do it with a certain style, humour and irony. Back in 'eigthies Birmingham, probably the last time I saw Satan worshippers this close up, Goth and Irony just didn't go in the same sentence. You can see their videos here and to be fair I find the more I hear them the more I like them. Vast swathes of the crowd, led I suspect by the casual throwbacks, spent the entire set chucking coins, beer, paper beer cups and pretty much anything else they could find at the band. They really didn't like them and booed loudly between songs. The Horrors remained undeterred (for which I admire them greatly) and engaged in some lively banter with the crowd. The Horror's singer Faris Badwan* between songs: "Boo. That's B-O-O isn't it. Add a K on the end and you might learn something." More rounds of beer and coins. Enough about them.

The stage and kit was reset behind a big billowing curtain and around 9.25pm the Arctic Monkeys came on to huge applause and pogoing down the front. I didn't last long down there and disappeared with my wife to stand by some huge speakers at the side where we could vaguely see. The sound had improved dramatically and I guess top bands stipulate with their record label and management that however good the support bands are that they have to have their sound mixed by a deaf blind man.

The crowd turned into a mass of sweaty bodies, waving hands clutching mobile phones as they recorded the gig for posterity. I loved the people who were recording or videoing the gig and would singalong with Alex Turner into their phone. YouTube's full of these. All the geeks I knew back in the 'eighties who used to record and bootleg live shows (Joy Division, New Order, Bowie, even the Au Pairs) made a habit of standing as still as possible so as not the mess with the Sony Professional recording Walkman they had in the folds of their trenchcoats. How things have changed.

The Arctic Monkey's success seems to be reflected in a better diet (they've put on a little weight and some muscle) and skin care regime (less spotty) but the music is as good as ever. Live the Arctic Monkeys are a high energy act with the crowd singing along to everything except the newest tunes.



being vegan: The Last Day

I had meant to write everyday about my 30 days of self-imposed veganism, about how it had affected my day-to-day routine, my health, moods, weight and happiness but the truth is that after the first week it really wasn't that big a deal. Not eating fish, meat, dairy and eggs (are eggs covered by "dairy"?) was surprisingly easy, largely I suspect because I'm quite a fussy eater anyway in that I don't eat a great deal of processed food and tend to cook from scratch.

The biggest potential change will be my attempt to extend the care I've been taking in planning what I eat and examining food labels back to my non-vegan diet. I've said that overall I'll eat less meat and when I do I'll *try* to make sure it's free-range. By and large this probably means not eating out or just not eating meat when I'm out as I have yet to find a Chinese restaurant offering organic or free-range products. Quite a few times I've looked at the food labels on processed food in the super-market to see whether I could eat it and not and although they may have passed the no eggs, no dairy, no animal product tests the sheer number of additives has put me off buying them.

Maybe the most useful thing to write about going forward is how I get on trying to be a more ethical eater following my bout of veganism. Watch this space.


Some films: I'm not there, 3:10 to Yuma, Brick Lane

I've been kinda busy so here's a brief rundown on what I've seen and what I made of them. It's mostly for my benefit as my memory, long and short-term, is shot to hell. The pic is from Todd Haynes' I'm not there, his Bob Dylan bio-pic (sort of). So in what way isn't it a bio-pic? Well, the Dylan character is never named as being Dylan and is played by a bunch of different actors including Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Marcus Carl Franklin. The whole thing is fairly entertaining with some great high-points but does go on a bit. My favourite bit is Cate Blanchett's stoned Dylan and Allen Ginsberg heckling a life-size statue of Christ on a cross and she chucks out the fantastic Dylan-esque line: "Play one of the early ones!".

3:10 to Yuma proves that Russell Crowe is in much better films than his somewhat limited acting range deserves but in his defense it must be said that they're never less than entertaining. Christian Bale is the stand-out presence here in this hugely entertaining Western.

The Kite Runner
, based on Khaled Hosseini's novel (which I haven't read) is probably my least favourite film here. I found the film overly manipulative and nasty (which isn't something I would normally hold against a film). Great performance by Homayon Ershadi as the father of the feckless Amir which is probably worth the price of admission on its own.

There are lots of great things about Brick Lane, not least that fact that I found it way more engaging than the book and visually it does some interesting things, especially in the way the almost exclusively non-white cast are shot in a sympathetic way that emphasises their ethnicity that places them at the centre of the film. Having said that the film is almost too gentle and doesn't fire up the passions. Again I think the best piece is the portrayal of the father, Chanu, by the legendary Satish Kaushik.


Holy Fuck! Lo-fi geniuses at The Social

Went to see Holy Fuck at The Social last night which was without doubt the best gig I've been to since I can't remember when.

Flickr pics here (not mine)

Holy Fuck on MySpace

Holy Fuck on Wikipedia

Being vegan: Day 11

Not a great deal to say except I'm enjoying my newly found (and temporary) veganism, my wife is less angry and I've had some very nice meals. Friends fed me a vegetable soup thing with sweet potatoes, Yol made chick peas and macaroni, I made sour chick pea curry with ocra and tomatoes and rice and yesterday I had a Pizza Express Giardana without cheese. I've been drinking copious quantities of vegan wine, spirits and vegan society-approved beers. I think I've lost a small amount of weight but feel pretty good all round. Sunday I went for my longest swim so far.


Being Vegan: Day Five

The thing about not eating meat, fish and dairy is how expensive it all is. I had so-so vegetarian sushi and a miso soup from Pret for lunch yesterday which came to £4.25 and today I spent £17.50 in Holland and Barett on pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts and the like and I still haven't got enough to make a meal.


Being Vegan: Day Three

I've eaten a lot of hummus so far: Falafel wrap with salad and hummus for lunch yesterday from a sandwich joint round here and today a home-made roll of hummus and salad. Last night was a vegetable stir-fry with rice noodles and a salad. I've been eating lots of fruit but probably not as much as I usually do - I think this might be that the food and portions I'm eating now are much bulkier than my normal diet.

Things that annoy me: loads of products that you'd expect to be animal-fat free aren't. Here I'm thinking of margarine. Yesterday in Sainsbury's I went through all the margarine tubs and they all had whey derived from cow's milk. Dirty fuckers.

My fellow diet-alterer, Maria, who's foresaken booze for a month is, I suspect, having a much worse time. Her plan is not going out after work for a month. I think the bit she hasn't accounted for is the solo home drinking she used to enjoy.


Being Vegan: day one

"I appear to be drinking a cup of warm piss," I reflect on leaving the kitchen area at work. It's pale yellow-green in a white cup. It's green tea.

It's part of my on-going war of attrition with my friend Maria brought about through drinking a bottle of Turkish red wine each in Mangals and then initially taking a vow that for 30 days she wouldn't drink any booze while I wouldn't eat meAt or fish. My part of the bet was upgraded (such is the way of drunks) to "leading a vegan lifestyle" and then lately, after I'd done some research (and decided I wasn't going to buy a) vegan shoes and b) a wool-free suit), downgraded to "eating a vegan diet" for 30 days.

So far it's going well but then all I've done so far is eat porridge with soya milk for breakfast, a baked potato with margarine and baked beans for lunch and two apples and a sharon fruit ion-between. I went to the local health food shop and bought a box of "Fruit, Nut and Seed Bars" this afternoon ("gluten-free; wheat-free; dairy-free; vegetarian; vegan") which were a) pretty horrible and b) very expensive. Luckily they also seem to be quite filling as tonight is the-place-I-work's 25th anniversary staff party. The posh one for the high-ups and the industry bigwigs was last week, this one is (I imagine) a drunken booze-fest fuelled by Breezers, slammers, shots, vodka fountains and other assorted niceties. I won't be eating at the do as I can't guarantee the provenance of the canapes and my sketchy research reveals that spirits are safe for vegans but the use of animal-derived fining agents in much wine and beer rules them out without more detailed work on my part.


Lust, Caution

Ang Lee's new film Lust, Caution has been previewing around London having first screened at Venice. It's long, it's very beautiful to look at, it has amazing costumes and outstanding performances, not least from its two leads the masterful Tony Leung and newbie actress Tang Wei. So why wasn't I more impressed and why did the whole thing leave me feeling pretty cold?

This is from Geoffrey Macnab's piece in the Guardian:
The film tells the story of a young drama student, Wang Jiazhi (Tang Wei), drawn into a plot to assassinate the shadowy Mr Yee (Tony Leung), a collaborator with the Japanese in the Shanghai of the early 1940s. Mr Yee is a cold and brutal man. While his wife (Joan Chen) and her friends play Mah Jong and discuss their favourite restaurants, he oversees the torture and killing of resistance fighters. Wang is ordered to get close to Mr Yee in order to prise him out into the open. In the end, they begin a very violent, sado-masochistic affair. Their feelings for one another teeter between love and utter loathing. They instinctively distrust one another but can't hide their mutual fascination. At times, it is as if they hope that through their extreme and acrobatic sex together they can finally work out each others' motives and true personality. This is as much a tale of amour-fou as it is a thriller.

I suspect my problem lies here: what is described generally (not just by Macnab) as a relationship where they "can't hide their mutual fascination" where their feelings "teeter between love and utter loathing" seems to me more like an abusive relationship instigated and conducted by the stronger partner over the weaker one. While I get Mr Yee's initial lusting after her (hey, she's young and gorgeous) I really don't get what she's meant to see in him. Is it his cruelty or simply that he's Tony Leung and as an audience we're not meant to see much further than that?

While many won't see past the athleticism of the sex scenes The New York Times has an excellent review that sees past this to the flaws in the characters and the story. My view is that Lust, Caution while beautifully shot and acted is still pure hokey.


The barbershop from Eastern Promises

Regular readers will know that David Cronenberg's new film Eastern Promises is currently my film of the year despite Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's best efforts to dislodge it. I was probably swayed by the fact that Cronenberg came across very well in the Radio 4 interview with Mark Lawson (no longer available on listen again) and Schnabel didn't when I saw him Q&Aed at Bafta. I found his name-dropping irritating but only because of his failure having mentioned Marty (Scorsese) or Harvey (Keitel) or David (Bowie) to delivery an interesting anecdote about them. Schnabel's a name-dropping celebrity cock-tease.

The worst bits of Eastern Promises are pure B movie (which isn't such a bad thing to be in my book) but the good bits are jaw-droppingly good. Both movies are flawed: the resolution in Promises isn't all it could be and the last third of Diving Bell drags a bit but both are definite ones to see.

Anyway, the point of this post was that the barbershop in the opening scene of Eastern Promises is the barbershop on Broadway market where I get my hair cut (£8.50). When I went in yesterday the nice barber pointed out some of the things they'd done to his shop for the filming including painting the sign you can see here which he's left on the window. And at the time I just thought he'd redecorated.


Louise Bourgeois: Le Suicide Threat

Louise Bourgeois at Tate Modern, October 2007. This one's called "Le Suicide Threat" and it's one of my favourite pieces in what is an excellent show. The show covers Bourgeois's painting, drawing, sculpture and installations in a career that covers most of the 20th century. Bourgeois's like Picasso but more relevant and less celebrated.


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le papillon): Hot ladies and the rest

Went to a screening of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Julian Schnabel's adaptation of the autobiographical book of the same title by Jean-Dominique Bauby which recounts his life after suffering a stroke that left him almost totally paralysed. "The guy who dictated his book by blinking his eyelid" is how everyone refers to him and while that in itself is a remarkable achievement, what's best in the film is the simple but visually stunning way that Bauby's experience of locked-in syndrome is recounted. By all accounts the book is quite something (I haven't read it) and gives fuller rein to Bauby's attempts to deal with his state through humour (according to my wife). The film is definitely worth seeing and the opening 15 minutes or so are pure cinema, the story seen quite literally from Bauby's point of view as he first comes round out of his coma post-stroke. (All the effects were done in camera, often using a movable back on the camera resulting in the blurring of the action). There are some nice quirks to the film that made me smile not least the fact that this being a French movie all the women in it from the girl-friend and mistress to the speech therapist are all really hot (and not just Emmanuelle Seigner).

There are a couple clips on YouTube of Schnabel talking about the film:
Reasons to make the film (including fact that Johnny depp was in line for part of Bauby originally)
Biographical aspects of the film

Schnabel did a Q&A after the Bafta screening where he gave TimeOut magazine's film editor Dave Calhoun the runaround and generally came across as a bit of a prick. I like to think that the YouTube clips above are more indicative of what he's like in real life (but he's still an inveterate name-dropper).


Spectrum Art Auction: specialist autistic care and support

Following the charity art auction for Bethan's Fund that I helped out with a while ago I've been asked by the organisers of the Spectrum art auction if I can mention it here. Below there's the blurb from the website about the charity's work but the first thing I noticed is the fantastic range of artists who've donated work to the auction which includes the piece by Stella Vine here, a signed book from Damien Hirst, pieces by Eine, Paul Insect, Chris Levine, Immodesty Blaize, Katiejane Garside, Gary Lucas, Gerald Laing, D*Face, James Jessops, Lucy Mclauchlan, Cher, David Arquette, Architects such as Lord Norman Foster, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw and Top LA Architect Matthew Stokes. There's a full list here. Some of the work is being auctioned online and some at an event on 3 November. All the details are on the website.

From the Spectrum website:
"Spectrum is a provider of specialist residential, respite and educational services based in Cornwall, UK. From the small beginnings of a residential service at St. Erme, Truro, Cornwall, for ten young adults cared for by seven members of staff in 1982, Spectrum has developed into a recognised leader in the field of specialist autistic care and support. Currently nearly 100 service users referred from all over the UK are cared for by 350 staff in 23 homes and a small special school situated in the beautiful county of Cornwall on the south west peninsula of the UK."


Eastern Promises: My new film of the year

So Control only got to be my film of the year for a few weeks (like buses, there's dross for months and then two great films come along in a matter of weeks) to be replaced by David Cronenberg's new thriller, Eastern Promises, which is set amongst the Russian gangster class of contemporary London. Excitingly (for me at least) a lot of the exteriors were shot round Hackney with the opening shot featuring the Joy Tandoori, our local curry house, on fashionable Broadway market. By way of a warning to the squimish it does feature several scenes of extreme visceral violence (which are quite amazing) but if you liked A History of Violence then you're in for a real treat and yet again Viggo Mortensen is outstanding.


Banned Brands no. 1: Vauxhall

Having just watched France beat New Zealand in a very exciting Rugby World Cup quarter-final (which would have been better if we had more than a very rudimentary understanding of the sport) we then were assaulted by one of the most annoying adverts around: the one for the Vauxhall Zafira where the two fat kids act like the parents and say pompous po-faced shit. Yes, it's been around for a while but I've decided to keep a list of so-called banned brands - brands whose marketing is so offensive that I refuse to buy any of their products. So Vauxhall is entry number one on our Banned Brands list. This was swiftly followed by BT broadband for the fuck-awful one where the wife has lost her files and folders on the laptop (including the pics of her kids when they were little) and the bloke says "It's OK we can make another one" and she makes weird "I'm not sure what to think" eyes to camera until he says "It's all backed up so we'll just make another folder".

She looks mightily relieved at not having to shag this obvious nonce who's only with her to get near her kids. I digress somewhat but I notice on YouTube that there are many spoofs of the Vauxhall ads. They all seem to be done by teenagers and are of varying degrees of funny. I've chosen this one mainly because it doesn't have the racist overtones of the re-dubbed version of the asian family moving in next door (also to be found on YouTube) and its implications that they're drug-smuggling bombers.

Another Control entry

One of the comments for this YouTube Joy Division video - about John Cooper Clarke ("Who the fuck is the prick talking about 'bloody queues' at the beginning?") - reminded me about something that happened at the screening we went to the other night. Yol pops out of the cinema just before the film starts and the 20-something barmaid asks her what's on. Yol says 'Control'. The woman looks blank. 'A film about Joy Division,' says Yol. 'Ian Curtis?' The woman shakes her head more blankly, the words passing over her head meaninglessly. Young people, eh? They know nothing, happy to wallow in their ignorance.


The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw agrees with me: Control is the film of the year

Not so much about Control not being The Commitments part 2 (that was all my work), but about being the best film so far. I also noticed that sneaky Peter Bradshaw (one of the best film writers around) has upgraded his star rating for Control (Four stars at Cannes in May, five out of five for the UK release).


Ugly Betty Returns

Ugly Betty returns to Channel 4 this Friday with each episode TXing a week after it's aired in the States. I'm not sure how much of an anti-piracy move this is but ultimately TV distribution will move towards a cinema model with simultaneous world wide releases. The upside is that we won't find ourselves watching Christmas specials in late-July. You can also watch Ugly Betty for free on the now award-winning 4oD service.


AVOD and TVOD: I'm so wasted in this job

I get an email littered with the terms AVOD and TVOD. Nothing on Google. So to help out the rest of you:

AVOD: Advertising-funded Video-on-demand
TVOD: Transaction-funded Video-on-demand

There you have it. TVOD=PPV; AVOD=free with ads


Control: it's not 'The Commitments II"

It's probably the best film I've seen so far this year with excellent performances by Sam Riley, Sam Morton and pretty much all the cast. I wasn't expecting a huge amount from the film as I'm always suspicious about most films made of true stories, particularly music biopics, but this was the honourable exception and succeeds in making the telling of Ian Curtis's short life hugely resonant and deeply touching. Yol said she found the look of the film too dour and oppressive. I pointed out that she'd spent the years in question in London and that Birmingham at least pretty much looked and felt like that. Other good things include the cinemascope, the understated camerawork (it would have been easy to mimic director Anton Cobijn's photographic style that was such a defining part of the look of the early 'eighties NME), the quality of the music (the original plan had been for the band to mime but they actually play while Riley sings and it's wholly convincing), John Cooper Clarke now playing himself 28 years ago, and my favourite bit - Joy Division's manager Rob Gretton (Toby Kebell) offering Crispy Ambulance's singer twenty quid to go on stage to sing vocals to a hostile crowd after a depressed Curtis has been unable to go on.


Channel 4 clips

Channel 4 (Full disclosure: where I work - allegedly) have launched what looks at first testing an excellent clips viewer full of Channel 4 programmes. This is a Brian Potter from Phoneix Nights clip. Where most TV companies fail in putting their videos online is that they make it harder for people to watch them than it would be to go to YouTube etc. Maybe a corner has been turned.


John Humphrys on Facebook

Pretty much every morning I listen to the Today programme while I lie in bed drinking tea. I switched on today in the middle of an item about Facebook. The report was fine - my take is that it's a slow time for news so we're getting lots of Facebook items (they're easy to do) - but the best bit's back in the studio after the report. John Humphrys is handing over to the sports reporter Gary Richardson, and asks him if he's on Facebook -
JH: Are you on Facebook, Gary?
GR: No. Are you?
JH: (The briefest of pauses) What do you think?
That'd be a no then.


William Gibson on BoingBoing Podcast

Regular readers will know that I went to see William Gibson talk about his new novel Spook Country. There's an excellent interview with Gibson on BoingBoing that you can find here.


Atonement: includes mild plot spoiler

Director Joe Wright's adaptation of Ian McEwan's Atonement is beatifully made and probably fully deserves the standing ovation it received in Venice. Having said that while I enjoyed seeing it - it's a much better film than most I'll see this year, an experience that was enhanced by the intelligent Bafta-organised Q&A with the director, Keira Knighley and James McAvoy, the over-riding emotion for me on leaving the cinema is one of detachment. So why is it with some films, when all the film elements seem to be more than in just in their place - the characters, the storyline, the acting, the camera-work are flawless - the whole isn't quite the sum of its parts?

I don't really have an answer, but here for me, the interior monologue and motivation of Briony wasn't sufficient. The first half of the film feels like Cecilia and Robbie's film with Briony an incidental character but the second part makes a radical shift, focusing on her tortured existence living with what she's done. I think the issue for me is that it's her single mistaken action that determines the course of these people's lives and there's just not enough put into this moment.


O Dreamland: William Gibson in London

O Dreamland
Originally uploaded by Catfunt
Went with Steve to see William Gibson talk at the awesome TUC building on Great Russell Street. Favourite quote of the night (and it gives you a pretty good idea of the audience) was this question from the floor: "If you got in a fight with Neil Gaiman, who would win?"

This picture, as you would have gathered already is nothing to do with the Gibson talk. This was the equally excellent but less geeky 'O Dreamland' show in Romney where I spent most of the weekend.

For pics of the Gibson talk visit Steve's Flickr and Matt's Flickr.


Bethan's Art Auction: update

Bethan's Art Auction made over £10,000 for Cotlands, a South African charity working to help children affected by AIDS. The tactic of plying the punters with drink and getting them to buy things for more than they intended worked a treat, particularly on me as I ended up buying four things. I'm very happy with them all and as soon as I've paid my overdraft will be getting them framed. Pictures soon.


Charity Art Auction: Bethan's Fund

I'm in a charity auction that's being held at Transition this Saturday. It's three pieces from the APU 150 show a few years ago. I've deliberately set a low guide price as there's a lot of very very good work that's likely to raise a lot of money (Julie Verhoven, Tom Hunter, Dick Bruna - he of Miffy fame, Maurice Broomfield, Stella Vine and more) but I wanted something that my chavy friends could afford. Now I just need to persuade them to buy it. The money's to help children in South Africa whose lives have been affected by HIV and AIDS. Check out the auction site (it's too late to bid online) but do come along on Saturday.


Stella Vine: another story from the opening

Stella Vine
Originally uploaded by Catfunt
I'd meant to tell you this when I blogged the Stella entry before. (It's probably only funny if you know David and Cathy. Cathy told it to us over dinner after the show).

David met us straight from work and he's taken to wearing some very nice suits to go to his day job. His office is at Vogue House so he looks pretty smart with some nice fashionista touches that all the boys will be copying next year. So David and Cathy are looking round the show just as the invigilators are clearing people out. This woman comes up to Cathy and says "Is this your husband?" while looking at David. Cathy says "Yes" (because he is). "Oh," the woman goes, but undeterred turns to David and says "I just wanted to say you look *amazing*." (I'm guessing David was feeling pretty smug by now, I would have been.) There's a moment's silence. Then the woman turns to Cathy, looks her up and down and goes "You look OK too," before disappearing where she came from.

If you're that rude woman contact us and we'll tell your side of the story


BA fined £121.5m for price fixing | | Guardian Unlimited Business

BA fined £121.5m for price fixing | | Guardian Unlimited Business

My wife reckons she'll never fly with Virgin again as it's worse to be a grass than a criminal. She grew up in Cardiff and that's how they think.



Poking around, but mainly through Steve's Del.icio.us, I found this story from 10 years ago (Friday 25 October 1996, 13:41 GMT to be precise). The good old days, eh?

Yahoo and Webmania join forces to slay the opposition

Steve Bowbrick, managing director of Webmania, proposed the motion at the Oxford Union this week, that "This House believes that the Internet heralds the rise of a global community" and won his case.

Supporting bowbrick was Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, and Sam Greenland, Treasurer of the Union. Opposing the motion was Tim Kirkhope, Parlimentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, Paul Ross, broadcaster and writer, and Malcolm Hutty of Internet Vision.

Arguments from the opposition centred on the alienating and isolating effect of computers and the internet, encouraging a lack of physical contact, attacking the idealism of those supporting the motion that the internet is akin to the coming down of the Berlin Wall. Bowbrick and his supporters successfully demonstrated that the internet is, in fact, a tool for connecting people and can only increase the richness and plurality of communities.

Bowbrick commented: "It is great compliment to be asked to speak at the Oxford Union. I see it as a indication of the seriousness with which the internet is beginning to be taken. The internet is moving away from the perception of being a toy and taking its rightful place as serious commercial tool for the wider business community."


Stiff Little Fingers - Nottingham Rock City December 1987

I never saw Stiff Little Fingers live but I spent a large chuck of today listening to a bunch of their stuff. Here we go:

Alternative Ulster

Nothin' for us in Belfast
The Pound so old it's a pity
OK, there's the Trident in Bangor
Then walk back to the city
We ain't got nothin' but they don't really care
They don't even know you know
Just want our money
And we can take it or leave it
What we need is

An Alternative Ulster
Grab it change it it's yours
Get an Alternative Ulster
Ignore the bores and their laws
Get an Alternative Ulster
Be an anti-security force
Alter your native Ulster
Alter your native land

Take a look where you're livin'
You got the Army on your street
And the RUC dog of repression
Is barking at your feet
Is this the kind of place you wanna live?
Is this were you wanna be?
Is this the only life we're gonna have?
What we need is


They say they're a part of you
But that's not true you know
They say they've got control of you
And that's a lie you know
They say you will never be

Free free free

Get an Alternative Ulster
Get an Alternative Ulster
Get an Alternative Ulster

Bettany Hughes on Stella Vine

Apparently Bettany Hughes was at Stella Vine's show at Oxford. I didn't see her but then I probably wouldn't recognise her unless it was on the telly. I'll look at my photos again.

"My week: Bettany Hughes

...Suitably steamed-up (uncharacteristic, I'm pretty much a Pollyanna), I drift to Oxford for the opening of Stella Vine's show at Modern Art. The competing merits of concept and process always interest. There are many good ideas in the world and a handful of successful executions.

The crowd buzz around with excited, brittle smiles. But these gauche canvases genuinely seem to move their audience. As Diana's lips bleed and Courtney pulls off her panties in the back of a cab and Nigella tempts the vicar they remind me of the world's first created woman - described by Hesiod as the kalon kakon. The beautiful-evil thing.

After the garish glory of Vine's paintings, squalling London looks very cold in the light of day..."


Fast supper ideas: No 1

Got home, wet carrying a large framed photo (which luckily wasn't wet). Having been away for 4 days there wasn't a great deal of food in the cupboard. Wife is out tonight (Me: "But you'll leave my tea for me won't you?" Her: "Yeah, right.") so it's a meal for one. In the cupboard there's a packet of chicken noodle soup. The instructions are in Turkish but how hard can it be to make noodle soup out of a packet? On it's own this isn't going to be very nutricous and we're out of eggs (would have been nice poached in the broth). In the absence of frozen peas I found a tin of chick peas that I added to the soup quite early on. I also chopped a clove of garlic and added that and some black pepper. I fancied it a little spicy so I added some chopped green chilis I'd pickled in my pepper sauce a while ago and that gave it the required kick. It's not dissimilar to an Italian dish my Italian mother-in-law makes with chick peas, stock and spaghetti. The only thing to watch out for in my version is the MSG in the noodle soup, it could have you sweating like a pig. You could use MSG-free stock cubes and spaghetti.


Stella Vine at Modern Art Oxford

Stella Vine
Originally uploaded by Catfunt
Stella Vine's show at Modern Art Oxford is the first chance to see the range of work that she's produced over the four short years that her career (at least in the public eye) stretches. The first thing is that it instantly dispels the twin ideas that she can neither paint nor come up with engaging subject matter. This was the first time in a long time that I had the sense of entering the alternative universe and point of view that art can give us. It's a dark but absurd world of a dripping Kate Moss, Pete D as harlequin, Princess Di as a dripping pleading emotional sponge as well as other characters (a boss-eyed Superman, a mis-proportioned Spiderman) I hadn't seen before.


RCA show in the park

RCA show in the park
Originally uploaded by Catfunt
Went to see the Royal College Show on Wednesday which was largely excellent and in both the college buildings and a giant tent they'd constructed across the road in the park. Security wasn't up to the high sartorial standards of the Gagosian earlier in the week and was quite frankly casual at best. More like off duty coppers than Prada shop assistants. Lots of interesting things in product design (a stove top tandoor oven, multi-function door handles); car design (wooden structured car with low carbon footprint) and some decent painting and photography. Two things that stand out are Bianca Brunner's photos of a wooden structure in the forest which won some award that Tom Hunter adjudicated and Michiko Nitta's Extreme Green Guerillas Messaging which postulated using migrating RFID-tagged animals (birds and fish mostly) as a covert messaging system between Green Guerilla cells and also as an alternative to the postal service. Cost is detemined by speed (big fish are more expensive than slow small fish) and reliability (sardines are very cheap to use but very unreliable apparently).


Boy, am I looking forward to Die Hard 4.0

I loved the first Die Hard film when I saw it at the cinema and my feelings have pretty much stayed the same since. I've always had a soft spot for films about redemption, saving and being saved, the other redemptive film that wholly transcends unpromising material being The Terminator. Not many films can make me cry but both these do. Anyway before I crap on about my favourite bits of these films, here's a John McClane/Die Hard tribute from You Tube that despite being a little overlong has its moments and some memorable lyrics.


The New Diamond

America's Hardest Prisons on 4oD
Originally uploaded by Catfunt
OK, so from the outset I'd just like to point out that the picture has nothing to do with this entry - it's just eye candy but I suspect a lot of the inmates in America's Hardest Prisons are fans of Chinese food which is what they sell at the New Diamond. Very excellent and reasonably priced Chinese food.

We ate aubergine hotpot - a kind of delicate aubergine stew with small slices of pork in a rich sauce, sliced pork with pickled vegetables, bolied rice and tea which came to 19UKP plus service. The hotpot's from the chinese language end of the menu and if you're interested in trying more than the usual Chinese menu fare it's worth asking for recommendations. It'd be best to have an idea of what sort of things you'd like (hotpot is a fairly safe bet but check it's not one of the weirder ones as not everyone likes fish lips hotpot).

Decor's pretty good for a Chinese eaterie and the staff and unfailing sweet, helpful and patient. If I want a lunch of duck and crispy pork on rice for less than a fiver I'll still go to the Canton but for anything smarter it's the New Diamond from now on. I give it five stars.

Some user reviews from london-eating here.

Time Out's review here.


Popeye: Jeff Koons at the Gagosian, Davies Street

Friday: I figured as I was going into town to meet Yol anyway (combined with the guilt of having a weekly travelcard that hadn't been used enough) I went down Davies Street (by Bond Street) to the Gagosian's central London haunt to see one half of the current Jeff Koons show. I used to really like the old site, just round the corner from Sadie Coles HQ. It was a great space, big upstairs with a smaller more intimate space in the basement, the whole thing tucked away off Regent Street.

Davies Street is completely different, not so much a gallery as a shop window, albeit a very swanky Bond Street affair with a black suited bouncer and no signs of the usual gallery paraphernalia: posh bird dressed in a black cocktail dress IMing her mates on last years iMac, answering phone with posh voice (that's what she's there for) and shuffling expensive catalogues around while owner patronises some weirdly dressed Eurotrash millionaire in pointy shoes. Here, the office is hidden behind a concealed door and from what I could see not much happens back there.

I liked it, I like the idea of being able to see the whole show without entering the gallery, I particularly like the idea of spotting the piece you need for your Paris/London/New York/LA home while heading up to Claridges for cocktails (of course you'll be in your chauffered Lexus/Merc/Beemer so the work had better be BIG so you can see it at speed through tinted glass - somehow I find it more honest.

But onto the work...

I really liked the work. I've always liked Jeff Koons, or at least the idea of Koons. There's always been something relentlessly anti-art in his work and the modes of production. These are pieces untouched by the artist or any kind of gestural idea of art that dominates the western tradition. It's like Duchamp without the irony or the cleverness, art stripped of its artiness but packed full of artifice. Looking at the work becomes a game of wondering what they're made of (aluminium in this case) which is much more interesting than looking at a Damien Hirst and wondering why he bothered. They're very tactile pieces - you want to touch them to see what they're made off (as I mentioned) but also to see if they're heavy or hollow, hard or soft and how they're coloured so convincingly (they do look like inflatable rubber). Strangely it's not that different to looking at a Bonnard or Monet, Manet or Velasquez in that there is a sense of seeing something that has been pulled out of nothing, an image in their case (and an idea in Koons;) that is vibrant and engaging but decidedly not real.

Lobster pic here.


Netgear: Orange, Wannadoo, Freeserve

Annoyingly the wireless broadband I've had from back in the Freeserve days is playing up and it's probably time to 1. try out a new wireless modem router or 2. change providers. I've called Orange and they're claiming it's probably the box. Of course they're saying that as they don't support it because I didn't buy it from them.

The lazy option is to buy a new box and try that. See below.

The smarter one would be to switch ISPs, maybe even one that'll give me a free box, and leave Orange to stew in the cesspit of their own making.


Gubb: It's the future

Gubb: It's the future
Originally uploaded by Catfunt
My new favourite Web 2.0 thing: gubb.net

It lets you make lists. Access them online, share theme and that's about it. What else would you want?

Holmes, Darcus and me

Holmes, Darcus and me
Originally uploaded by Catfunt
Darcus told a long rambling story that involved a holiday in Barbados with his wife, a laptop, the beach, email, Channel 4's looming 25th anniversary and his friendships with all the previous heads of C4. You needed to be there really (and drunk) but I still love the punchline, even on its own: "Andy Duncan, give me my fucking money!"


4oD Homepage 11 June 2007

4oD Homepage 11 June 2007
Originally uploaded by Catfunt
'The Hole' with Thira Birch has been added recently to the film section of 4oD. "Weirdly" almost all the pics supplied are of Keira Knightley who isn't even mentioned in most of the reviews of this 2001 thriller. Bizarre.


Billy Bragg's Big Busk at the RFH

Lots of not very good events to re-open the RFH. Things we learnt: people will go to anything with free in the title; I don't like crowds; Yol's not a fan of Bulgarian choirs singing on the river; £5 is a lot for a cold chorizo baguette; you can get a bottle of OK white wine for £12.50 in the RFH; there are a lot of food joints at the South Bank; Billy Bragg is actually OK; the interior of the RFH looks fantastic. Bragg busk was OK but they didn't do Wonderwall which Yol reckons is a busking classic. She tips Mardy Bum to be a busking classic of the future.


Harland Miller and Jarvis Cocker

Harland Miller and Jarvis Cocker
Originally uploaded by Catfunt.
Went to see Harland Miller ("International Lonely Guy") chat with Jarvis Cocker at Tate Britain with interventions by some slightly incompetent journalist who was conducting her first live interview ever (why else was she so crap?).

My Father-in-Law's 80th birthday

This was pretty early in the evening before I'd brought a punishing regimen to the Proscecco with brandy chasers. After that things got a bit blurry but I sat with these guys (very little English despite 50 years each in the UK) and we chatted in Italian (me nodding mostly) about a wide range of things I didn't understand.
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A little bit of power (and Channel Mixing)...

...is a very dangerous thing. The cool band in Paris, in the Hotel
Amour, de-coolified with the Channel mixer to make it look like a faux
old postcard (except for the clothes, the outdoor heater, the CD


Bernie Rhodes: what a lune

Went to see a talk about The Clash, clothes and culture last night at the Cochrane Theatre, just by Central St Martins. It was chaired by the excellent Paul Gorman, author of The Look, with a panel of Alex Michon and Krystyna Kolowska (the two Clash seamstresses who designed and made their clothes from the White Riot tour onwards) and Sebastian (he didn't have a surname but designed and printed their T-shirts). There were a bunch of models inclusing Alex's mate Majid who showed some of the clothes so it was a pretty interesting talk with an audience that was half twenty-something fashion students and haggered 40-somethings who were on the White Riot tour. About halfway through the alloted time Paul Gorman invited the Clash's manager Bernie Rhodes up onto the stage. The first warning sign should have been that he wasn't in the auditorium and someone was dispatched to find him. Then you could hear him before he appeared on stage (radio mics), then he proceeded to pace the stage dropping bombs and bon mots that was only hindered by his inability to focus on one story at a time and the occassional stumble on stage. Some of it was good (the story about how the first time he met Kevin Rowland "I couldn't listen to anything he was saying 'cause he was wearing these fucking awful trousers - at least he wasn't wearing a dress"), but most of it sadly incoherent. He roamed the stage doling out his "punk philosophy" and how Malcolm McLaren had been a Rhodes copyist, he'd been the one who put Lydon into the Pistols and kept trying to take his jacket off but as the radio mic was clipped to it he'd have to put the jacket back on until one of the models helped him out. You wondered when someone would step in and stop him - Paul Gorman tried to get him to answer some audience questions but Rhodes used this to launch into a critique of the UK ("This country is so fucked.") - what ended it all abruptly was Rhodes use of the N-word (do we say "the N-word" nowadays or do we say "nigger" in reported speech?): "You want to sort out crime in London, then you need to sort out all the niggers in Peckham." The booming disembodied voice of the head of college over the PA system: "I think that's enough", the house lights come up in a hurry and a very loud clip of the Clash projected on the screen above the stage blasts away as people shuffle out to the free bar.
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Whitechapel Library (old style)

Whitechapel Library (old style)
Originally uploaded by Catfunt.
Took this one from a moving bus on the way to work this morning. I have the excellent Adobe Photoshop CS2 for Photographers by Martin Evering out of the equally excellent Westminster Library at the moment and have been messing with the channel mixer.


BBC - Radio 1 - Musicubes - View

Charlie (who I work with) claims to be responsible for this in his previous life at Radio 1.  It's pretty impressive. This is my musical profile:

Link to BBC - Radio 1 - Musicubes - View

Pigeon Point: Tobago on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Testing out some Microsoft Live Windows blogging tool (PJM: Sticking up for the little guy since 1980!) that RDH recommended on his blog. Actually, looking around the window it's called Windows Live Writer (Beta). Is Beta it's surname or a nickname and it must have a large family because there are a lot of Betas out there. I think the thing I like about it most is that it's got a strikethrough option on the tool bar. I've also added a picture of Jonathan Peachey to test out the insert a pic tab. More later... (Update: it won't let me publish the pic except via ftp, so no pic today).

Link to Pigeon Point: Tobago on Flickr - Photo Sharing!


Hindu Temple, Trinidad

Hindu Temple, Trinidad
Originally uploaded by Catfunt.
Being on holiday feels like such a long time ago.

Last night we went to the Jamaican High Commission in South Kensington for a Caribbean tourism event. As an all-inclusive it was pretty good: rum punch and wine to drink; mini chicken roti, peppered shrimp, BBQ pork, duck wraps, potato fritters and a few other dishes I forget. Some nice tourism officials and a miniature commemorative cricket ball to mark Courtney Walsh's 517 test match wickets. I think they've been handing those out for a while.


Jake and Dinos Chapman at Paradise Row

Jake and Dinos at Paradise Row
Originally uploaded by Catfunt.
Animals and things from 'Animal Farm' made out of bits of card and poster paint. Liked it a lot. You can see the interesting young art school crowd who all shop at Topshop/Hennes and drink in Shoreditch in the other photos. (Spoken like a bitter old man).


Skins on 4oD

Skins on 4oD
Originally uploaded by Catfunt.
Skins: very popular with "the younger demographic" as they say in marketing.


4oD: Channel4's VOD on PC service

4oD: Channel4's VOD on PC service
Originally uploaded by Catfunt.
Here's the current homepage of Channel4's new(ish) PC VOD service. Ugly Betty (eps 1 and 2) and Desperate Housewives are free at the moment - although you do need XP and you have to download and install an app.

The Flaming Scars at Bethan's Gig, the Spitz, 2007.


New video: Batman [doesn't] Return

From a two week animation course three years ago. The first week we messed around, and in the second week we each made a short piece. This piece is 18 seconds long although the actual animated parts are probably less than 8 seconds.