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Showing posts from 2020

I'M SO TIRED, MY MIND IS ON THE BLINK [275]

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Autopsies of 2020 were complete long before the year’s end. Only war could have made it worse, then I remembered it began with the United States and Iran on the verge of open conflict, after a drone strike killed an Iranian general. Meanwhile, Covid-19 has been detrimental to the extent the United Nations Development Programme, on Tuesday 15 th December, said it threatened human progress, publishing a report detailing how a global lurch from one crisis to the next could reverse gains in health, education and social freedoms. There is nowhere left for us to go but upwards. The signs are good. The United States will soon have a President who favours diplomacy over disruption, and while on its way out of the European Union, the United Kingdom has somehow managed to make a deal with the union on trade that was achieved using negotiation and compromise – the protectionism, nationalism and sovereignty ingrained in politics in the last few years has made the announcement of the Brexit de

ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER [274]

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The Ineos Grenadier is an off-road car to be released in 2022, following a six-year process where Sir Jim Ratcliffe pushed his chemicals company, most well-known as a sponsor of cycling and sailing teams, into car production to fulfil Ratcliffe’s dream of building a modern, rugged vehicle in the spirit of the original Land Rover of 1948... ...or, when Jaguar Land Rover declined to sell Ratcliffe the tooling and moulding for the previous model Land Rover Defender, which ended production in 2016, he decided to build a vehicle that looks so much like the original Defender that, if it drove past you, you could mistake it for one. Some edges have been smoothed off, and the front and rear lights are different, but apart from that, the Grenadier – named after the pub in which Ratcliffe and his team conceived the idea – appears to be for people that wanted the old Land Rover Defender, but didn’t want to buy second-hand. In a September 2020 article for “Autocar” magazine [https://www.autoca

BY THE SLEEPY LAGOON [273]

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No-one builds stations like BBC Radio 4 anymore. With general, mass audiences for drama, comedy, news and magazine shows served mainly by television since the 1950s, radio is ever more divided up into individual stations providing either “music” or “talk,” either individually or in varying ratios, in an attempt to stop inspiring the listener to tune away. But Radio 4, with its roots through the original Home Service to the birth of the BBC in 1922, has always broadcast a mix of programmes like a TV channel. As befitting the more intimate and personal nature of radio listening, the days of its listeners are entwined with Radio 4 in a way that cannot be replicated by talk show phone-ins or a continuous stream of today’s greatest hits. No-one marched in the street when the presenter of the Radio 1 breakfast show changes, but if Radio 4 moves its furniture around... I remember when, in 1998, new station controller James Boyle unleashed a swathe of changes to the station that caused uproa

I'M RUNNING THROUGH THE WILD LANDS [272]

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  As I have previously talked about here , here , and here , I cannot leave the house without my Sony Walkman, and I still buy Compact Discs. I may still listen to music online, but if I find myself coming back to the same songs, either by MP3 or on YouTube, it is time to buy them on CD so I can hear them with better sound quality, preserving that in FLAC format on my Walkman without losing a single note – well, it makes sense to me anyway. I have a number of CDs I need to transfer, and once that’s done, I can spend the rest of the day listening to them: Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO ): “Yellow Magic Orchestra” / “Solid State Survivor” / “X∞Multiplies” / “BGM” / “Technodelic” / “Naughty Boys” After uncovering the story behind the song “Behind the Mask” [ link ], I continued listening to Yellow Magic Orchestra, and I have come to the conclusion that YMO may possibly be one of the greatest bands ever, and that the history of electronic pop music in the Western world cannot be properly un

BECAUSE YOU'RE WORTH IT [271]

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“We have a product that’s different from the competition, that invites you to be young, that invites you to be brave. If you’re brave, you’re free, I think.” In 1988, General Augusto Pinochet had ruled over Chile for fifteen years, after heading a military coup. Under international pressure to legitimise his dictatorship, as if such a thing really can be done, a referendum was held to decide if the people would let Pincohet continue in power, “Si” or “No.” For the twenty-seven days of the campaign, each side had fifteen minutes of airtime on all TV networks to make their case, one side after the other – the “No” side went first. This is a bit of a heavy subject for a comedy, but it works – the absurdity of the situation is clear, the stakes are set absurdly high, the battleground is set inside people’s homes, and the choice of weaponry is advertising. What is more, in charge of the campaigns are two people who work at the same agency: working for the “No” side is Ren é Saavedra, p

CAUSE YOU’RE NOT HERE [270]

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The CBS radio network, just before 9pm on Sunday 30 th October 1938: “This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo! Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night... so we did the best next thing...” Apparently, an executive at the network did not want Welles to add a disclaimer at the end of his theatre company’s radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel “The War of the Worlds,” just in case they could be held liable for anything, like causing mass panic. As the hour-long play ended, anyone still in the broadcaster’s studios were commandeered to answer phone calls from members of the public for reassurance the broadcast wasn’t serious, in what must be the first instance of a call centr

AND HERE ON THE THRESHOLD WE STAND [269]

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Liminality is a concept associated with thresholds and rites of passage. As I understand it, a “liminal space” is a kind of transitional space: you have left one area, and you have not reached your destination, and you don’t know how to feel about where you are – even more, the destination may itself be unknown. Others may feel safe there, and you may come to feel safe with time, but until then, something feels a bit “off” about your experience. I usually try to avoid places where I may feel unwelcome, but I have come to realise that one place I often walked through was, before it was demolished, almost a textbook definition of a liminal space, if not by design, then definitely in execution. The Tricorn Centre was a shopping and entertainment complex opened in Portsmouth in 1965. It stood as a prime example of Brutalist architecture, and one of the first privately-built examples of its type built in Europe. Driving into Portsmouth city centre, it always came across as a grey carniv

SPANK THE PANK WHO TRY TO DRIVE YOU NUTS [268]

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Joe Biden has been elected President of the United States of America, and the world can breathe again. The extraordinary scenes of a country biding its time for five days, agonising as it awaits the outcome of an exercise in both democracy and due process, won’t be seen again for decades. The American people won’t allow their national character to be decided by ballot ever again, and has elected a President that has regard both for himself and the people. With Biden having won both the popular vote and the Electoral College, the victory is that bit sweeter, and that bit more legitimate. This is a victory for all those made to feel unwelcome in their own country by their leader: the black people brutalised by their police, the immigrants demonised for their otherness, the LGBT people nearly legislated out of existence, and the women objectified and abused by the people that think they are there for the taking. Kamala Harris is, symbolically and in reality, a more qualified Vice Presid

SOME DUCKS AND SOME SWANS [267]

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  While I ready myself to write about the 2020 US Presidential Election (which will mainly be about Donald Trump, but what isn’t these days), please accept a video of some ducks and some swans, filmed a couple of weeks ago.

PLAYING PING PONG ALL NIGHT LONG [266]

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For what is both an exercise in nostalgia, and a way to continue exploiting old intellectual property, it is remarkable that the Atari Flashback series of games consoles, begun in 2003 by Atari themselves and continued under license by AtGames, has now lasted longer than the original production run of the Atari Video Computer System, later renamed the Atari 2600, on which it is based. The original console was in production for a mere fifteen years (1977-92),  withstanding numerous redesigns and cost-cutting, competition from far more advanced machines, an insatiable public demand for more complex and involved games,  and the bankruptcy of its parent company. But the games are amazing. Atari’s catalogue, along with games made for the console by other publishers – Pong, Breakout, Adventure, Battlezone, Centipede, Yars’ Revenge, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Pitfall! – form a canon that proved the viability of an industry. The Fairchild Channel F may have been the first games console with

HEAR ME, I’M GRAPHICALLY YOURS [265]

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Once upon a time, staged plays were a staple of British television – plays originally performed on the stage, and plays written to be staged on television. A famous example is “Dial M for Murder,” first staged by the BBC in 1952, then in the West End the following year, and filmed by Alfred Hitchcock the year after that. An even more famous example is Nigel Kneale’s 1954 adaptation of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” whose violent visions of a fascist Britain prompted questions in Parliament, before the Duke of Edinburgh said he watched it with the Queen, and enjoyed it. At this time, plays were normally performed twice, and performed live – the distinguished audience of the first performance of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is the only reason a telerecording was made of the second performance, preserving Peter Cushing as Winston Smith for posterity. The history of British television plays is normally centred on socially conscious strands like BBC One’s “The Wednesday Play” and “Play

GIVE US A SIGN THAT WE’VE REACHED YOU [264]

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It seems an odd point to make that people are more accepting of alien invasion than they used to be, as if there has been a real-life test of this theory, but the reason this came to my mind was from watching Frank Oz’s director’s cut of “Little Shop of Horrors,” which might take even more of an explanation. However, when there is still only one “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” for every five films like “Independence Day,” or one “Arrival” for every ten “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” there is a case to be made that people are now more willing to see a vision of an alien invasion that results in the eradication of humanity. No longer do the only outcomes for audiences have to be “we come in peace,” or the vanquishing of a foreign force. Since 2012, “Little Shop of Horrors” has been available in two versions: the original 1986 released version, where Rick Moranis’s Seymour and Ellen Greene’s Audrey marry and move to the suburbs, just as in Audrey’s earlier dream, the alien plant

LEAVE A LIGHT ON FOR ME [263]

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[The script of this video is reproduced below.] Hello there, I decided to return to The Bridge Shopping Centre in Portsmouth after a year away. On my first visit there, in 2017, it had been a dead shopping centre that had been reduced to a corridor between the main road and the Asda superstore that both overlooked it, and owned it. However, by 2019, some local businesses had begun reopening the spaces that national chains had left behind, and the atmosphere was slowly returning. All the while, I continued receiving messages asking about the centre, or sharing their memories of it. To be honest, the video I shot inside The Bridge this time around is not very good, and the reason was because the centre was JUST TOO BUSY. More shops have opened, and more people are walking through. It’s easy to film the late Eighties design in an empty centre, when few people had a reason to walk through, other than the Asda of course, but this time, there were simply too many people to film around, and

RISE, GO OUTSIDE BITCH [262]

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My choice for the song that defines the year 2020 was decided very early on, by the end of March. Furthermore, it was was actually released on 20th December 2019, but reviews raved about it into the new year. “Sick & Panic” is the first release by the electronic music artist Ramona Xavier to use the pseudonym Macintosh Plus since the seminal 2011 album “Floral Shoppe,” a cornerstone of the vaporwave genre. Xavier usually releases under the name Vektroid, so the use of Macintosh Plus this time caused immense anticipation. For the uninitiated, “Floral Shoppe” is a cut-up of mostly Eighties tracks already drenched in keyboard and saxophone, that are sped up, slowed down, looped and distorted, giving the impression that you have unearthed a cassette tape with no known history, and the tape itself is worn and ragged. The standout track is “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー" (“Lisa Frank 420 / Modern Computing”) – Japanese text is a big feature in vaporwave song titles and album design – which s

WHO CARES WHAT PICTURE YOU SEE [261]

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On the evening of 16 th March 2020, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom announced the start of the lockdown that would attempt to suppress the outbreak of Covid-19, of which one measure was the closure of cinemas across the country, to prevent people coming into close contact within a closed space. Two days later, my bank sent me six free cinema tickets, to use at my local multiplex. The current account I have with my bank allows me to choose an extra perk from a list each year, like a magazine subscription, or money off in restaurants, but every March, when the bank asks me what I want next, I always choose the cinema tickets. On 19 th September 2020, I see a film in a cinema for what was the first time since 23 rd February – that film was “Greed,” the comedy satirising the clothes shop magnates that squeeze sweatshops for profit, starring Steve Coogan as a Sir Philip Green analogue that builds a plywood Colosseum using migrant labour to celebrate their birthday. It was a