Monday, 23 May 2011

The bleating self denial of the paranoid heart

This week, two tales of stupidity from the world of culture.

"We are morons" no 1: ITV

Watched the BAFTAs last night with C and a really good bottle of wine. It was quite enjoyable, and made me realise how much good British television is being made these days.

Totting up the results, I see that the BBC are responsible for a massive 14 of the winners. ITV and Channel 4 go four each, and Sky got one. That's significant, because it means that the BBC continues to be a relevant creative and cultural force in the UK. And also, it amused me, because do you know how ITV's website has reported this statistic? ITV who, remember, go 4 out of a possible 23 awards?

"ITV Sweeps The BAFTAs"



The BBC, meanwhile, having won 14 of the awards, could have been forgiven for leading with: 'Brilliant BBC Wee in ITV's Pathetic Face with Mathematically Provable Superiority in All Aspects of Cultural Significance'. But they didn't. They don't need to. They don't even say 'BBC Sweeps the BAFTAs', though it would be true this time. They go with "New faces topple star names." Dignified, restrained, factual.

If you ever need any help working out who is telling the truth and lying, here's a simple test. Is the person bleating loudly about how great they are, and hinting constantly that you might want to give them praise and/or sympathy? Probably a liar. Are they maintaining a dignified silence? Probably telling the truth.

Or asleep. Or not paying attention. Whatever.

"We are morons" no 2: Wakefield Council

Cultural idiocy is also alive closer to home. Well, closer to my home.

This weekend saw two stories about Wakefield and sculpture. The first you may have heard of - we've got a great big new sculpture gallery - The Hepworth - and everyone is very excited about it. The council has done a good job pushing the funding through and maybe Wakefield will start to regain some of the cultural vibrancy it lost over the last decade or so.

Or maybe not, Because elsewhere in Wakey a couple of artists have found their efforts to create something interesting stamped on by the very same authority.

Victoria Lucas and Richard William Wheater have been running a great project called 12 Months of Neon Love, whereby they erect large neon signs on the roof of a building, spelling out the lyrics of love songs. We've passed the signs on the way back from the pub a few times, and they have made us happy. Unusual, creative, positive, grassroots, brilliant.

Well, not if you're Wakefield Council, apparently, who have denied the artists planning permission. Their reasoning is made of nonsense and couched in typical authority nothing-speak. Listen to this garbage:

“The sign by virtue of its scale, design, temporary nature and illumination would introduce a feature that appears incongruous and significantly harmful to the visual amenity of the locality contrary to Local Development Framework Development Policies Document Policy D16 and the guidance contained within Planning Policy Guidance note 19: Outdoor Advertisement Control.”

OK. Firstly, anyone using the phrase 'visual amenity of the locality' is, by any defintion, a machine,  and shouldn't be allowed to pontificate on matters of culture. Secondly, and more pertinently, you stupid great bloody hypocrites.

Let's take a look at the Hepworth again, shall we? Yes, I'm glad it's there. Yes, I think it is a good thing. But if we're going to start talking about features that appear 'incongrous' and 'harmful to the visual amenity' I think we need to take a look at the Hepworth Gallery too. I mean... it's a great big grey concrete slab in the middle of a load of trees and a river. It is angular, unnatural and weird looking and absolutely, certifiably does not fit in with its surroundings.

I'm not saying I mind the Hepworth Gallery looking like this. I think it's interesting. I'm saying that you, Wakefield Council, are talking crap if you say 'Neon Love' can't carry on because it doesn't look right. I'm saying that your real reasons are probably more mundane, and depressing. It feels a bit like 'real' art, expensive, big name art, is allowed, because you're hoping it will draw in the tourists. But locally produced, independent, off-the-wall art worries you, and doesn't fit into your parameters, and must be taken down.

The decision is being contested. If you want to add your voice to a petition on behalf of the artists, you can go here. Please do, and do it by Thursday.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Around the Houses 2: Buttershaw

When I pass away, leaving a legacy of sterling deeds and exciting indescretions, I hope to be remembered not just through my contributions to famine relief, intellectual discourse and sexy dancing, but also through a number of memorials erected in my honour. You know the kind of thing - a brass plaque nailed to the side of house, declaring "Rob Reed lived here between 1998 and 2008, and that's probably why the carpet's like it is." That would be good.

As detailed in a previous blog entry, the first place to bear such a memorial would be Harrogate Place in Bradford, where I battled wasps, coffee-flavoured Revels and dopplegangers of my friends. The second place would be the pebbledashed wall of Raeburn Drive in Buttershaw - a semi-detached where I dwelled for about a year, when I was five.

If you could ask the house itself about my time there, it would probably shrug in a nonchalant fashion and say "I do not remember the child." It would probably resist the plaque, wondering why anyone should care that I'd spent such a brief portion of time there. However, a few things have survived through the haze of time, and I think future historians will agree, they are massively important and exciting.

1. A wasp makes me drop an ice-cream

The war with the insects continues, as the evil cousin of one of the hedge-dwelling stripey bastards from my previous house attacks me in the street. I have just been bought an ice-cream by my grandma, with a bit of red juice and a flake. (The ice cream, not her.) Out of nowhere, driven by nothing less than pure hatred, a wasp appears and helps itself to a bit of my bloody ice cream! Shrieking in terror, I hurl the ice cream at the floor, hoping that the resulting explosion will destroy all wasps forever. Instead, my previously lovely treat splats pathetically into the hot tarmac and the malicious six legged twat flies away to ruin someone else's childhood.

I think the reason this stays with me so vividly is the scale of the disappointment; the vastness of the gulf between the pleasure I was anticipating and the bleak, desolate nothingness I ended up with. I wept hot, insane tears as my ruined ice cream melted away into the road. The same tears plague me now, whenever a beautiful thing is ruined by the actions of an idiot.

2. A girl sits on my legs

It is hard to say exactly when my interest in girls first made itself manifest, but there was certainly something going on when Nicola Smith sat on my legs one day during storytime. I was wearing short trousers and she wore patterned knickers, leaving a perfect series of prints on my bare legs. Don't worry - it isn't a sexy thing. The idea of a girl sitting on me was nothing more than an amusing diversion during an otherwise boring story about a worm. Indeed, if you had said the word 'knickers' to five-year-old me, I would probably have giggled myself into a frenzy of vomiting. But the patterns were a matter of great fascination, a peculiar fragment of a forbidden world, inscribed upon my flesh. Not sexual, exactly, but... interesting.

Quite why our teacher allowed this  blatant transgression of boundaries I'm not sure, though it was the 70s, so maybe she was adhering to some kind of progressive, counter-cultural educational agenda designed to bring down the government through alternative ideologies. If I'd stayed there, she'd probably have been encouraging us into threesomes by the time we could do long multiplication.

3. I learn to read - sort of

Although I have, clearly, turned out to be one of the most intelligent and learned men of my generation, I was not by any means an early developer. My earliest attempt at reading was something of a flawed affair and went thus:

My mum holds up the 1976 Dalek annual. There is a picture of a Dalek, and the word Dalek.

MUM:   What does this say?

MY THOUGHT PROCESS:    That's definitely a dalek from Doctor Who. And that first letter there is almost certainly a 'D'. So... a dalek, and the letter D. Right. Here goes.

ME:   Doctor Who!

MUM: No.

ME:    It is! It's the monster from Doctor Who! I've seen it on television!

MUM:  And what is the monster called?

ME:   Doctor Who.

MUM:   No...

ME:   (furious tears)   IT IS!!! IT IS DOCTOR WHO!!!

I storm off in a whirlwind of injustice, convinced that I am correct, and that all external evidence to the contrary is a liar.

Things have changed little in this respect.

We left the house about a year after we moved in. I don't know why. But my loathing of wasps and my fascination with Doctor Who persist. Hurrah for them.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Why I am a terrible boyfriend

Oh, ha ha ha. Yes, you've got lots of hilarious contributions as to why the title of this blog is so apt. Well, you're wrong, mostly. I didn't do any of those things. Well, maybe about 7% of them. That's hardly any. And that was ages ago.

No, I'm a bad boyfriend because it was C's birthday recently, and I've accidentally bought her presents that are sort of for me. By which I mean, I bought her things that I thought she'd like, and it turns out I really like them too, so its like I bought them for myself and passed them off as presents.

I'm assuming most couples who live together cope with this all the time, but I find it bizarrely dfficult to give a present to someone I live with without feeling I've also bought it for myself. For example, I know she really likes cheery serial-killer TV show Dexter, and we don't have season 3, so I could have bought that. But then, once opened, it would have gone and sat on Squarity Jim - our mighty shelving unit - with all the other DVD box sets. And thus it would sort of become mine too. That's not really a present, is it?

So I go to some lengths to think of things that avoid this trap, to buy something that I don't want for myself. This is no mean feat - the buying of a gift should be something that the giver believes to have worth. It's great, isn't it, giving someone a book, or CD, or film that you've really enjoyed, hoping they will enjoy it too. To give someone a present you think is rubbish just doesn't seem to make sense. "Here you are - it's Marley and Me, the crap-awful Owen Wilson film about a dog that takes forever to die and nothing else happens. I think it's awful, but I though you'd like it. By extension, I believe you to be the kind of person who enjoys over-sentimental plotless wank, i.e. - an idiot. Happy Birthday!"

So I have to think of something which a) is probably good, and has merit beyond merely having cost me some money, but b) I don't really want myself. Arg!

Anyway, I thought I'd got it sorted this time. I got C series one of  the American show Lie to Me, starring Tim Roth as a man who works out what you're thinking by closely examining your facial tics. It's basically CSI, only instead of visiting a crime scene and finding your DNA on a spoon, he stares at your face and finds your eyebrows betraying you by arching sarcastically when you lie. I though she'd like it, because it's all psychological, and I'm pretty sure that her job has something to do with that stuff.

Well, she did like it. But, sod it, so do I. It's really brisk and fun, with a simple but ingenious central premise and a smart performance from Tim Roth. So far each episode is structured in a pleasingly rigorous manner -

Important A plot, usually about murder ("Did you murder her?" asks Tim Roth. "No," says the suspect, nodding vigorously. Oops.),

slightly more emotion-based B plot ("Are you having an affair?" asks Tim Roth. "No," says the suspect, unconsciously stroking his cock. Oh dear.),

character led C plot ("Stop staring at my face!" says everyone who works with Tim Roth).

And the face-science is fascinating, and makes you think you can tell what everyone is thinking.

Never mind, I thought. I've got her another present - Hugh Laurie's new album, Let Them Talk. She likes him a lot - she's all into House, which I can't be bothered with (although I realise it's more or less the same as Lie To Me, only with hideous diseases instead of subconscious body language) and it sounds like the kind of easy-listening stuff that she can sing along to and I can safely ignore.

Well, wrong again. The CD turns up, she puts it on. It's brilliant. Sod it. How can one man be so good at so many things? Did he steal my potential when I was young, and is that why all I can be bothered doing is playing Command and Conquer: Kane's Revenge all day? Did he make some kind of deal with Satan? If so, I don't think that's going to work in Satan's favour. Come the day he tries to claim Hugh Laurie's soul, he'll find the entire human race pelting him with fruit, shouting "Leave House alone! Leave House alone!" (Except the older ones, who will be shouting "Get off Prince George!" or maybe, cleverly, "Look beihnd you Mr Caesar!")

So now I've bought my girlfriend two things that, essentially, I'll be using as much as her. This is why I'm a bad boyfriend. Boo to me. On the other hand, I suppose I do let her look at my Doctor Who figures whenever she wants.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Around the houses

How many houses have you lived in? Loads I bet, you house-hopping bohemian you. I think I've lived in about eight, so far, not including student halls or places before I was sufficiently self aware to know what was going on. Is eight a lot? Or boringly few? I'm not sure. Some people I know seem to move on a frighteningly regular basis, as if determined to have a stake in every street in England. That seems a bit much to me - I like a house to become kind of, I don't know.... part of me.

The first house I remember living in was very literally in the middle of our street - a small terraced thing in Bradford on a street called, I think, Harrogate Place. I was about four, or five, and thus very, very small. I don't remember very much about the house, except that the following things probably happened there:

1. I get stung, for the first time, by wasps.

There were two of the evil little buggers living in the front hedge. Or maybe not living there, maybe just hanging out playing with their cocks. Either way, they did not make me welcome when I, being four, decided to stick my head in the hedge. They stung me twice in the neck, and it hurt like holy hell. I ran up the street, around to the back of the house, where my mum was doing... something. Gardening, reading a book, something. Whatever it was, I ruined it, by charging into her afternoon wailing like a tiny, aggrieved monster.

On that day I swore vengance upon all wasps, and indeed all of insect kind. I didn't know much about life, but I knew that wasps were bastards, and that was a start. I often wonder what happened to those wasps, so formative in my early development as a nervous, hedge fearing insectophobe. I like to think they died, horribly, and in agonising pain.

2. I dig a brilliant hole in the front garden.

Why? Not sure, but it turned out to be a great place to eat sweets. It was sufficiently deep for me to crouch in, like a miniature First World War soldier, hurling coffee flavoured Revels over the top once in a while, but it was probably, in reality, pathetically shallow.

My dad came home from work, eventually, and stood on the path, looking down at me and my hole. He did not seem very impressed. I suppose he must have been about 26, though his puzzlement was that of an older, wearier man.

3. I try to grass up some of my friends

Even as a young man, I was clearly possessed of a great antipathy towards other humans, and regarded the destruction of their happiness as an end in itself.

Two of my friends - a brother and sister who could have been called anything but lets call them John and Gillian - went playing on the building site near our house. Now this was definitely verboten, and we had all been told many times not to play on the site, or we would surely die of a digger falling on us. To my evil delight, I saw my two friends climbing up the muddy hill away from the partially built foundations. Brilliant! I could get them into trouble!

Round to their home I scuttled, giggling with malicious mirth. The second their mum opened the door I divulged my treacherous news. What I expected I don't know. Effusive thanks and monetary reward? Sexual favours? Adoption? (I was quite keen on the latter, since my mum had refused to burn down the front hedge as a warning to other wasps, and my dad had filled in my brilliant hole).

Whatever it was, I didn't get it. As I was completing my villification of her children, John and Gillian themselves poked their heads out from behind their mother. They'd been in all afternoon. It wasn't them.  Quite how my immature sense of self dealt with this collosal embarrassment at the time I cannot remember. However, the shame still pricks me now. If you're out there, John and Gillian, I hope I didn't destroy your ability to trust.

So that was my first house. I don't think we were there very long after these events. Perhaps the neighbours drove us out, shouting 'take your idiot child from this place!'