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Away until 13th

Camping! Dear God what am I letting myself in for.

At least James doesn't now just RUN, and more importantly run AWAY just for fun, every time you turn your back.

...although you never know.

Rain and an errant James. We'll see. some kind of rport will be forthcoming when I return. Have a lovely week and a bit, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing.

What I would do on the plinth

I'm down in the list in the remaining draws for the daft social art experience thing what Anthony Gormley thought of and Sky Arts provided the funding for, "One & Other". Just in case you've been living on Mars, it is taking place in Traf Square, and it involves the 'empty plinth' which now being filled by living statues, changing every hour, 24 hours a day, for a couple of months. It's charming to follow occasionally, whilst receiving wry updates from the aforementioned evil newspaper, The Guardian (not really. They published an article by me once, so they can't be all that bad - just occasionally a bit too lax, like any great institution). Plinthwatch, from the land of Tweets is a fun way to keep up with the nonsense. And it is nonsense, obviously. But delightfully British and entirely memorable, not just for every person who gets their hour, but as a little cultural moment. It's almost a Domesday book for the British psyche in 2009. Or at least, the Brtish psyche that managed to fill in a web form (so a touch exclusive).

So wondering what you would do if you were chosen must be one of the things that crosses peoples' minds, along with "What would I do if won a Euromillions rollover" (no longer is a mere multi-million win on the lottery enough. It has to be tens of millions, or it's worthless).

I couldn't for the life of me think of anything 'meaningful' for ages, and wondered which of my causes would be the one to highlight. Fight the BNP? Climate change? Womens rights in Iran? Athiesm? It was only when I recognised that thinking about other peoples' expectations was the problem that I realised the thing to do is do something that you personally find fun or that reflects something about you which is simultaneously a celebration of self, and hopefully, a celebration of Britishness, and humanity, in all its ridiculous, confused, potential glory.

So. Here it is. If I was chosen - highly unlikely, let's be honest:

I would contruct a costume which would mostly consist of enormously wide shoulders on top of my normal clothes. these would be decorated by my two children, in homage to the increasingly weird phenomenon of the 'eighties comeback'. From these vast shoulders I would attach small sweeties on bits of string, for two reasons: to make my children laugh, and to reward anyone down below who helped with the second part of the hour.

I would have a collection of boards, bound together like a pad, so they can be pulled over the top revealing the one underneath. On these in large painted letters would be each of the different world issues or causes that I feel deeply about. I would invite those around to contribute words or themes to each one, which I would use as the basis for an improvised song sung about each thing. Therefore a loudhailer of some sort would be useful.

The songs, by definition, would be totally appalling, or ridiculous. They would occasionally show flashes of reasonable rhyming. I improvise stupid songs at home with the kids all the time, so this kind of behaviour is not unknown. Given that, I don't think it would be particularly daunting. I don't seek to trivialise the things I think are important - but it did occur to me that just standing there droning on about Climate change would be a uniquely boring experience for all concerned. Trying to come up with some sort of elaborate art 'piece' in order to expound upon a subject ...ayeesh. Well it's not really very 'Me'.  Hearing a unique, never to be repeated, ludicrous song about the report published by MIT that suggests 5 degree warming by the end of the century, and even now, predictions of increase over the next 20 years are turning out to be too low (surprise surprise) would keep people listening, and who knows, they might even hang around for the next one, in which case - job done. I could of course accessorise each song with flashcards or indeed, have a helper in the audience (3am and raining, I'm sure) who could distribute information.

That's it. Definitively what I would do. And given that it won't happen in a month of Sundays, at least you've all just visualised it. Heh.

Quiet and watchful

One thing that has hung on from James' small babyhood is quiet watchfulness. When he was wee, there'd be much less of the gurgling, cooing blether and much more of the sitting and watching. At times it could get unnerving.

A few weeks ago, James trod on an ant deliberately so I sat down with him and told him that we couldn't stand on ants deliberately because they were alive, just like James, and they were important little animals in their own right. Since then, given the opportunity to look at ants or small insects, James will crouch near the floor and watch them for a very long time indeed, occasionally passing comment or wondering about a question out loud.

The other day, coming home from the common we saw a fox. It had hurt its back leg which was rather sad. I don't expect Mr Fox was long for this world but at the time he didn't look too awful, and was pottering along, presumably in search of bins. He must have been pretty hungry though, to be doing all of that in daylight. I gestured to James to come over quietly, and picked him up. We stood watching the fox in total silence until he walked out of eyesight, then James talked about it the whole of the way home. The best though, was snuggling up with a very coughy, coldy James at the Lambeth Country Fair whilst nora went off to look at the jousting (huge hit immediately, obviously). A beautiful green grasshopper came crouching and crawling over James' leg and we both watched it, keeping perfectly still. It was a beautiful, delicate thing to behold, and it kept James rapt.

Richard Herring is not a racist

Er... heh. That's a bit of a gratuitous title, isn't it. Just call me gauche, why not. Anyway, I was deadly serious and deeply pissed off when I wrote this, I'll write a little addendum to it later in a different post. Meanwhile, carry on:

It's important to state that clearly, to add a voice to limit the damage done to a fine stand up comedian by someone who is hopefully feeling somewhat awkwardly repentant, or even grumpy and defensive by now in relation to this piece in The Guardian: "The New Offenders of Stand up Comedy".

Rich has already written a heartfelt rebuttal. When I first read the Guardian article, my reaction was more "Eh? How can he possibly suggest that Scott Capurro is part of any 'new' movement? How can you possibly lump him or Rich in with Jimmy Carr, for Chrissakes?". It wasn't until I thought about it more deeply that I recognised just how stupid the article is. Sorry this is a bit po-faced and angry but there you go. you don't have to read the stuff below - I won't hold it against you if you give up half way. I've known Rich for a long time, nearly twenty years, and I'd be happy to stand in his defense against any accusations of anything as ridiculous as this.

Points I have about the article specifically:

  • The only people who might possibly question whether the veil of irony was being used to hide actual racism, watching Scott Capurro would be people who have never seen him before, and who may, dare I say it, be a little on the stupid side. For your ref, Brian, Scott has been taking on taboos and shaking them to pieces since... 1992, 93? I wouldn't call that particularly revolutionary. So should we re-jig the bi line to say "1992 style" or possibly even refer back to Lenny Bruce and the word "Nigger" in the early sixties?
  • To lump Scott Capurro, Richard Herring or even Ricky Gervais in with Jimmy Carr is ridiculous. It's not only misleading, but it is just bad comedic analysis
  • Ending the brief description of Richard's show with him making the statement that "Racists have a point", but in no way contextualising that statement is irresponsible and wrong. I'm astounded, to be honest at the dishonesty of that writing.
  • I would like to point out that your comment with regard to jokes about raping women, "Nor, it seems, does he seek to challenge them" is astonishingly naive. Particularly given Scott Capurro's comment, included presumably in order to damn him: "For a lot of comics, it's OK to talk about raping women now. That's the new black on the comedy circuit." I'm incredulous. Do you actually know anything about Scott Capurro?
  • The statement "And it is this right-on orthodoxy that today's New Offenders have been reacting against" is again, a naive and simplistic view of what is going on at the moment. Far from reacting *against* alternative stand up, Brendon Burns making a poster saying "I suppose this is offensive now" is a blatantly reinforcing gag. Of *course* it's offensive. That's the point. Of course Rich's moustache is weird and makes you think of Hitler before you've even seen the posters. That is, self evidently, the point. I'm taking a wild guess here and saying that I think Brian Logan knows this, and he's being deliberately obtuse to create a Troll-like reaction to his article. The tactic of an 18 year old, not a journalist with presumably a decent reputation to maintain.
  • Damn. I've reacted to a troll again, haven't I. But... ! I mean, really.
  • This is a personal observation. Jimmy Carr is mentioned in disparaging terms, and Alexei Sayle mentioned that Frank Skinner and David Baddiel's humour may have tipped things toward misogyny again. I'll raise my hand and say that I've never found any of these three wildly funny, and in fact, positively dislike Jimmy Carr's humour. There is a concrete and very visible difference between comedians who court the mainstream like Frank Skinner and Jimmy Carr, and those who work within the intelligent, targeted audiences of stand up, where ideas can be explored and pulled apart to find gags. Where the mainstream lies, it can become a murky affair. I guess what I'm saying is, if you stalk the mainstream, you may well be compromised. If you are courted by it, and you can enter it on your own terms (Jo Brand, Stephen Fry, etc - although in fact, it took both of those people a while to come in to their own adult, confident personas) then its a ripe playing ground full of taboos to rip apart. Sacha Baron Cohen is a perfect example here. Using a white guy who thinks he's black as his mortifying trojan horse, he ends up with journalists claiming that his latest film, tackling mid-west homophobia is a failure, because kids posted messages about it saying it was lame (or "too gay" as many, many tweets suggested). Failure as in: not a mainstream hit. I raise my eyes to the ceiling - what, you mean attacking the racism taboo is ok, but revealing that attacking homophobia  is a bit too close to the bone for a mass audience, brands the film is a *failure*? Jaysus. Anyway. Moving on...
  • Does Sue Becker name any of the stand ups represented here in her paper? If so, which ones? Is she only in fact talking about Little Britain? (FTR, I have some problems with some parts of little Britain, I have to raise my hand to that)
  • I don't think that Rich does 'most' of his work on the web? I think you'll find "Works his arse off gigging on front of live audiences night after night" is more accurate a description. I'm updating this to include somethign I put in the letter to the Guardian Readers editor: to suggest that most of Rich's output is web based is a sly, insidious dig suggesting that his work is to 'extreme' for mainstream media. That is a complete falsehood. Richard Herring has published several books, is a regular radio and TV panelist, has written and appeared on ITV and BBC2 on many occasions.
  • I'm going to reproduce this sentence, again written without any context, in its entirety because it's so wholly wrong it takes my breath away. Logan's talking about Rich and Andrew Collin(g)s's daft podcast, in which Richard routinely is as childish and puerile as possible:"One recent episode aired Herring's purported hatred of Pakistanis, a routine that he expands on in his new standup set." Ooooh, Brian, I would love to see your evidence for this. I think this is libelous. 
  • Banging my head on the table here. Sarah Silverman's gag about being a racist is, in context *clearly* a liberal, left wing gag, taking the piss out of body image culture. Brian Logan must, as a man clearly capable of writing for a major newspaper, who has at least a passing interest in comedy, know this. The only possible reason he has to quote it is so obviously a stupid, kneejerk way is to back up his ridiculous thesis.
  • "The case study here is Al Murray, whose Pub Landlord character began life as a satire of Little England attitudes, and has ended up – perhaps unintentionally – celebrating them" he says. No, he doesn't. Nothing Al Murray does is unintentional. He's one of the smartest comedians I've ever met. He has courted the mainstream and that has brought some issues. Al in a live context brilliantly satirises those with limited, fear and change averse related problems. That's like saying that Harry Enfield actually believed his character from 1940's public information films.
  • Talking to the woman who walked out of Scott Capurro's gig explains the legitimacy of Scott's act! He's been doing what he does for you know... nearly 20 years that I've seen him perform, and he's never wavered. If a woman who is not prepared to have her preconceptions tugged at pays money to go and see Scott without realising, then she's been misinformed and I feel sorry for her. She obviously wanted to go and see a nice, unchallenging comedian. What she says, "She feels Capurro was wilfully antagonising his audience, and that it wasn't a game she was prepared to play" is fine. it's not emblematic of anything, other than - she went to see the wrong comedian. Comedy is a broad church. Nothing of her opinion is particularly interesting, because it is coming from someone who clearly did not want to be challenged.
  • He does a really botched job at the end of saying "Oh well, you know *I* was smart enough to think that Scott Capurro was funny. Of course I was, but I'm smart, see.
  • Arghnnnnggg. To do this to an artist just before Edinburgh, when your nerves are beginning to kick in, and you haven't had any reviews yet is beyond the pale, it really is. And if you happen to read this post, Mr Logan - you should know this, if you go and see comedians regularly.

Right. Now listen. When I go and see a challenging comedian, I will sometimes end up with my head in my hands, groaning, unable to believe what I'm hearing. Frankly, that often happens listening to the Herrin and Collings podcast (just a note, this is not to say it's not ridiculously funny, it's just painful). But what Brian Logan seems, in the final analysis, to be saying, quite apart from taking quotes from in depth sets and interviews out of context, is that classic bloody middle class argument. I am clever enough for this material, but other people are not, therefore should it really be allowed? The hoi polloi, they must be protected..

That is clearly bullshit. You confront fear by showing that fear back in a mirror. Should Mel Brooks have been banned for taking the piss out of Hitler? Is Sacha Baron Cohen a racist homophobe? Is Richard Herring pro the BNP? No. No. No. Comedy will, and must confront taboos, and must force any intelligent reader or viewer to do the same.

...and breathe...

General catchup

Having written a plethora of outward looking posts which seem to now have an independent life of their own in search terms I am determined to squander my new average (not just 13, but in fact, 13.23! Not just a whole new person, but someone else's leg keeps turning up. Presumably they'll gain some body soon) writing some personal posts given that this is really written for the benefit of the original musketeers (they know who they are).

Having said that, I'm quite flattered. Something I wrote recently got picked up by a couple of arty online magazines, including the, er, I think it was the curator or caretaker of the Design Museum. Very lah-de-dah. It's very useful to me, being completely frank about it. In my determination to be The Best Mother Possible whilst the kids were teeny weeny, I tended to totally ignore everything that would enable me to put myself first. Let me be clear here, in many, many aspects of life they do still come first, but my brain doesn't feel quite so overwhelmed with dedicated duvet-like support, worry, adoration and all of those baby-worship emotions. Knowing that we're programmed to be in love with babies, and help them survive to the detriment of our own health doesn't actually give me/us the strength to step back from it, because obviously you are still in the thrall (and, after all, it is lovely). So getting back to the point, like a worm, slowly, blindly edging its way above the surface, I'm feeling my way back in to ego driven self promotion (arf) but hoping I don't get snapped up by a waiting blackbird along the way. I knew there was something wrong with that metaphor. No, the point is, I'm trying to architect a space for myself where I can get things that are on my mind out of it, hopefully initiate some sort of conversation along the way but very importantly, also start *going to things*. Give myself the opportunity to just bloody listen, get out there and start having really new ideas again. I get a bit screwed up in the head when I'm not in a position to have ideas. Most of them are junk, I don't really care about that. Because the few that aren't are worth wading through the junk to get to.

In other news, when I pat the top of my belly under the diaphragm, I no longer simply have a comfortable fleshy feeling, it feels hard-ish underneath. That's because my muscles are only about an inch under the surface. Blimey.

In other news (2) it is McK's birthday today. I hope he likes the present I managed to procure for him, with the help of Mr Matt Locke and his lightning search skills.

In other news (3) I missed Stef and Kay's going away drinks the other night because I got the date wrong, and I was exhausted from a cruddy cold virus (some kind of weird cold/nasty something cross breed which definitely wasn't flu like). I am therefore a twat. I shall attempt to get them a moving in present.

Er... there is no other immediate news.

Results of a precociously reading daughter

...are her picking up a life story of Judy Garland in the library, which goes in to detail about her being given pills whilst she was making The Wizard of Oz. And what a harriden her mother was. And her Dad dying while she was quite young...

Ayeeesh. Cue a number of quite er... 'interesting' conversations in which pills are discussed (!), what a Mummy and a lovely little girl relationship *should* be like and (this is a good one actually) is it really worth all of that misery just to be in a film.

Nora is totally in love with The Wizard of Oz. She's scared witless of the wicked witch of the west, mind you but strangely, not the monkeys.

It is extremely difficult to remember that Nora is 5, sometimes.

Get well soon Mr Adam Yauch

I find it difficult to explain to you just how much I love The Beastie Boys. not in a 'collecting every bit of merchandise, always wearing the t-shirts' kind of way. more that I've grown up with them, and feel a level of coolness with them as people that suggests, if I ever met them, there'd be a lot of talking and laughing rather than star struck speechlessness. They reached a stage where they were personally wealthy enough to feel comfortable being absolutely themselves. Unafraid to be clever, silly, serious and often ridiculous.  They seem to have left their egos at the door in order to create an environment where the music comes first, the bond with their audience comes a close second, and everything else is ripe to be messed about with.

I remember buying 'Pauls Boutique' the day it came out (of course!) and taking it home - my brain exploding at the sheer funky audacity of that album. Incredible transformation. I had that fanboy displeasure thing when everyone else realised how great they are with "Ill Communication" but you know, that was just stupid. Everyone should love them. Because they Rule.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that Adam Yauch has been diagnosed with cancer in one of his salivary glands, and is supposed to make a full recovery. They had some new material due out very soon and they're delaying that, obviously. All three of them are part of 'the good guys' world crew but Yauch is a super cool, peaceful guy.

So this could have been a one line post really. Get well soon Yauch.

Teensy bit more about Apollo 11

Look, what do you expect. Shut up with your whining.

After I talked about Neil Armstrong the other day, it's a total delight to see him talking at the John Glenn Lecture at the Smithsonian. Even more humbling is that on the clip supplied to the media, he touches on subjects I talked about the other day. That the space race was a gentlemanly, inspirational voyage through science and research, which could only enlighten and make better the two nations involved. The astronauts, scientist and engineers involved knew this.

I've asked the NASA HQ guys to update the Flickr photo set with the URL's of the full talks from them all when they become available. Of course, my request is being given the utmost priority. Ahem.

Meanwhile...  It's Neil Armstrong! Fantastic! Looking completely healthy and happy, may I say.

Will we have managed *anything* as incredibly brilliant as this by the time it's the 50th anniversary? It seems so crazy and pathetic, all of a sudden. I can barely believe the codswallop excuses I've been hearing from pundits (would you call them 'conservative' pundits or simply anti-exploratory ones?) who've suggested that purely because there is world hunger, it should be verboten to empower NASA to explore further. Ahuh. Yes, of course! Are you aware of the amount of money that was poured in to the banking system before the end of 2008 by world governments? The amount of money spent on propping up capitalism would have pretty much solved world hunger and several other human disaster areas, I would suggest.

I think the biggest problems with NASA is it's all to visible, as a spend category. American tax payers can actually see money they've spent being burned up as fuel. Scientific results don't necessarily translate too well in to perceived value for money if it looks like nothing happens.

Meanwhile, here I am, an ex-humanities student who knows sod all about science listening to the Apollo 11 mission real-time replay from *even though* it appears that the guys are all asleep! I entirely blame my husband. Who is completely brilliant and I thank him profoundly for showing me some 13 years ago that there was alot more to the universe than stand up, old films and paperback novels.

Reflecting on Theremins

I have to persuade McK to get his theramin out and show the kids. It is time.

The Theremin, in our household is the catalyst behind a whole series of funny little gluey threads, binding our two worlds together, and into a bigger, beautiful picture, which to me, helps to explain just what it is that makes a geeky person what they are.

When I was 12, Blue Peter featured a chap called Musaire, an old man, dressed somewhat forlornly in a clown costume. He brought with him an amazing, strange and eery instrument called a Theremin. It was a huge box full of valves, painted on the outside in a classic 'big band orchestra' type of way, with white, swirls and probably stars. He proceeded to play, and for some reason, his performance stuck in my mind. Years later, it was one of my top Blue Peter memories and would come to mind in idle moments every now and then. It combined the pathos of a lost moment in British history - the variety end of the pier show, with something magical, spellbinding but somehow rendered slightly tatty by age. At the time, Musaire reckoned there were only a couple of people in the UK who could play the instrument. It, too, was a lost moment in time.

I am strongly of the belief that that triggered something. There are many people I know who can remember that TV appearance. That, and then years later, the brilliant documentary that managed, astonishingly, to find Leon Termin, released quietly from his exile. The rise in hobbyism that the internet so supports and these two rare media outings for this incredibly strange instrument seemed to hit a nerve amongst a certain type of person.

In 1995, McK was living with a friend, a stand up, who was driving  up to Ed with some of McK's stuff, given that both of them were doing shows. I had met McK only tangentially, at a party in Balham, where I talked to him about tea for a couple of moments, then we ran out of things to say to each other and we both moved on to other party goers. I volunteered myself to share the journey to Ed with my newish friend, Stew, given that I wanted to get to know him better, and didn't have the money for a train. Stew was putting things together for the car, and lifted up a bin bag, in which seemed to be a huge box.

Stew has / had an amusing one-upmanship in his character, which tends to be with regard to esoteric / geeky lifestyley (music/books/comics) things. I remember when I was kipping on his sofa one night after some party or other, he showed me his record collection. "All in A-Z order, obviously", he said, somewhat triumphantly, not adding "So there, beat that, then" on the end of the sentence. He was a bit put out when I said "Well, obviously" (I mean what kind of *idiot* wouldn't meticulously order all of their records in A-Z order? Hello?). Another time, we were watching old videos and I grinned quietly to myself as I discovered, to my great amusement that he had written down all the music videos on a list, with the timings on the video tape where the video in question was. I had done exactly the same things with my vast collection of Tube and Snub TV videos - to the point of putting all the running times in a little ringbinder.

Anyway. Back to the box. he was holding a big box. He said "I'll bet you can't guess what's in this box. I'll give you a clue. It's a musical instrument". He stood, wry but smug, knowing I hadn't a chance in hell of getting the answer. I think, although I may be romanticising the memory, that I didn't hesitate,  and I said "A Theremin". He nearly dropped it on the floor.

A year or two later, I  went with McK to the house of one Tony Henk, master Theremin maker, to meet Lydia Kavina, universally acclaimed as the great Theremin player of the age and found her to be a lovely person. She was taught the instrument by Termin himself from the age of 3. It's a sadness to me that wev weren't able to stay in touch with her. She now teaches in Moscow, and has supported a new Russian built Theremin which is apparently the best model you can buy.

McK still has his Theremin. He used to play a big valved box one at the Science Museum but his personal Henk model is a lovely wooden, slim and modern version. It's been stuck in its case for too long.

Meanwhile, I discovered the other day that Mr Neil Armstrong personally recorded on to tape a vinyl recording he had, "Music out of the moon" to take with him on the Apollo 11 journey. It's a rather wonderful album of Theremin music, played and composed by Dr Samuel J Hoffman. evidence of this is shown as being one of the jigsaw puzzle pieces that explain why Armstrong is somehow weird, eccentric and strange in his privacy. He was always weird, see. He liked Theremin music.

No. it means he was as fascinated by this amazing instrument as I have been, as McK has been and now, as many thousands of internet inspired, interested people are, all over the place. really is time McK took his Theremin out of its box.

Happy Apollo 11 anniversary, Neil.  Happy Apollo 11 anniversary, Mackay.