Category Archives: madness

Tango on the Edgware Road

Thursday night and I’m treating myself to a shawarma at Café Helen on the Edgware Road. The place is bustling, customers coming in for two or three shawarma at a time, the guy on duty slapping the flatbreads out, piling on the meat and rolling them up at a good clip. Outside, there’s the sound of sirens, and a few bad-looking boys running up and down the street. Yeah, I’m thinking, West London’s got edge. You don’t have to go east of the Fleet for that gritty urban vibe.

I eat it waiting for the number six, which takes its sweet time. Just as it rolls into view, I feel a sharp slap on the back of my head. Quick check: I’m not drunk, haven’t walked into anything. What the fuck just happened? I look around. There’s a shabby-looking old bloke standing next to me. Did you see anything, I ask? Did somebody just throw something at me? Yes, he gestures, from the flats, up above. From the flats? Two blokes sitting outside a shisha café seem to concur. I look up at the windows, down at the ground, try to see what hit me, but my bus is here and I get on.

Another man, already sitting on the bus, says to me it was him, he hit you. I look through the door of the bus and the old bloke’s still there, giving me the finger and mouthing obscenities. Safe from the possibility of hitting him in revenge, I give him the finger back and a few fuckyous too. The bus pulls away, I sit down at the front and a friend calls. He’s in a club and I can hardly hear him, but I try to explain what just happened, loudly and with several swearwords.

The bus pulls up at the lights and the driver turns round to me. It’s not personal, he says. Don’t let it affect your mind. He does that all the time. He’s banned from the buses. One time they arrested him up here, he was saying Saddam Hussein was going to blow us all up. They should keep him locked up for saying stuff like that (sure enough, Paddington Green is just around the corner). I’m relieved at least to know that it’s not personal, that getting tangoed on the Edgware Road is almost routine. Why does he do it? the driver asks. Maybe it’s the credit crunch, he says.

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Fuck the Creative Industries

Fuck them first and foremost for their exclusiveness, for drawing a line between them and you and putting themselves on the creative side of it. Fuck them for saying that what they do counts and what you do doesn’t. Fuck them for the over-inflated notion of their own ‘creativity’.

Fuck them next because what they actually do create is awful. Acres of anxiety-inducing advertising, tedious dadrock and festering beehives of migrainous office blocks. Because it’s cancer before it’s even left the drawing board. Because they treat housing as sculpture, text like pictures and everything they do as an excuse to invite celebrities to a party.

Fuck them then because they really are an industry, an ugly, landscape-scarring, mind-polluting industry, treating talent like a mine and inspiration like dirty fuel. Fuck them again because of the frequency with which they demand subsidy and succour for their industry when they decide it’s an art. An entrepreneur wearing a t-shirt of a band you like is still an entrepreneur. And an entrepreneur is just a small maggot who wants to be a fat maggot.  One day, he’ll grow up to be a fly and shit in your food.

Fuck the creative industries because they promise to bring change, innovation and ‘disruption’ to the table before serving the same old bitter vinegar in impractically-shaped new bottles. People who think that product design ‘shapes the way we live’ should be permanently rehoused on a Midlands sink estate and mugged repeatedly until they develop better theories about the relationship between aesthetics and social formation.

An office with distressed plaster walls is still an office
An office full of folding bicycles is still an office
An office with a ping-pong table, pool table or football table in it is still an office
… and the people working in it are still drones.

Fuck them because they flood our eyes and ears with media like a backed-up sewer. Their whip pans, crash zooms and tedious electronics soundtracks are the vectors of a deadly, suffocating cholera of distraction. Their synchronised escalator adverts are a Nuremberg rally of the imagination.

Fuck their unshakeable faith in the importance of what they do. Talking to a graphic designer shouldn’t feel like talking to a Moonie. And fuck their “communities”, an insect-hive circle-jerk, a babbling repetition of the same meaningless cliches.

Fuck their ant-like colonisation of our intellectual culture. The only idea in the ‘business idea’ is the business of persuading people there’s an idea when there isn’t even a clue. They waste trees like an illegal Amazonian logger and  they waste our time as if it belonged to them: they are the windbags of superficial change.

When they call marketing poetry, they piss all over poetry
When they call conferences playful, they shit on play
They are lipstick on the mouth of a corpse

Fuck them because they think they are life, and they are only life’s dull echo.

J’ouvert

J’ouvert, from jour ouvert, the day’s opening, pronounced jouvé, as in youth. Six in the morning on Sunday, the very beginning of children’s day, a hundred or so people are loitering at the top of Ladbroke Grove, a small stall is doing a slow but steady business in coffees and roti, and a couple of floats are getting ready. Almost everyone but us is wearing paper boiler suits and cradling containers of liquid and bags of flour.

The floats trundle off down Ladbroke Grove at a carnival pace. One float has a full steel band, one little kid doing the simple rhythms, full of that musical concentration that borders on nerdiness. The second float is just drums: drums made out of bins and gas canisters. The players loop complex rhythms which comeback round to a unified triplet: doof – doof – doof, before flying off against each other again.

The crowd follow, coalesce and start covering each other in flour, talcum powder, washing up liquid and mud squirted from squeezy ketchup bottles. A few have eggs, some have (I hope water-based) paint. It’s all good-natured, childish fun, at least partly because it’s first thing in the morning, and no-one’s had enough to drink yet to turn nasty. Occasionally someone darts off out of the crowd in hot pursuit of another. Two kids slip and fall over in exactly the same place as one chases the other. This is the time to get caught in the crossfire. A kid in a pristine white muscle T and gold chain is laughing till he gets mud on his shirt and trainers. A bloke, clearly woken by the noise, emerges from his basement flat, looking with bleary eyes at the procession.

The Caribbean tradition of j’ouvert, the opening of the carnival with a messy, smeary food fight is the kind of phenomenon with multiple origins: a spiritual ceremony warding off the bad ones; a tradition borne of an identity-concealing rebellion in Port of Spain; or even an imported Indian ritual. This j’ouvert is a relatively recent addition to the Notting Hill Carnival, organised by CD Jam, a small collective of Carnival performers. Like all traditions, Carnival reinvents itself continually, adding new aspects as others are taken away. The procession itself used to go past the end of our street: alas no more, as it all gets corralled below the Harrow Road.

The CD Jam crew have a little truck laden with mud, water and flower, to replenish the revellers. Little clouds of flour smoke up explosively from around the steel pans. We leave them as they go under the Westway. Later, someone tells me that on the TV news they saw a policeman, with his uniform all covered in mud and flour. That’s gotta beat borrowing his helmet for a dance.

Camberwell Chronicles

Water doesn’t go down the plughole anticlockwise when you’re south of the river, but if you’re toilet’s blocked the council will send out a plumber to sort it in hours, even when you’re a leaseholder.

There’s a heavy cigarette tax if you’re caught smoking at the busstop at the top of Camberwell New Road. I still don’t feel quite comfortable anywhere round here after dark, and I try to break it down: R’s experiences (which itself could be broken down into influence on perception, and solidarity in recognising the reality of the threat of violence); an inability to judge levels and types of threat (people who look hard; people who might cause trouble; people who might want to rob you); and perhaps an element of racism (I hope not).

When I come home at about three on Friday night, kids are still sitting on the wall opposite, outside the youth centre. R says this is what summer holidays are like, when they finish school, and she’s always reminded and amazed what a tight leash they’re on during termtime.

E who lives in the flat upstairs is beginning her cycle of madness. When I return from Shepherd’s Bush she’s playing loud music late into the night and early in the morning. She shouts at the music, loudly: her voice echoes, sounds as if it comes from outside rather than muffled through the floor above; these flats have hard floors. Sometimes there are periods of silence (R says she hears her shouting that she wants to kill herself, and the relief of silence is always tainted with anxiety). She throws things from her flat into the courtyard below: bags of rubbish and a kettle.

The same music, over and over again; R&B, hip-hop, the same phrases and hooks repeated. When I come home on Saturday evening the music has been replaced by what sounds like a piece of stuck machinery: a short cycle of hum and thud. Then the music starts again, then the humming and thudding. When I look out the window later on, her front door and several bags of rubbish have been hurled into the courtyard, but the music and howling goes on as I go to sleep and the howling continues when I wake up. Then there’s silence. When I go out to the shops on Sunday afternoon I notice that her front door is boarded up.

If she’s been taken away, it won’t be the first time. The police don’t always cover the doorway after they break in. I hope she’s OK.