The science of scrounging
Getting a free coffee from Pret A Manger as a profound life experience - REVIEWED
It was always just out of reach, like Tantalus and his hanging fruit or the Labour party and socialism (though I’m reserving judgment on the latter for the moment). Friends and colleagues had often been given free coffees from the staff at Pret A Manger, seemingly with little cause, while despite regular, politely worded incursions into my branch I was shunned. Was it because they knew that I, as a diligent subeditor, secretly resented the absence of the circumflex on “Pret” and felt uneasy about their multi-queue system?
But on Thursday morning, this post-modern Maundy money, dispensed with official blessing at the whim of the burgundy-and-white sandwicheurs, showered down on my humble head. Perhaps the young server took pity on my flushed, post-cycle face, or particularly enjoyed our two-sentence chat about the weather (“That rain yesterday. Eh?”). Or she had a freebie quota to fill. Whatever, I left the cafe smiling, with the Proustian recollection of winning a prize in a local newspaper competition (it was “spot the difference” and I got two free cinema tickets) - and slightly giddy at the suspicion that someone liked me enough to give me something for free. The coffee, however, tasted exactly the same.
A dead bird David Barnett saw outside a public loo in St Ives – REVIEWED
Bird bird, grotty little bird
You are now in heaven like the lovely Thora Hird
I wonder what you felt on earth
I wonder what you saw
I wonder how you ate your food
Without a mandible jaw.
Bird bird, grotty little bird
You flew amongst the heavens but you never spoke a word
Now here I am in front of you
Just looking at your corpse
In truth it’s brown and manky
Like the rear end of a horse.
Bird bird, grotty little bird
It seems your life was meaningless, but really that’s absurd
Your wings retain their perfect form
Your beak is froze mid-cry
You were a beautiful creature
And, you know what?, so am I.
Life. Oh, life. Oooh, liiife
A person who tweets in the style of Des’ree – REVIEWED
Obviously the apposite way of reviewing a pisstakey Twitter account that tweets in the nonsensical rhyming style of forgotten 90s soul-pop artist Des’ree (sample lyric: “I don’t want to see a ghost / It’s a sight that I fear most / I’d rather have a piece of toast / And watch the evening news”) would be to write a nonsensical rhyme of my own. Something like: Person with too much time / Commits to Twitter Des’ree rhymes / About current affairs they chime / The whole thing’s mildly funny.
But Paul MacInnes has already used a similar conceit to review his “anything” (see above), so instead I have to actually devote time to writing a proper review of a pisstakey Twitter account that tweets in the nonsensical rhyming style of forgotten 90s soul-pop artist Des’ree or risk being called a plagiarising copycat. Thanks Paul.
Anyway, one of the wonderful, unexpected side-effects of this thing we call Twitter is that high-concept ideas that would probably get very tired very fast in some other medium are granted an extended shelf life. Grown weary of that Kim Kardashian Kierkegaard mash-up account? Simply mute or unfollow and then wait a few months until one of your friends retweets it, by which time you’ll have probably forgotten about and will thus find the whole thing hilarious once again. It’s the Sideshow Bob rake joke updated for our fractured, metatextual times.
Case in point, The News By Des’ree, which I saw a few months ago, chuckled at, then got bored by, then forgot about entirely, and am now chuckling at once again. It’s funny and creative, and I’m happy it exists. But do you know what I’ve really taken from this whole experience? Just how more interesting British pop stars like Des’ree were than the vapid, stage-managed-to-within-an-inch-of-their-lives lot we have now. Can you imagine Clean Bandit ever singing anything as self-consciously silly as ‘I’m afraid of the dark / Especially when I’m in a park’? Of course you can’t. Des’Ree is the Edward Lear of pop. We should cherish her.
The News By Des’ree: 7/10
A 45-second snippet of Johnny Borrell & Zazou’s new song – REVIEWED
Johnny Borrell is a name synonymous with laughter and joy – not with him, obviously. At him. At the time he got dumped by Hollywood A-lister Kirsten Dunst after he drove a motorcycle through their house. At the cameo on early-00s hip-com The Mighty Boosh when he searched for “the new sound”. At his 2013 solo album, which only sold 594 copies upon release. And, wonderfully, the list of Borrellisms continues to grow to this day.
In April, Borrell and his band Zazou celebrated the launch of their eponymous second LP (which isn’t actually out yet) with a Hypnagogic Mandala Party. I almost feel bad, but how can you possibly read those words with a straight face? You can’t. It’s impossible. Particularly when you discover that entry was permitted in exchange for a hand-drawn mandala (AKA a geometric representation of the universe) or “a well-thumbed copy of Goethe”, to quote the man himself. I mean, come on, you’re smirking aren’t you?
Last night JB&Z threw another HMP to coincide with the release of their new single, Black God, which is a genuinely catchy tune. At least it is for the 45-second preview us normals are deigned fit to listen to. Galloping bongo beats race wayward maracas and a jaunty piano, all of which underpin Borrell’s bizarre pinings over a divine milliner (“Your black god, she believes she’ll fit a hat for your head”). But it’s over before it can get started and if you want to hear the whole track you’ve got to get your colouring pencils out, because Borrell wants more mandalas for his music. Honestly, it’s enough to make you LOL. And, for bringing these tiny jolts of happiness into our otherwise miserable lives, Bozza can have full marks.
The dictionary – REVIEWED
It’s actually pretty amazing that the book – in its foldy, heavy, printy form that you have to carry around – still exists at all. The very concept of it has been improved upon so many times throughout history: the magazine, the tablet, the computer and, most notably, the boldly structured pamphlet – all should have rendered the book utterly obsolete, as advances in science did with the pigs’ bladder prophylactic and the PalmPilot. And yet here the book remains, bulky, unchanging, frozen in time, like a pickled hand.
Of all the books that should have been cobbed onto the pyre of obsolescence, the dictionary should surely have been among the first. There’s no story, it’s big, the writing’s small, there are no pictures, and the chapters don’t really go anywhere. You could argue that, say, the Bible is equally obsolete, but at least the Bible is a mad tiny wedge of rip-roaring nonsense, with ghosts and evil and fights and goats and genocides in it. The dictionary does admittedly contain all of these things, but they’re only accompanied by a description of what they actually are. No narrative. No goat deeds. Nothing. It’s total cobblers.
There’s a shortcut on my work computer (copy, then ctl+alt–cmd) that immediately Googles any word in less than a second. This makes the vast Collins dictionary on my desk seem as arcane as using leeches to cure dropsy, flagging down a black cab instead of booking an Uber, or using “LOL” instead of “haha” like some mucky-knuckled grunt-ape from the 00s. With the addition of The Urban Dictionary and Viz’s superlative Profanosaurus, I think it’s high time we admit this, move on, and see the the dictionary unceremoniously banished. Or, as it would piously say: vb (tr) “Expelled from a place, esp by a special decree as a punishment.” See what I mean? Drier than a Wetherspoons veggie burger.
In fact, the only reason the sodding dictionary isn’t getting minus-1999 out of 10 is that I came across this by accident just now and properly pissed myself.
What the London Underground looks like IRL – REVIEWED
Like plucking your nostril hairs or doing the washing up, taking the tube is necessary but kind of gross and, ultimately, you’d rather not have to do it. There’s the grim certainty of getting stuck in the mushroom cloud of someone’s kebab breath, or that you’ll sit on a wet patch, and the choking fear that one day you’ll get your arse stuck in the closing doors. The neat, structured underground map by Harry Beck, its lines bending at neat, 90-degree angles, the stops spaced evenly, brings a harmonious inner calm to the morning rush hour. It says, “Don’t worry that someone has spilled their Costa macchiato over your new Converse, you’ve got just three stops in a virtual straight line to go.” It says: keep calm and carry on ffs.
But this “geographically accurate” version, unearthed by Transport for London at the behest of one Mr James Burbage, is cartography gone wild. My anxiety levels have risen to dangerous new heights just looking at its scribbles of tube lines – a scrawl of primary colours. The Circle Line actually bears the shape of a droopy member and Bermondsey is worryingly exposed, looking even more like London’s own Bermuda triangle, a virtual tube-and-train dead zone. I don’t care if I can see how close Clapham High Street is to Clapham Common (duh) or how it probably only takes seven minutes to sprint across central London. I need uniformity and a map that looks as if it’s been drawn up by the Inner Party in a bunker under Airstrip One. I need zen tube journeys and the sense that I am an individual travelling serenely through the tangled mess of people and places that is our capital city. Give me the neat version any day.