Saturday, May 20, 2017

The woman who remembers Southam Street

This afternoon I went to a photography exhibition of 1950s life on one west London street. Roger Mayne's pictures show grubby happy kids doing handstands, shrieking, playing, smoking, and looking warily at strangers.



A wiry old woman with an angular back kept trying to drum up conversation with tightly polite types. She asked 'You interested in Southham street then?' All she got in return were sympathetic smiles and flickers of panic. Eventually she gave it a go with me and found a willing audience. I was happy to prod her stories along with the occasional question (almost all of which were ignored).



'Course I grew up near Southam street...' she began, as though this were self evident. She told me of the 'squalid' street she was afraid to walk on, the only time she dared was when she had to go to the cinema and pass the sweet smell of the liquorice factory on the way.
'Course it's all gone now, it's under a tower'
'Course everyone treated each other the same in those days...'
'Course you've have twenty kids living in one house back then'
'Course it's getting worse again now, but I got something to look forward to..'


And so she went on reminiscing about a lost London, of how she was told to avoid teddy boys, how she worked on Portobello road which was not 'for tourists like it is now', how the area changed with arrivals 'in from the West Indies ', how she loved going 'down cinema, which they torn down now of course'.
One particular highlight was a casual mention of Rillington Place and how her mum lived opposite 'that Christie' (infamous murderer) who was 'a lovely quiet man they say 'cept for what he done. Course you don't know how much of it is true'.


Other gallery goers slowed their pace in her orbit, snatching titbits of childhood games, crowded tenement lives, of how it's all changed but how 'nothing's changed that much really, it all goes round in circles'.
When reflecting on how life is still 'just as bad as ever' for poor families in the area she added 'course I got something to look forward to'. That phrase bubbling up again and again.
I, thinking she's either talking about Brexit or death, didn't draw her on it but she wasn't going to hold back for an invitation.
'You know what I got to look forward to?' She pulled a leaflet from her bag 'I'm a Jehovah's Witness, I'm going to paradise. Have a look through this magazine on salvation...what's your name? Rory I'm Helen. You keep that, have a flick through'
'Course we don't ASK for a donation...'

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Review: 'Alien: Covenant' and Harry Styles' album

I was recently at home in Dublin and teamed up with my dad for this quick review of 'Alien: Covenant' and Harry Styles' debut solo album. 



We'd love to hear what you think! 




I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Saturday, May 6, 2017

How to Cure a Cold

I have a few weeks off from work and it's free time I have been aching for since Christmas. I've long imagined busy little projects and adventures to fill the days so they felt like weeks, each so bursting with incident, revelation and life-changing moments that they'll require their own chapter in the autobiography, if not their own volume. 

Instead I've been shivering, snotty and suffering a scratchy throat that feels like a sour crow is pecking at it. EVERY SINGLE TIME I get a holiday my immune system takes one too. 

So how to beat this bastarding cold? I'm assaulting my system with so much Berocca my pee shall never be non-luminous again. But my dad's very-oft-repeated theory goes that if you take loads of vitamin C you'll beat a cold in 6 days, if you don't you'll beat a cold in 6 days. And for once, facts back him up. All a doctor can offer is 'rest, plenty of water, some vitamin C'. None of it will cure you, it will just make you feel a bit less shite. 

Having grown up in Ireland there were of course other 'cures' which we don't realise are peculiar to our island until talking to outside folk - for example 7up (served flat) and Lucozade were considered medicinal wonders. Serve some flat 7Up with dry toast (because you don't want to excite the stomach too much) and you'll be grand in a few hours. Also if I was extra whiney I might get a slice of Viennetta or raspberry ripple served on a saucer ("but don't tell the others"). 



Chatting about this on Twitter a friend added into the mix 'and Club Orange microwaved!!!!' Club Orange is fizzy orange like Fanta... that's then heated until warm. The very thought makes my stomach want to escape my body. Or am I missing out?! If so, I am happy to. 

If you have any sickness cures that you grew up with only to discover they were bizarre/tastebud torture (see above) let me know below or I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn


Sunday, April 23, 2017

New Rant Vid! Photogenic People

If you hate people who always look great in a photo.... and hate people who always moan about how they look in a photo. Then this is the video for you!

(Ps It's been nearly a year since I made a vid so would love to hear your feedback! @theroryjohn


Saturday, April 15, 2017

5 Things I Loved This Week #2

Some of the things I've loved this week including Michelle Visage, a video at the Tate, the podcast everyone is droning on about, and this fella... 



1 Immigrant Song

I've been hearing a lot of this song recently and it's still never enough. 

Last week over on reddit someone posted about how the opening credits to 'The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo' (English version) make for a better Bond opening sequence than most Bond films. 

It's damn true you know.



That blood-thickening noise is Karen O and Trent Reznor's cover of Led Zeppelin's 1970 Viking anthem 'Immigrant Song'. I now listen to it every time I need a He-Man-esque 'I HAVE THE POWER' boost for work/a casual strut down a train platform/a trip to the kettle. 

This week the original popped up in the teaser trailer for 'Thor: Ragnorak' (which actually looks fun). This track is clearly destined to be my new life anthem. Enemies beware. 

2 S-Town podcast

From the people behind Serial, here's a new highly addictive podcast that will have you taking the long-way home with ears aching for answers. 




It begins with a murder mystery and pivots several times into something completely different - including a character portrait and ending in a philosophical pondering of what it means to live life well. 

To say more gives too much away but in short it's an evocative Southern Gothic filled with hugely colourful characters though at its conclusion (I finally got there during an impromptu three hour walk) I was left a little unsatisfied and felt well, a bit icky. 



A co-worker I argued with by the biscuit tin felt (like many who listened) that it is a work of genius but I wondered if this was a great journalist (Brian Reed) following a story wherever it took him or someone desperately shaping a story as their years of research whimpered out into nothing much at all. Some prompts felt oddly motivated (what was he trying to say exactly with Tyler's finger anecdote?) and most central pursuits fall away without explanation. 

That said it is most definitely worth a listen. A painting of (a) life that is in turns grimly dark and beautiful. 

3 Mark Leckey 'Dream English Kid' at Tate Britain 

I'm wary of dark rooms showing videos in galleries. Sometimes this is because the films are dull as a dry sponge but nobody leaves in case they look stupid, but mostly I stay away as (unlike some, no judgement) I don't savour the thought of sitting on a stranger in the dark. 

But I gave this a go and loved it. 'Dream English Kid' is choppy-changy visual poem, a montage of found footage and reconstruction broadly looking at hedonism and anxiety in the last quarter of the 20th century. 




Imagine David Lynch grew up in Liverpool on potato waffles, Angel Delight and nuclear warnings you might get a sense of what Leckey's piece is like. And like Lynch's work this is something to let wash over you and to feel rather than grapple to make sense of. 




4 The Diva Rules by Michelle Visage



Okay so I am a sucker for a impulse buy life-coach book and a decent 97% of the time I'm completely deflated by chapter 2, realising yet again it's just some joker selling common sense but sticking Capitalized Letters on Repeated Buzzwords to make it look like they are Inventing Bold New Concepts. 

This one falls into my 3%. Yes, there's nothing startlingly new in here and it's not a long read but it's delivered with sharp humour and zero bullshit. I'm all for anything that gives me some much needed workplace pep and Michelle is like a bollocking boxer's coach in your corner when it comes to work ethic. One of her rules is 'Don't get ready, stay ready' (ie always be prepped for big opportunities and work your arse off to jump to the next level). 

Oh and for those who might think it's only for girls and gays don't be afraid of the word 'Diva' (which she strongly distinguishes from being a self-obsessed bitch who judges others instead of celebrating them), Diva = Anyone who is an unstoppable powerhouse. 




Btw Who else is enjoying the new 'Ru Paul's Drag Race' episodes? Valentina for the win! 

5 Lessons from the Screenplay

Every award season I'm left frustrated as the world swoons over the best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best director, best picture (one for the producers) and always back 17 rows from the limelight is the ACTUAL PERSON WHO WROTE THE DAMN FILM.  

I love YouTube video essays about film (channelcriswell and Every Frame a Painting are brilliant) and 'Lessons from the Screenplay' is a great one that redresses this insane imbalance of appreciation. 



Also this week! 

Kendrick Lamarr's new album 'DAMN' was one of my big highlights of the week but due to my shocking rap/hip hop ignorance I don't think I could write much about without exposing myself the utter jackass I am. Great album though. 



Harry Styles' 'Sign of the Times'. I have zero shame about it. While Zayn and Niall have launched their own careers (and Zayn's album was class), it always felt like One Direction was a launching pad for the Harry's inevitable and colossal solo success. And it's time to launch. Admittedly this track took a listen or two to really get into but now it just will not leave me alone. It's a pure belter. I've already pre-ordered the album.



While we're on the subject I've also long admired Harry's 'dishevelled son of a rock star smelling of cider in Primrose Hill' style and in particular envied his crusty old Chelsea boots. Several years later and I've finally bought my own pair - grey suede from Kurt Geiger. I will wear them till they are stinking dead. 




(BTW while looking up that image I've discovered the same pair are on sale online for literally HALF THE PRICE. Well that's ruined that happy purchase for me.) 

I also saw 'Ghost in the Shell'. It was okay. I reckon if you're doing a sci-fi based on a graphic novel then the cinematography needs to be on-point in every shot and I felt there was ever-so slightly missed opportunities all over the shop. That said, if you're hungry for choreographed ass-kicking and Blade Runner android pondering then do check it out. 




I'd really love to hear any feedback or general waffle you have!


 I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fearsome: Mice, Pigeons, & Clowns - Oh My!

It seems I have the powerful animal attraction of Snow White. While she coaxed birds, rabbits and squirrels (with eyes the size of plates) into helping with the housework, I am a magnet for mice and ants. 



Or at least the housemates suspect I'm behind it. Due to the ever building evidence, I'd have to agree. I'm either a cursed witch or rodents just find me damn sexy.  

Since I moved in two months ago we've had a tiny biblical plague of 'things that make you go eww'. The ants issue is being handled with ineffectual sprays and hard stares but there was another guest that wreaked greater havoc. 

Housemate M (preserving anonymity so there's a slightly less chance of her telling me to quit detailing every bloody thing that happens) screamed as though possessed with the terrors of hell one night. She's spied a very casual mouse in her room (reports say he didn't scuttle, he strolled - which was rude). Housemate M does not like mice. So much so that she emigrated. Really. 



The next day we got a message saying she'd returned to the home-country until the mouse was dealt with. 'Dealt with' in the Mafia understanding of the phrase. Thankfully she's back and the mouse has not been seen round these parts since. I think he casually strolled off for a drama-free life.
My mum also hates mice. My brother found out just how much when he found a dead mouse in a trap, crept up behind her and held it beside her face before calling her name. She did not laugh. 

They don't bother me much. Granted I wouldn't like to wake up and find one taking a bath in my mouth but when I see them nipping about on tube platforms I think 'aww mouse!' instead of 'ARGH BURNDOWNTHESTATION'. 

I also quite like spiders, don't have issue with snakes, and I bloody love a good pigeon. My mate Louise goes into a trance-state of quivering dread if one comes within 30 metres. I on the other-hand was conditioned to love pigeons from an early age by the 'Feed the birds' lady (who, now I reflect on it, was only ever interested in peddling overpriced bags of crumbs to tourists). 



I'm not going to belittle or sneer at those with irrational fears - because people don't tend to appreciate that and because I have a few of my own. 

This week a new trailer for a remake of 'Stephen King's IT' brought back happy childhood memories for many. For those who don't know it's about a demonic razor-toothed clown who lurked in drains and guts children. 




The bit that scared the living bejesus out of me in the original was a girl spying Pennywise through a clothes line. He smiles, she giggles. We see him again and... well... 



So I don't hang out much with clowns. I don't tend to trust child-catchers either. But these fears are reasonable. One that is edging towards unnecessary is the dread that grips me upon seeing a 'costumed character' - ie some randomer dressed as a friendly cartoon with a giant head and huge white gloves. Their real faces lurking somewhere behind those dead eyes. 



I despise and resent their eager joviality. They are not fun. They are sweaty strangers who dress up as something you love so they can trick you into hugging them.. or just to get paid a small wage...or to kill you. Who's to say?!

If one of these jolly dickheads was found lurking under my bed I would not merely emigrate until it's killed, I would watch the city burn from space. 

And that's not an over-reaction. 

Do you have any major fears? I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn


Monday, March 27, 2017

5 Things I Loved This Week

I've become a believer in praising what you want to see more of in the world. If I've enjoyed something I'll try and tell the person behind it. Because....

- Creative types are stereotyped as praise-guzzling egomaniacs but more often are shy worrywarts who put heaps of work into something and are anxious about how it's received.

- People assume others are doing the praising. Often nobody is. 

- Sometimes they tweet back! (I know this is not cool but I am not cool.) 

- It's a nice thing to do.

In the spirit of sharing great stuff here are 5 things I bloody loved this week.


 

1 Edith Bowman's podcast 'Soundtracking' where she chats to directors about the music used in their films. It's that simple but Edith makes it brilliant. She's clearly done her homework on each director's filmography and they in turn clearly love joining her for a deep nerdy dive into the choices they agonised over but often nobody appreciates. 

'Kong: Skull Island' director Jordan Vogt-Roberts said it was one of the most enjoyable conversations he's had in a long time - further specifying he didn't just mean while doing press junkets, he meant in life. I particularly recommend Edith's recent joyful catch-up with Edgar Wright which just went up this week. 

If you're a fan of films you'll love it. If you're a fan of music you'll love it. If you're a fan of good conversation you'll love it. 


2 A few years ago over pints at the BBC, 'Harlots' (Hulu, ITV Encore) co-creator Alison Newman quietly tipped me off that she had a great wee idea stirring for a drama but wouldn't be drawn further. 

At the time she was trying to track down Lucy Beale's killer as DI Samantha Keeble. Keeble failed (damn you Bobby!) but Alison has far more bloody-minded determination. She and Moira Buffini have turned a spark of fascination with the hidden history of 18th century prostitution into a hugely acclaimed series. 




As you'd expect from a lavish drama, the cast is impressive (including Samantha Morton, Lesley Manville, and Jessica Brown-Findlay of 'Downtown' fame) and every costume and location is on point.  But 'Harlots' doesn't feel for a second like a politely dull but worthy costume drama. This 18th century is fresh, colourful and new (as it should be, most dramas seem to forget that the clothes and houses were brand new at the time). Packed with rivalry, bitchiness, sex, lust and backstabbing, this is not your gentle bookish Sunday night viewing, it's gripping gutsy telly. 

Judging from my housemates gasps & curses at characters (she watches telly like an American watches the Super Bowl) this is going to be huge. Probably best not to watch it with your mum though (there's lots of thrusting and wobbly bits). 



3 Bowing out this week was series 2 of 'The Great Pottery Throw Down' or 'Pots Win Prizes' as it blatantly should have been called. Like 'The Great British Bake Off', which it will forever be compared with, Pottery Throwdown beavered away in the background for the first series before really hitting its stride and capturing the Twitter audience in the second. 

Like Bake Off, the magic is in the casting - the contenders are all likeable, quietly quirky (but not in a 'I'm mad me!' way), impressively talented, and do care for each other (when Elaine left Nam sadly reflected "Elaine is the only one who actually took care of me..."). 

Unlike Bake Off there's a thumping soundtrack of 1960 British rock, a male judge who will cry if a plate feels nice, and with Sara Cox presenting there are cheeky nods to the obvious innuendos (rims, bottoms, handles being 'well hung') but it feels far less self-conscious. 

The finale has played and the winner declared but catch up on iPlayer if you missed out. I promise you will not look at a mug handle the same way ever again. 



4 'Walking music' doesn't sound like much of a compliment but for years The XX have been my soundtrack to aimless wandering whilst feeling big profound emotions about nothing in particular. They carved out their own distinct line in ambient tunes to muse to - so much so that for me their second album felt just that bit too similar to the first. 




I expected their third album 'I See You' would be yet more of the same but instead it's proved a quick addiction and I would wager their best yet. There's still the distinctive XX sound with Romy and Oliver's vocals dancing in and over each and it does move at the pace of hungover soul shuffling from the sofa to kettle, but the album feels much more robust  - there's more muscle in the flesh. Or to put it another way, it's damn catchy. 



5 'Yoga with Adriene' also comes recommended as Caitlin Moran's YouTube tutorial of choice and has been my weedy body's saviour. After decades of avoiding public exercise for fear that I'll be utterly shite at it, this easy home yoga series has helped me feel that my body isn't entirely defective. It's just a bit lazy and non-stretchy.



Adriene is a perky and insanely positive Texan yoga instructor and actor. I know, how insufferable does she sound already? BUT trust me you'll love her. She guides with a laid-back encouraging attitude and occasional tangents into rap, pop or a TV reference she can't quite remember (one of her more frequent phrases is 'Okay...shuttup Adriene'). 

Last year I tried her 30 day challenge and made it to the heady heights of Day 6 before jacking it in, this year I'm at Day 18 and counting - and that's mostly down to the fact that Adriene doesn't make me feel like a useless dolt when I fail. She will stretch you both literally and figuratively but won't frustrate you. 

You will never stand up without hearing 'head over heart, heart over pelvis' again. 



Anything you loved this week you'd like to share?

I'm on Twitter @theRoryJohn