Category Archives: Mumbo Life

Four Seasons At A Funeral- a short story

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Joey has died.

No one has kept in real touch with him (or each other) over the last 10 years, but he was a significant crew member back then. He dated most of the girls in his set. Four were seasonal: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.

Joey was James’ best mate by default because Joey was sociable, whereas James is not a people’s person. He waits at the funeral for the others to arrive. Will they have changed? Grown into themselves?

They were easy-going when he was young; you just hung out with them for different reasons. If two turned up at the same time, you could have an unexpected sort of night out. But you never noticed them. You never said to yourself, ‘Wow, I’m hanging out with Summer. Hope she sticks around a while longer.’

James operates outside of traditional signifiers. He dislikes ‘limiting constructs’. He eats lamb, and cream eggs, in August. He wore shorts in Reykjavik at his cousin’s stag do.

He sees a figure coming towards him through the church door wearing Russell & Bromley flats and dark glasses. Winter. She’s aged. 

‘Joey’s gone. It’s unbelievable.’

‘Well, he was ill for ages.’

‘I feel devastated.’

‘When did you last speak to him?’ asks James.

‘Graduation,’ replies Winter.

They sit there a few minutes.

‘I would have visited him, only I don’t like to leave the house much. I do all my shopping in Westfield, straight from car to store. I’d shop online, if they weren’t spying on me.’

She pops a pill in her mouth, nervously. James thinks better than to ask. No more fondue habit, he notes.

‘Now, here’s a pair of reprobates.’ It’s Autumn, recherché in smudged red lipstick and a camel coat, buttons deliberately misaligned.

‘Death makes angels of us all,’ she offers wearily to no-one in particular, seating herself next to Winter who turns to James, undelighted. He pulls an I-thought-you-were-friends expression.

‘She’s two-faced. And changeable. In Pinter’s pocket one minute. Then Frostrup’s. I don’t trust her.’

A heaviness settles on James. They’re an intense presence, these women. Light on laughs. Where’s Spring? he wonders. Suddenly, he’s desperate to see her rosy cheeks, her curls. 

And here she is. She’s more petite, and plainer, than he remembers.

But it’s such a relief to have her around, James finds everything she says jollier than he knows it to be.

‘I’ve bought a starter home in Milton Keynes,’ she stage-whispers to the threesome.

Autumn and Winter stare at her, waiting for better news.

‘Brian’s been promoted, and we’ve got one of these on the way.’ She pats her tidy bump.

James hears Winter make a sound like a sneeze.

Autumn peers through her prescription-less, horn-rimmed glasses. ‘Sounds very…’ she searches for the right word, ‘…hopeful.’

The congregation settles. Thoughts turn to Joey. The first hymn strikes up.

But James can hear something inbetween the organist’s chords. An insistent ‘psst’ sound, coming from the end of the pew. He looks over. Summer. Beckoning at him wildly, her spidery blue mascara lashes reaching out their legs. That isn’t… is that… a jump-suit?

Summer has broken her ankle and wants James to help her to the pew, even though that’s presumably the role of the crutches he’s now carrying. She squeezes her way in, leaning excitedly to micro-wave at the others. James sees she enjoys an easy relationship with her cosmetic dentist.

‘I’ve had a TERRIBLE decade, guys’, she shouts over Jerusalem. ‘It’s been non-stop. You have no idea what I’ve been through.’

Autumn, Winter, and Spring now gawp at her, as at a Towie star who has crashed the funeral. Autumn re-folds her hair into its vintage clip. Winter turns the collar up on her wool coat. Spring crouches to poke around for a Jacob’s cracker in her faded Next handbag. 

‘Bitches,’ seethes Summer to James, shifting her weight onto the good leg. ‘Let’s you and me drink Aperol Spritzes afterwards.’

The service wraps.

James pays his respects to Joey’s family. Skips the wake. Slinks home.

In line with the run-up to all reunions, he’d been worried he wouldn’t measure up. 

But, in line with their playing out, he concludes he’s doing life better than everybody else.

In fact, he’s never felt more anti-social, a-sexual, and a-seasonal, in all his days.

*

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Unisex & Disabled

Today, we went to a restaurant called Portland for lunch to celebrate Geth’s birthday.

‘I wonder why it’s called Portland,’ I mused, questioning, whimsical.

‘Because it’s on Great Portland Street. They’ve also got one called Clipstone. That’s on Clipstone street. ‘

At half time I went to the toilets downstairs.

There were 3 cubicles.

One read Ladies, one read Gentlemen, and on the third was this:

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Apart from disabled people and impatient people*, for whom is this cubicle intended?

People who are both genders. But wouldn’t this need to say Hermaphrodite & Disabled?

People who are neither gender. Is this actually possible? Scarlett Johansson had this sort of thing going on in Under the Skin, but she was an alien. Do aliens go for lunch on Great Portland Street? Maybe. But would they get bogged down in toilet terminology? Bogged down. Maybe.

Some other possibilities that might make this option clearer: No-sex & Disabled. Sexless & Disabled. Gender Free & Disabled. Genderless & Disabled. None of these work.

People who are transitioning between genders. But don’t they identify with one gender, or other, regardless?

People who might expect, or wish for, the inside of the toilet to be partisan to neither sex. No pink loo roll dollies. No copies of What Car?

People who don’t like to be defined by gender. But would the way they use the toilet be any different to the way they’d use one of the ones that had different signs on the door? (Same argument here for what is the point of having signs on individual doors at all.) Maybe not, but the option is a mark of respect for their choices.

But is the fact that some people dislike gender labels that sensitive of a subject on a generalised level that it needs to be reflected in toilet signs? There aren’t meat apologies on the menu to vegetarians. Or political disclaimers at the bottom of the wine list. And so on.

People who are disabled AND fit into one of the categories above. This is really quite niche. I’m not sure this is about emptying bladders at this point. This is now about agenda.

Why do Unisex & Disabled go together? Why can’t Unisex run alongside Ladies or Gentlemen, in a similar way, seeing as only one usage is intended to be accommodated at any one time?

Would disabled people (if you could group them together in such a way, which you can’t, which is surely somewhere in the ballpark of why a unisex option has been created in the first place) feel annoyed if they saw someone unisex coming out of what is traditionally, primarily their toilet, even though they knew they didn’t have the right specifically, seeing as this sign designates that particular cubicle for dual usage. Would they even know if the person coming out was unisex? Would they wonder what they had in common with them such that this group of people had been given a shared billing? Because I don’t think it’s an overclaim to say that disabled people are, generally, ‘Ladies’ or ‘Gentlemen’. Which is to say not that they fit into some sort of 3rd gender category, simply that they require better access/ more room/ different facilities etc.

Why would Unisex require any of the extenuating features (exampled above) demanded by disabled toilets, anyway? Might it not be more accurate to offer the title share to sub-sections of people who could benefit from the extras? Groups Of Drug Users & Disabled. Generously-Built People & Disabled. And so on.

Would disabled people feel that Unisex had been added to their cubicle in a minority dumping ground gesture? As if everything that comes under ‘Other’ can go in their cubicle, because the perfect primary male/ female differentiator can’t be messed with in any sense. I mean, purr-lease.

If the person leaving the Unisex & Disabled cubicle actually was both unisex (by any of the definitions above) AND disabled (a niche combo, we’ve established, but not impossible), would the disabled person suddenly feel like they had less of a right to go into the cubicle, or would they just be charmed by the absolute appropriateness, on this rare occasion, of the exiting person using this very specifically-labelled cubicle?

Might they even be moved to challenge them. ‘I say- cheeky- but I can see that you’re disabled. Are you also unisex?’ ‘Take a hike! Lots of women wear slacks these days.’ (That would be rude, because the person asking was just trying to alight upon something neat and very random- not only an irresistible combination, but one you don’t get much of in life.)

Of course, they might not be this rude at all. They might say, ‘Yes, I am. Thank you for noticing. But go ahead and use that toilet without feeling like it’s any the less for you. You’re totally welcome in that cubicle. I’ll wait here, so we can figure out together how to get back up these non-disabled access stairs.’ (The Unisex & Disabled toilet was downstairs, if you were wondering if that was just a tasteless joke.)

Would children come down and think, ‘I don’t feel well represented here’? 

Babies would surely feel that, especially when they find out there is no changing bed thing for them in Ladies, Gentlemen, OR Unisex & Disabled. How bloody marginalised can you get, they’d think.

Anyway, the bathroom sinks were communal and had lovely Aesop hand wash and hand cream in I-trust-you restraint-free holders.

And the meal was really delicious.

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*People who are impatient (ie. any gender) and (separately) disabled people. Gender matters not. Ah, yes. This is the one. Sweet irony…

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November 25, 2016 · 11:02 pm

I hate playing

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This mini post is about a small personal triumph, within a broader context of failure.

I hate playing: pointless, wholesome, innocent, care-free, life-giving enjoyment.

I like fun, which is naughty. And sports, where stuff happens. And board games, when someone might land on your Mayfair hotel and make the delicious face of impending defeat.

Less so the therapist stuff, where you re-discover your childish lack of inhibition.

I’m what you might call ‘outcome-focused’- or crap at taking practical jokes.

Everyone in the family has clocked this.

Gethin knows that if he lobs a bouncy ball at my head when I’m cooking, it won’t end with us running gleefully through the house towards a sexy pillow fight.

It’ll end like the incident 15 years ago when he licked my cheek with a chocolate tongue, at a cashpoint: that is, humourlessly, with ‘I’m not laughing’ and a row down the King’s Road.

Bruno knows we have outings, and discussions, and do activities where we stick diodes into lemons, to activate a light.

Rufus knows we do art for birthday cards, or to raise money, or to stop mentalising other diners at restaurants.

No-one ever came home and found me with socks on my ears, getting involved with Lego.

The trouble is, other peoples’ kids aren’t always on board with the concept.

At playdates, they’re not shy in expressing their appetite for entertainment, when you fail to materialise with a gingerbread-making kit.

This necessitates The Talk:

See here, Johnny, seems you and I disagree fundamentally on the play-date model. You regard me as a sort of Jangles the Clown, or Mr Fiddles, or whatever his name is. Whereas, I view you as a bundle of fun I import in exchange for board and temporary lodging. I wouldn’t want to call you a playtime prostitute- that would be wrong, and your mother wouldn’t like it. But are we approaching an understanding?

Make my dinner, old woman.

Last night, we had Arthur over. Arthur understands the playdate model; no- he invented it.

He’s so much fun I get close to ditching the onion-chopping, to join in robots.

So, he says, We’re going to hide. Will you act mean and come and find us?

Arthur- the clever little bugger- has found my sweet spot.

Because if there’s one thing I LOVE doing, it’s scaring people: that fabulous moment when their features distort, and they lose all of that boring, studied composure.

Children are especially great, because they spook easily.

Now you’re talking, Arthur. Now, you’re shaking things up. Forget tigers coming to tea and eating up all of Daddy’s dinner. Let’s simulate the hunt and some limb-tearing.

I’ve got form, too. I still remember the sweet screaming of my tiny childhood friend and her sister, terrorised onto my bunkbed, gripping each other for dear life, when I became ‘The Ogre’.

So, away go the kids and I get into character. I’m borrowing heavily from the Wicked Witch of Oz. There’s Angie from Eastenders in there, along with Katie Hopkins’ nostrils. 

And I’m off. Chasing them up the stairs, into the bedrooms, around the garden, cackling and promising to throw their smelly little bodies into my soup, after mirthless tickling.

And they’re all bright pink cheeks, and terrified little faces, and shrieks caught in pumping chests.

When he leaves, Arthur lisps huskily to Rufus, Your Mum is SO scary! She’s almost like a real witch! It gives you the frights inside.

RESULT.

12 Comments

May 25, 2016 · 10:02 am

ICELAND

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A lot to say- little of which concerns imprudent former PM Gunnlaugsson, toppled by a whopping demonstration that aped the toilet surge at Glastonbury after an especially long set: driven, yet contained, enabling a sense of relief in the end.

130 volcanoes. Panoramic lunar landscapes. Population of 27.

Visited by those in the first throes of romance, mascara shunners, and 19 year-olds welded to cans of beer. 

Breathtakingly, stupidly beautiful, so that friends want to wrestle your camera off you on your return and stamp on it- then you- repeatedly. 

For the uninitiated, a few tips…

PENURY

Iceland is possibly the most expensive destination on earth, giving the thumbs up to Japan.

It starts when you buy a bag of cashews at the airport and try desperately for a currency conversion different to the correct one that implies the nuts have spanked 34% of your budget and you must ration them at 8 per family member, per day. 

Later, when you buy petrol, you’ll pull over in a panic to execute a Santander statement check after Babylon has failed to confirm if ‘fjillar’ (or similar) is Icelandic for ‘full tank’, as you thought, or ‘fuel season ticket’, as it would now appear.

By the end of your holiday, everything will seem incredibly cheap, as you’ve squeezed through your own financial birth canal into a virtual Tamara Ecclestone delivery room.

FAKE ATTRACTIONS

A little known fact about Iceland is that its best known tourist attractions are man-made.

This is because natural beauty isn’t enough for idiots with ruck sacks; we need a pamphlet and a ticket in order to cross items off a bucket list that’s more like a crater hole seeing as, in the grand scheme of things, we’ve done precious little with our lives.

A fine example of this is Thingvellir, Iceland’s original ‘parliament’. (The clue is in the lazy naming.)

All manner of delightful line drawings depict tufty little make-shift houses with moss on top and hairy Viking-type characters heaving around canvas and stones on their strong shoulders.

There’s a gift shop in 50 shades of grey, with architectural lines, and someone’s had a lot of fun putting together a re-enactment video, with the above drawings set to Sigor Ros, and facts rendered convincing by nicknames such as ‘The Law Rock’.

Seeing as the ‘hard’ evidence is a board platform built in 1998 around a cliff face, it’s largely a question of faith.

Nevertheless, tourists just lap up any info that chucks around some AD dates, so all is well.

Likewise, the geysirs.

Long since passed their spontaneously-exploding heyday, the modern versions are pump-operated and heated by the thermal underwear of social media-savvy elves.

Timed to climax on the dry mackintosh jackets of Americans asking ‘Is this, like, all there is?’ at the entrance, they drench their victims to give them something material to whinge about on the monster truck home.

Not, however, before they have sampled a party bucket each of liquorice ice-cream topped with a delicious ice magic crust that is petrified hot chocolate, and a handful of strangely unsatisfying local maltesers known as noa kropp.

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NARCISSIM

Selfie sticks against Icelandic landscapes: the most spectacular scenery on the planet, with your shitty little face in front of it. 

BJORK

No one knows what to do with her, the tiny wide-mouthed elephant in Iceland’s room.

Is she cool? Does anyone remember The Sugarcubes? If she tried to snog Lady Gaga would they crash head gear?

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HOT WATER (natural)

Geothermal pools are springs heated by groundwater in the earth, invariably surrounded by calming stones and the invigorating sounds of the elements.

Nourishing for mind, body and spirit, it’s yoga for well-intentioned sloths.

Immersion in the great outdoors even in the depths of winter is a glorious thing; add a steam pool spell to disinter your deep-seated bacteria and you’ll peel off years, along with the layers of dead skin. 

One catch is the eggy smell generated by the sulphur.

When a dog next expels air from its bottom you can flip this around by being transported back to your Nordic travels.

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HOT WATER (less natural)

The Blue Lagoon (or The Blue Magoon, if you are 6) is a lava field whose mineral-rich waters offers a complete spa experience.

Alternatively, it is an industrial-sized bath filled with people who have been diverted on their way back to the airport for reasons that seem to remain mostly unclear to them.

Scores of clay-faced hominids drift aimlessly around in bikinis and flexed pecs watching others doing the same, wondering if anyone’s going to be the first to ask- you know- what the actual f*** they’re all doing there.

At any given moment at least one pretty 20-something blogger can be found trying to capture a selfie on her now-slimy iPhone, while elsewhere young men use the disguise of the milky water to try to wet hump their girlfriends as they block from their peripheral vision the gawping Cleethorpes couple on a long weekend anniversary trip of a lifetime.

The staff are numerous and futuristic in their efficiency as they patrol the eerie gathering, administering laser wrist tags and reassuring confused patrons- Carey Mulligan almost certainly waiting to make an entrance wearing a wry smile and a black latex bodysuit.

The package costs are tiered: to trade financial security for one week you get the white face mask and a welcome smile. For 2 months of sleepless nights, you get the green one, flip flops, and a robe.

The result is that the women with white faces can see whose fiances love them more, while Carey M makes a note of the next cheap intake to be ‘cleansed’ from this soft-skinned utopian society.

The experience is unfathomably tasteful given its scale, and very pleasant too, if a tad deflated by dozens of little ‘Private Luxury Area’ and ‘For Excellent People Only’ signs giving you a tiny clue others are having a better one.

In a side channel there are even oligarchs enjoying floating massages which, again, if you are 6 and gullible you might believe are dead people, marring what had otherwise been a lovely Easter break.

On departure, you feel like a very clean person who’s just been mugged (with a loofah gun?)

And, if you forgot to lather conditioner into your hair prior to your silica dipping you’ll wonder who has grafted Kerry Katona’s straw hair extensions onto your head, and when.

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COLD WATER (land)

Water from rivers fed by melting glacier ice falls bountifully down the craggy volcanic rocks with gay abandon here.

Powerful whether you approach from above, below, or behind, these tumbling cascades are endlessly mesmerising- unless you are under 35 years old, in which case exposure to your 50th prototype leads you to discover new swearwords.

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COLD WATER (sea)

Whale watching contains the central paradox presented by existence: whether to surrender to time-limited bliss, or attempt to memorialise a fragment of it- and the camera has muddled our greedy minds in the business of its resolution.

For, while there’s immeasurable joy in witnessing a silky blue humpback logging, ‘spouting’, and diving, there’s an equal spot of fun to be had watching, or partaking in, the grapple of long lenses, glove removal, and optimal orientation to snap the action.

Many fascinating guide facts and mammalian acrobatics later, the crowd will be found on the lower deck, side-swiping iPhones manically in search of the money shot, like so many whale fanciers on Tinder Aquatic, a cup of rum-laced hot chocolate in hand.

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SNOW

Now, time for a serious question. Apart from a helicopter ride, what would be the least wise activity to book in the land of £45 avocados? Snowmobiling? Bingo!

But, remember, by now you’re in Ecclestone world, and when in Rome it’s customary to do things only thrill-seeking non-Romans would consider. 

It’s a simple formula: you get dressed up in Tim Peake gear and driven to the top of a glacier, which is on top of the country’s 4th largest volcano, which is over-due to erupt by 50 years.

Then you get a brief lesson from Olaf about how not to ruin his machines with your crappy driving skills, and zoom around on Heaven’s sunlit snowscape, shouting at angels who can’t hear you to get out of the way.

Hands-down the most fun thing you can do with the most clothes on, it is worth every single mortgaged krona.

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LIGHTS

On arrival in Iceland, you pass through a chamber that gives you ABA.

At first you are grateful to get something for free that won’t sing Super Trouper at you.

Then, you realise it stands for Aurora Borealis Anxiety and you wish you could hand it back.

Symptoms include obsessive checking of specialist weather sites you don’t understand and the equivalent of 4 days shivering in minus temperatures outside your warm dwelling, staring existentially into the black, black night.

Elsewhere, the seriously afflicted chase around on tours, or don spongy headgear and earphones for a more complete floating experience.

Still, when they do make an appearance, the wait has been warranted.

Even in a more mildly dramatic version than the full National Geographic, the Northern Lights are ethereal, majestic, magical, and just about every other word you’d want to throw at fairies and alcohol- a shifting, phosphorescent and unadulterated wonder, filtered through breeze-framed silence.

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WEIRD THINGS

The Horses

These aren’t weird, but their ubiquity is; they are e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e, standing in little clumps, wearing funny hairstyles, trying to assert their larger-than-Shetland stature.

In brown, golden, and black, they do their best to look like something you want to paint rather than a creature who’s back you plan to break with your fat, tourist arse.

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The Language

Any tongue you don’t speak is all a bit Greek, but Icelandic is in another league.

There’s no discerning of sentence boundaries, and you’re not sure how much energy to put into the effort as the 27 natives mostly speak English anyway.

Certainly, they bandy around extra esses and ens like the Welsh splurge on effs, the overall effect reinforcing the Tolkien vibes, with a hobbit emphasis.

By extension, radio stations are curious. The antithesis of our overgrown slappable-teenage-twat-style, they sound like they’re broadcasting at the foot of a rainbow, drinking cloud juice.

In tones somnambulant, gentle and earnest, they wrestle with a playlist that’s nine tenths Bob Dylan and two tenths whistling Nordic folk of the Christopher Guest genre, with the odd hit of Gene Kelly and Ella Fitzgerald (with a hard ‘g’) in the mix.

Plus the other station that plays Will Young’s c-sides and full-on cheesey pop from 2003.

THE CAPITAL

Now, for all that trouble to fabricate its main attractions, Iceland’s capital city represents an oversight.

‘X things to do in Reykjavik‘ lists tend to start and finish with the number ‘1’, namely an elevator zoom up, ooh,  50 metres into the pointy bit of (apologies) the most hideous 1940s church (‘Hallgrímskirkja‘) ever consecrated.

From here you do, indeed, get a peachy view of the town’s colourful houses, old harbour, and the phenomenal contemporary showstopper that is the Harpa opera house building.

But hope not for frescoes and bell towers: this puppy is grey cement on the inside and struggles intensely to approximate anything like a holy atmosphere.

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The rest of the city, we are told, is all about the ambience, in that ‘she’s got a great personality’ kind of way. 

But a gem it is- quirky and creative, doing an arm wrestle with Seattle for thrift bookstores, nerd-cool skate stops, and foodie zones.

Fashion is second-hand and grungy, or scandi-clean- an aesthetic I love.

Take the slouchy slacks and trainers of Ellen deGeneres; make them navy; give them a designer aesthetic and interesting textures; and sneak in a metallic calf-length pleated skirt… then off you go.

First, grow your hair long and straight, and die it platinum grey with white highlights.

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TRADITIONAL CULTURE (FOOD)

Icelanders are as shackled to pickled shark, Black Death vodka, and puffin meat as Kylie is to The Locomotion: embarrassing, but it’s what they’re known for. 

The delectable fresh fish is the real talking point, obvs, although the lamb is worth a special mention too.

In the vegetable department, they start muffling into their sleeves and pointing at the organic rice cakes.

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TRADITIONAL CULTURE (SPORT)

Iceland’s national sport is Glima wrestling, an ancient martial art form that incorporates aspects of dance.

Opponents try to attain the title of The Glima King or Queen by flooring each other gracefully, gripping tightly onto each others’ oversized pants.

Somewhat unbelievably, it’s stupider in real life than it sounds and will be known henceforward- in our household, at least- as ‘Wedgie-fling’.

TRADITIONAL CULTURE (CLOTHES)

Iceland’s national costume is the yoked jumper.

As well as people, it adorns napkins, mugs, and new year’s resolutions.

It is literally impossible to wear in a cool way: if you are a man you become a sheep farmer, or Ben Affleck in a movie where he takes someone like Hilary Swank to an alpine lodge to shag her next to an open fire after a fondue.

If you are a woman, you look like someone who cries because they are single.

Don’t even think about trying to modernise it, or to make it ironic; it would be like shaving the outline of a Ginsters sausage roll into your hipster beard.

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HIPSTER CULTURE

I don’t know much about hipsterdom, but I guess its counter-culturalism makes it inherently close to what was once known as being very square.

If this is true, then hipster culture might have actually started in Iceland’s main city. Plaits, hairy jumpers and insouciance come as standard.

The best cafes make their London East End counterparts look like Starbucks.

There’s scant affectation here. You get the impression that large headphones, leg warmers, music-that-is-clanking-instruments, and coffee bean dust from the grinder is just how they roll.

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Borne of this theme, walking tours of the city are better booked through cute, subversive blogs than on the established websites.

By all accounts, this way you can bypass the history lesson in favour of a 2-hour trip around your leader’s favourite work-out venue and troubled personal life, all for the same cost as a long weekend in Venice.

Or, you can go it alone using a map of the city’s exceptionally rich street art as your compass.

The art form (deserving of a dedicated blog, d.v) is represented vividly and prolifically on every available public surface.

It’s fun, accomplished, maverick, or rubbish depending both on which piece you catch, your point of view, and whether you are a cleaner for the council.

Regardless, it’s the prevailing flavour of the city, and one not to be missed- if you had the opportunity to miss it, which you don’t.

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There’s no summing up Iceland.

But if you are lucky enough to be possessed of sound body and mind in this lifetime, not to sample it would be a crying shame (lack of off-shore bank accounts notwithstanding, of course).

No matter where you are and what you’re going through, somewhere in this land of ice there roars a ceaseless waterfall.

 

*

11 Comments

April 7, 2016 · 12:04 pm

Purpose

LifePurpose

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first two decades of this millennium might be remembered as The Era of Happiness. 

Apparently, we all want the stuff, and some bugger’s walking around somewhere who knows perfectly well how to get it, but is keeping schtum.

Meanwhile, all manner of gushing hobbits are banging their swedes on the revolving doors of TED’s headquarters claiming, definitively, it’s in the issues they happen to have struggled with their whole lives: self-esteem; a rubbish job; gratitude for how mind-bogglingly irritating they find their toddler: this is the key it all boils down to, you sweet-but-very STUPID IDIOTS.

Unpopular, but there’s a school of thought that if you haven’t found your life purpose by the age of 40, you should basically stop looking. 

In your twenties you didn’t give a hoot about fulfilment.

You were in the wrong job, battling the legacy of faulty childhood wirings, dating aliens, and drunk 90% of the time.

If anyone asked you what you felt passionate about and what you got out of bed for, the answer would have been martinis and espressos, preferably dancing with each other in a glass.

In your 30s you realised the answer to life, the universe, and everything was to have a house with a picket fence and a herd of funny, same-surnamed muppets. 

You trudged on through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, gathering firewood and doing your bit to help bakeries maintain their turnover.

Then, DUMP!, forty lands, and suddenly there’s you and your soul and your mother on the phone with a new dead friend every 15 minutes.

Aren’t I immortal?, you query. What the hell’s been the point of me? Why aren’t I smiling like a monk?

Sad to say, there was a window in there with a nettle sticking through it that you could have grasped. It might have been the 24 hours before your 38th birthday- hard to tell- when things could have clicked into place, and you would have felt alive and smooth in the breathing area.

But you missed it: shame- now what?

You pump desperately at what you’re good at, as on a resusci anne.

You put out a call to the universe, asking it to provide.

And if you can fit these tasks in-between trips to the osteopath and being put on hold, that’s a definite win.

Alternatively, you could do what any person in a fix would do, and panic tactically. 

Protracted probing into your hidden desires for breakthroughs eats into lotto win fantasies and the downloading of social survival strategies onto your offspring.

Unless you’ve got a hot lead, it can feel like chasing a fairy. 

So, invert the received wisdom.

Take a top-line inventory of yourself from a stranger’s p.o.v and ask, ‘Who, knowing absolutely nothing about me, would find me impressive? Who doesn’t know my average score at University Challenge? Who, relatively speaking, is going to think I’m a sharp-toothed, rip-roaring genius?’ 

It’s not a snidey thing: you’re not looking for losers. Just for one paltry skill gap, otherwise known as a ‘gold-plate opportunitette’.

It doesn’t have to be the sole reason you were put on this earth. You don’t even need to be better than anyone else at doing it.

You just need to find a person who is more clueless at that particular thing than you, and stick your face in theirs.

Seeing as you’re in your own personal witness protection programme, your U.C score may remain a mystery. 

As for the longed-for contentment, that comes from not being exposed and, perhaps, being a bit appreciated.

Does Stephen Hawking want dinner on Saturday night with an eminent physicist, or with Professor Cox, his moon made of cheese, and heart-shaped pupils for eyes?

Alignment with one’s gifts is overwhelmingly special. 

But if you get stuck, remember the other type, too- the one that comes from how you position yourself.

The oldest kid in the class feels like the king.

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Soho Farmhouse

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Once upon a time, the privileged were lonely.

They were forced to huddle in their 80,000 square foot properties, looking at pictures of each other in Hello!

Now there is a place where they can go and ignore each other in the flesh.

That place is Soho Farmhouse, the not-in-Soho, not-so-country-bumpkin latest addition to Nick Jones’ brace of stylish leisure centres for non-hipsters with a party pulse.

Belonging here is serious business. It’s not uncommon for the Aspirational to kill founder members and wear their skin, in the way Hannibal Lector might if he once worked in media, but now lacked the clout for his application to be seconded by a Lord.

There’s a swell of anticipation on the approach, down roads only visible through Celine prescription sunglasses. Based on the feverish development underway, you glimpse a Soho Gloucestershire on the horizon; one field’s being prepared as an underground propolis city for Cowshed toe cream.

The car park would square up comfortably to a premiership footballer’s front drive, motoring prize poodles lined up cheek-to-jowl sporting ‘my other car’s a helicopter’ stickers. You’re not sure where best to slip in: apparently, a Maserati drops £20k in value every time a Honda stops alongside.

Ah, but when your feet first connect with that socially-rich soil, can it matter how you got there? If there’s no-one from security chasing you down at 5 mph in a sleek buggy, then you’re IN.

It feels rather special to gain access to a member’s-only fiefdom, in a county where ordinary people get electrocuted for using the wrong paint colour- like being rubbed all over with insulating smug butter.

The mix of exclusivity with wholesome fresh air is so destabilising, for a moment you fear you might forget to ‘check in’ on your iPhone.

Regardless, it’s important to betray no elation while gliding around these grounds; smiling here indicates you are having a nervous breakdown and heading straight back to The Priory after your weekend release. Or, worse, that you are very, very grateful to have a friend to bring you along.

I stand on the path and drink it all in, feeling very, very grateful.

It’s a phenomenon less country club, more urbal settlement (that’s an odious little truncation of urban and rural).

There are wooden cabins and outhouses and gyms dotted all around, like a 3-D avatar village for aesthetes who eat artisan tempeh and remember Playschool.

There’s a small lake with boats, and steam rising from a cool, heated outdoor pool; bicycles to borrow while the Bentley rests; outdoor sofas with cushions in faultlessly-nice colours; log pits burning; table tennis tables; snooker.

You can go ice-skating, or film-watching, or people spying, and unless you pass a mirror you could up-end every nook and cranny, and you wouldn’t see one solitary unbeautiful object.

God week-ends here, occasionally riding around in an SF vintage-style trap pulled by one of the horses, trying to look like a feature film director.

And entertainment’s not the end of it.

There are stores that offer an opportunity to replicate this perfection at home- delicacies, and dinner jackets, and Elephant’s Breath plants.

Everywhere you look- every turn of the maze you take- tastefully-displayed premium quality wonder goods are available for purchase. The entire premises is, in fact, 100% bullet-proofed against naffness. (Note: Farmhousers don’t find naffness funny; they let their nephew get on with that in Dalston.)

Inside the main food hall, the honey-hued hum of success emits.

Whether gained through fame, hard graft, good looks, or good luck, money is talking.

These are people who live life in capital letters. Their hair is Hair. Their coat is a Coat.

They look at you a fraction too long, in order to conduct on your body a Terminator scan of social relevance.

When they see that not only are you not Amal Clooney, but you’re also not Kelly Hoppen, you have to absorb the disappointed-dismissive balancing essential oil mix that’s sweating from their newly-massaged bodies.

The food is amazing. The service is amazing. Everyone’s shoes are amazing.

There’s a woman with fluorescent teeth playing boules, and a comedian having lunch as if he’s just a regular guy who needs to eat. Children in cashmere wellingtons are being chased around the courtyard by Cara Delevigne wearing a Scooby Doo onesie. What, will Angelina’s lips soon be booking themselves into the cinema room with copper mugs of Moscow Mule?

Where are all the real people? your head spins. ‘Take me back to Kansas.’

Then a teenaged member of staff, with spots and a local accent, asks if you left your antibiotics in the bathroom and- crypes- it’s really happening, after all.

Like squeezy honey, or penicillin, Soho Farmhouse is so necessary you wonder why it hasn’t been invented before.

The answer may lie in the Soho Empire expansion strategy, which mirrors the life stages of an adman: Central London in his heyday (chop ’em up); stints in the States (can I powder prescriptions drugs?); wife and kids in Chiswick, with weekends at Bab house (did you bring the viagra?) whoah, still got it! in Shoreditch (mdma bombs): enjoying his career spoils in the countryside (how could you even suggest it? Oh go on then, rack me up a Cheeky); keeping it real/ feeling a bit shot, tbh, in the Bush (weak tea, 2 Candarels).

Soho Beachhut’s planned in for Bournemouth 2030: ermine-trimmed zimmers and a Soho Font ‘Bowling Alley’ sign re-housed from another location, with the ‘alley’ blacked out.

I wallow in the glow. I never want to leave. Life at Soho Farmhouse is too damn good.

But I falter. Do I belong? With my fake Hermes bag, and unmanicured nails, and my hair that is just hair.

Then it dawns on me. If there’s one thing that fabulous needs more than fabulous, it’s an audience.

So I complete this daydream on a gorgeous sofa in front of the fire with my own (more quietly) fabulous friends.

Drinking jasmine tea, and wondering whose skin would fit me best.

*

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Fan

chk-chk-chk-sasquatch-11

I’ve always thought of fans as a sub-set of humanity, in a corner with people who get bum implants, or who surround themselves with exclusively pink things.

Self-esteem issues canabalising IQ points. An inability to distinguish passion from obsession. That whiff of intense energy lasered into something erroneous, or unworthy of the ardour. Kathy Bates.

Flip a nucleotide in their DNA and they’d be serial killers, I thought.

On Saturday I met a bonafide one, and I might be changing my mind.

Chk chk chk (!!!) are a niche-ish dance punk band with funky electro indie soul bits.

Actually, I have no idea how to describe them, and if you go to a show you too will know less afterwards than when you arrived.

They’re a paradox, because you can’t feel their wired vibe unless you see them, but the nuances of their layered sound only reveal themselves when worming directly through a thin tube into your inner ear.

They make your head feel like a bee hive, with an instrument doing its own thing in each of the little hexagons. (There are quite a few of them, and on this occasion they’d collected a new female singer because they liked the cut of her jib.)

The effect is more soundscape than music, and manages to be self-consciously ridiculous at the same time- so it’s strangely funny too.

The lead singer’s a minor- maybe a major- legend.

He’s almost rubbish at singing: you can’t hear a lyric unless he invites a sing-back, in which case you might catch it gratefully from your neighbour.

He looks like a muppet from Sacramento who gets off stratospherically on freaking out in a garage with loads of jamming musicians and some choice recreationals… which is sort of what he is.

He’s got untamed curly hair that gets so sweaty he has to drape a hand towel around his neck for most of the gig, like an 80s tennis player.

He wears old t-shirts and shorts, has a hilarious faux camp dance style, and is plugged into the national grid in a way you suspect he takes off stage.

He swears like you’re supposed to swear; like it’s going to explode right out of his fucking face into your shitty ugly one that he doesn’t give a fuck about.

He’s all performance, and no performance. He thinks he’s the audience, and the audience is him: an all-out authentic bonkers dude wigging out to his own tunes, believing 100% you’re on board with the party.

So here’s this band playing an eclectic mix of new material to a small Hackney crowd of 300, and a few of us push through to get closer to the stage.

And we end up standing in front of a balding older guy with a buttoned-up check shirt and a salt-and-pepper cropped beard, who’s clearly in the throes of having a bumper evening.

And as the songs ramp up it turns out he’s vocal in his enthusiasm too, rich Northern vowels audible in some belter phrases: ‘Go on, bloody well ‘ave it’, and ‘That’s right- raise the BOLLOCKS off it’, and ‘Say you can see it- ‘e’s sooch a fookin’ geezer!’

Every now and then he turns to seek support from some slightly bemused-looking chums who aren’t giving it anywhere near as heavy duty as he wants it. But then he gets excited that we’re excited, which cranks him up even more.

The set is short. Soon it’s over and our new friend’s spilling over about how these relatively unknown guys rock his world.

He first saw them 3 years ago in the States and thought, ‘What the hell is this?’ But by the end of the gig he was having ‘a near religious experience’, and his Chk Chk Chk love’s been growing and growing ever since until… BAM! up shoots his arm, and there’s a whopping great 3-D ‘!!!’ tattoo under his bicep.

Since then, he’s been catching them whenever he can, he says, this time enticing the bemused mates to drive down with him from Manchester in a day, for this one hour of musical bliss.

They thought he was off his rocker for suggesting it, and don’t seem to have modified their opinion too much in light of the experience.

So there you have it: a lone wolf in his late fifties overflowing with joy and admiration for a man 15 years his junior from the other side of the world, and in no conceivable respect his peer.

And yet, not really admiration for the man, but for his talent, and for the way he pulls it off.

Because here’s the thing. True fanship can lead to hysteria, but that’s because great love breeds great passion. At its core is a monumental generosity of spirit.

There’s an openness and a capacity for wonder less to do with subjugation of the self, more about setting the self aside to make space for awe.

It’s not blind worship, but one person honouring the gifts of another with no vested interest- and what’s that but the very definition of love with a capital ‘l’?

Weakness now seems like surrender; fanaticism, like deep and humble appreciation.

With a throbbing heart in its chest, and a juicy fat smile on its face…

When’s Bieber coming to town?

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Filed under Mumbo Life, Musical Mumbo, Uncategorized