Monthly Archives: August 2004

Better than the Oscars

Michael Moore at the Republican Convention
I’m dizzy with American politics. I’ve been watching C-Span’s coverage of the Republican Convention (via BBC Parliament). The convention’s a kind of collapsed super-dense cloud of rhetoric, sentiment, aggression and fear. Organised and cynical but also mawkish, naive, humourless and a bit slow-witted – lots of yearning for something simpler and older, lots of directionless patriotism, lots of Stetsons and hilarious hair. It’s pure Hollywood too – obviously elaborately-stage-managed – Sinatra singing New York New York on the Jumbotron, glamorous TV presenters roaming the crowd and interviewing photogenic delegates, slick televangelists delivering nightly benedictions… In hours of coverage though, I’ve observed not one moment of wit or self-knowledge or irony (Giulliani had some pretty good gags, though, when he wasn’t revising post-war European history for the neo-cons).

When John McCain greeted Michael Moore from the podium (Moore was in the room – how does he do that?) as a ‘disingenuous film-maker’, the wave of hatred was palpable and the chants of ‘four more years’ deafening (that must have been quite a moment for Moore). It’s amazing TV and pretty strange politics…


The Mosquito Museum's chief electricianA gorgeous restored De Havilland at The Mosquito Museum
A plane stripped down to primer for restoration at The Mosquito MuseumA sign at The Mosquito Museum
One of our favourite local treats is the shabby but brilliant de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, which everyone knows as the Mosquito Museum. Here they made the first handful of Mosquitos in a hanger disguised as a barn (in case the Germans spotted it) and here they have two beautifully-restored planes and dozens of other de Havilland machines – lots of which you can climb all over – and a fascinating exhibit about the technologically-advanced de Havilland jet engines.

The best thing about the museum, though, is the gaggle of volunteers who run it, restore the planes, make the models and man the shop. They’re friendly and passionate and fascinating (and mostly pensioners). If you spot one you should stop him or her and ask about the latest project (they’re restoring another Mosquito and a gorgeous Chipmunk trainer and they just finished an amazing Moth Minor).

Half the collection’s planes are kept outdoors, so they’re pretty grubby and the interiors smell a bit like a forty year-old Morris Minor but where else can you handle the controls of a de Havilland Comet 4 airliner or flick switches in the cockpit of a Sea Venom fighter bomber? Another glorious and strange British weekend treasure. Click the little pics for bigger ones (by the way, the Moth Minor’s wings fold so that you can tow it home behind your Bentley). Lots more pics here.

Olympics and spectacle

TV still has the power to knock your socks off. I’m thinking about the Olympics, of course. Some people are probably calling this the ‘red button’ games (at least in Britain) but I reckon this has to be the games of the ’embedded’ camera. Big, static cameras pointed at the action are obviously history. Now you run the camera on a little train along the bottom of the pool or down the ten metre tower and – splash – into the water with the divers or out into the Saronic Gulf lashed to a mast or perched – wobbling – on the high bar or velcro’d to the athlete’s shorts as he wanders the village. The Olympic environment is studded with cameras (I wonder how many there are?) – it’s like the benign flipside of the surveillance society. There are no dark corners any more.

Sport and spectacle have finally collided and it makes perfect sense. From now on the idea of competing for any prize without perfect 360°, hi-def coverage will just seem weird. And it can only get stranger and more intimate – the barriers are down and the technology is out of control. Biometrics and blood chemistry (real-time public drug testing – how’s that for transparency?), downtime (Big Brother live from the Olympic Village). The coverage has been stretched in every direction – there’s more of it and it goes closer to the action and to the personalities. Sports TV meets reality TV. The cameras will be everywhere and the athletes will have no refuge…

Dragon slain?

The Komodo Dragon is the largest lizard in the world, a member of the Monitor family (and quite closely related to snakes). It’s been around since before the dinosaurs, runs at over 20km/h and eats 80% of its body weight in one sitting. We love Komodo Dragons (it’s only possible to say that in a house that has a six year-old boy in it). They are truly beautiful and awesome creatures. On August 11 (that six year-old boy’s birthday – check out the Komodo birthday cake made by his loving mother) we went to see the newly-arrived Komodo Dragons at London Zoo. Ten days later, one of them – the female, Nina, pictured – is dead. We’re all heartbroken.

Old punks

Jamie Reid's poster for the Sex Pistols' Pretty Vacant
Jamie Reid’s cover art was the ultimate ‘fuck off’ to our parents’ generation and all that fuss about the Queen and EMI was intoxicating if your last album purchase was Tales from Topographic Oceans. So now all that perfectly ephemeral stuff is perfectly collectable – and, I’ll tell you, I’d like one… (does that make me hopelessly middle-aged?).

Convenience? This is war

When the supermarkets abandoned the High Street for their out-of-town barns the damage done to local communities and economies was enormous and permanent. Now they’re coming back, this time in smaller premises. They’re challenging a history of second-rate service and poor quality from the crappy convenience chain franchises and they’re going up against the trusted local independents (green grocers, bakers and butchers) again. This time, though, the effect could actually be positive.

The village (everyone calls it a village but it’s a small town, really) that I live in has become a battlefield in the new supermarket war of convenience. The village, population 8,000, now boasts a branch of Budgen’s (a long time convenience player), a Sainsbury’s Local and a Tesco Metro plus a plucky but surely doomed fight-back from an established off-license called Threshers+Food. In our house, we’re wholesale converts to convenience. We haven’t visited a proper supermarket in months.

If these smart, clean convenience stores can bring consistency and quality back to a sector better known for out-of-date biscuits and a flexible attitude to public health, we might just drive out to the edge-of-town barn a bit less often and the halo effect might bring us back to the older, independent retailers next door and round the corner. Could the multiples actually help to revive the High Street by making it respectable to shop there again? I’d like to think so.

Folk justice

Sophisticated it ain’t. Taking a man’s lottery winnings away from him fifteen years after he was convicted and sentenced may sound Mediaeval to you but I suspect there’s worse to come. Retrospective punishments might just catch on – and let’s not be timid. Why stop at the first generation? A miscreant’s offspring ought surely to pay their own tithe to the parent’s victims – after all, if it weren’t for their criminal parent they wouldn’t exist at all and have surely thus benefited from crime. Sequester their cattle, drive them from the realm!

Admirable Things

The admirable Things Magazine has reached its tenth anniversary. I’m a recent convert (like thousands of people, I guess, by way of the equally good New Things linklog). You can buy a copy here and you can even use the PayPal credit you’ve been accumulating selling off all those… er… things in your attic. Things is clever. It looks like one of those wise-ass cultural/academic journals that thrived in the eighties and nineties but it’s different. I think it’s kind of ‘post-theoretical’, displaying the sort of hyper-engaged pleasure in the material world that was considered disreputable when I was reading this kind of thing, when ‘theory’ closed off practice and things were reduced to signs. Back then we deprecated the literal, physical world. You might have concluded it didn’t exist at all, that it was just an ‘effect’ of the submerged sign-world we inhabited. Now we’re all recovering our pleasure in the stuff that surrounds us and Things is here to celebrate it.