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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

In Defence of Obsession


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Two men present at the gates of Heaven.

The first tells God he’s in a relationship; has a stable job; plays sport twice a week; sees friends; does some cultural stuff; quaffs a few beers (max) at the week-ends.

The second says he is obsessed by a woman with whom he can’t have a relationship, spending hours at a time lying on a bed where he once slept with her, usually in an alcoholic fog, rolling a ruler she has touched around his mouth, to the detriment of his business.

Assuming he’s not doing one of his hmm-it’s-not-what-you’d-expect-parable-things, we think we know who God’s going to wave through, don’t we?

It’s going to be the well-balanced, healthy-living chap with the wide social circle and the almost-finished inspirational TED talk on his side table, isn’t it? It’s not going to be the lone wolf weirdo fetish guy.

This is the belief called into question by Orhan Pamuk’s engrossing novel, The Museum of Innocence, which scrutinizes the all-consuming love of guy 2, Kemal Basmaci, 30, for a shopgirl-turned-thwarted-actress, Füsun Keskin. He steals her 18 yr old virginity lightheartedly while engaged to an aristocratic beauty, only to lose himself heavily in her thrall, alone, for the rest of his 32 years.

The neat device of the story is that Kemal creates a museum of  Füsun-infused artefacts- her hair barettes, photographs, coffee cups, 4,213 cigarette stubs- that exists in the real world, at Firuzağa, Dalgıç Sk. No:2, Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

Not simply a personal collection, it is also a chronicle of political, economic, and social life in the city in and around the 1970s. (A selection of it visited Somerset House quite recently, too.)

Interwoven in the tale are themes of romantic love, familial love, companionship, recollection, personal narrative, status, suffering, and success.

But it is the value/ affliction of obsession that lingers most powerfully, as Kemal exhorts his ghost writer (Pamuk) to close this 728 page opus with one prevailing message: ‘Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life’, leaving us as readers to decide whether we would agree with him.

Is this the story of a delusional saddo, rendered beautiful by interpretation? Or, does it relate a valid and true-hearted (if unconventional) experience?

Can obsession be worthy?

Obsession is a preoccupation: if you’re in medicinal research, this is a good thing; if you’re chasing Eckhart Tolle’s wild goose of receptive consciousness, it isn’t.

We allow for romantic love as long as there are two people involved, and it is bookmarked within a reasonable time-frame; that’s OK, we think: you focus on me, and I focus on you until we’re both familiar with the view, and can start talking bin-liners.

When one person alone takes the plunge, it feels limiting, or (worse) futile. All that intense channeling, to the exclusion of all else, carries with it the implication that ‘all else’ might offer an opportunity for reciprocation that will, necessarily, be missed.

But, is it such a crisis to be in primary relationship with oneself, or with one’s passions?

Given that we all react to how we feel about things rather than the things themselves, anyway, isn’t there an honesty in indulging wholeheartedly with that communion itself? (Woody Allen’s Annie Hall masturbation quip springs to mind: ‘It’s sex with someone that I love.’)

In collecting items attached to his beloved, Kemal finds a creative expression for his obsession- indeed, the creativity becomes one with it.

He manifests memories, and makes emotions material. He curates his love artfully, processing his urges aesthetically. This means of therapy in coping with his estrangement from Füsun may prevent him from finding a cure; but, if he were to find one, where is the evidence to suggest another ‘illness’ wouldn’t simply take its place?

In fetishizing, anatomizing, projecting, and fantasizing over his amour, he gains more satisfaction, arguably, than he would from interacting with her human imperfection and unpredictability. The sacrifice, certainly, is that he fails to grow from the learning that only input from another can invite. He turns in on himself, becoming as much obsessed with himself obsessing as on his object of desire. But, in another sense, he has conquered the quest to conquer: he ‘owns’ her already.

If it seems tragic Kemal cannot enact his dreams, we might turn to his friends in Turkish society to ask how their ‘real life’ fulfillment compares. In their empty visits to brothels, and false notions of traditionalism and status, their self-realisation holds little by way of contrasting appeal; the novel’s parting snapshot of wronged ex Sibel’s rabidly functioning marriage, replete with two beautiful rugrat daughters, is surely enough to send even the skeptic racing to fondle Füsun’s cheese grater.

Ostracized from this outwardly respectable crew, Kemal finds a meeting of minds in the rubbish dens and hoardings of his fellow obsessives. Restless, and stripped of his reputation, he has, nevertheless, found a way of ordering and memorializing his proclivities in a way that speaks uniquely to him, and speaks to him uniquely.

Though driven by his desire to be in true relationship with Füsun, Kemal experiences as many blissful moments reflecting on his concept of her as he does moments of acute pain at her flesh-and-blood hands.

I think this is the dark reason obsession deserves a screwy break in the midst of its insularity: it allows for the exercise of control over intent; it gives imagination license to do its best thing: run wild in service to our joy.

It becomes a fiercer, bolder attempt to sustain happiness no more absurd than any others we undertake.

And, if we seek a sign from our beloved that we’re not alone in suffering for our desires (hoping at least to connect in our misery), obsession short-circuits this neediness by declining to reach out in the first place.

Just as a fire results from the intense boring of the sun onto dry matter in the right conditions, so obsession powers an emotional energy to life by brute will. It eschews temperance and abstinence and apathy, knocking aside the faint of heart, to put a stake in the ground.

It’s a cousin of addiction, of ecstasy, of ill-advised box set marathons.

It’s not a Cath Kidston pinnie, or a member of the gang, or a good idea.

It’s an outsider with a strong point of view that doesn’t give a flying fuck for opinion. (Yet, it will eat you up with your own saliva, too.)

Like many habits that thrill and vivify, obsession is wanting in virtue.

But, for as long as we are slaves to our cravings, it may be just another pleasurable road to hell.

*

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Filed under Arty Mumbo, Mumbo Obsessions, Mumbojumbosheepism, Uncategorized

Songs For The Deaf: Flume- Never Be Like You

So you’re a guy, and your heart aches. Your woman has done you wrong with a new man. And she’s your woman. But she’s done you wrong.

It’s the wine-bread-cheese eternal triangle of your heart, but you’ve heard that the new cheese was indigestible: he’s history.

It’s summer. It’s the parody of a summer day. Your skin feels alive. There’s pollen in the air. A butterfly lands on your hand, and you feel open and emotional, but exhausted.

You lie down on the grass, and you close your eyes, and there she is. You can feel the sun behind her.

She sounds like smoke. As real as oak. She’s raw, and hitting you deep in the chest. And she’s sorry. She’s so sorry.

She is remorse. She is self-hatred. She loves fake, shiny things. She’s a fool. She uses strong language; it sounds nice.

Inbetween the sorries, she sneaks in a refrain, ‘He’ll never be like you’.

It’s different to the body of what she’s saying. She hopes it will enter you like a subliminal message. It’s an insistent feminine whisper.  It makes her sound desperate. It’s full of her breath, and it’s breathless.

And you can’t deny that you need to hear it.

Then something else comes into the summer softness, and it’s not a butterfly, or stray bunting on the wind.

It’s a powerful, great, thwumping shot of mixed emotions.

A heavy, resonating beat set that stirs you up.

With it, she’s reminding you of the sex, and the shouts, and the disappointments. It’s when she put her head on your lap on the plane. And the shame you shared with her. And the cups of tea. And the laughing. Her scarf. Your energy.

It’s all flooding in and mixing with her justification, her pleads for reassurance.

And there are different flavours in this emotion she’s stirring up behind her words. Rhythmical. Grounding. Skittish. They converge in your veins. You feel warm.

At 1.23 she pushes a bruise, and it’s a beautiful pain. It’s a discordant memory- something a bit off, or bittersweet, that you don’t want to remember. But you’d hate to not remember.

And she’s missing you. She made a mistake. She’s human. Can you feel that? Are you buying it? Is she getting through?

With this heat, and these deep, resonating flashes of her eyes, and this betrayal.

Then, she freezes the powerful memories to concentrate.

This is it. This is the pitch.

Just her, haloed in the sun, with her hands tight around your heart.

‘I’m falling on my knees, forgive me, I’m a fuckin’ fool.

I’m beggin’ darlin’, please, absolve me of my sins, won’t you?’

She’s making you God, with the power to forgive. A sad, little boyfriend God she knocked down.

And only you can raise yourself, with her words echoing around in your broken head.

Winding down.

But back first with the powerful jolts behind her plaintive voice. Don’t forget the first breakfast I made you. Remember the taste of me.

Not as words, but as beats of memory.

(‘HE’LL NEVER BE LIKE YOU.’)

Time now to open up the cause: the past, the breeze, the people playing catch nearby.

All things coming together to press on your soul.

Don’t let her go- your flawed, full, smokey, oak love.

Then a tiny crash, as she disappears. A broken pane.

And you’re sitting back up in the luminous day, with no thing pressing on your senses.

Just the heat of the rays on the green under your fingers.

No more flooding, by the rivers of feeling.

And she’s your woman, but she done you wrong.

And you’re on the grass in the summer, on your stony own.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

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April 7, 2016 · 12:04 pm

Fan

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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

Against Finding Your Purpose in Life

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What’s the collective noun for ‘start-ups?’ Is it a glut?

I mean, those borne of a glint in the Founder’s eye that tells you they’ve found their purpose in life.

The ones with Alan Watts videos in their Youtube Favourites, who now know what really makes them tick.

Those catapulted out of bed every morning with the conviction they’ve found out why they were put on this earth: organic mole-hair baskets.

Ideally, work should feel worthwhile and rewarding- can’t argue with that.

But where does it say this has to be THE THING that boils you down into your essence?

The bastard working man’s answer to Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Perfume?

Why does it have to be our driving force- our elevator pitch to God at the gates of Heaven?:

I AM the delivery of eco-friendly banking solutions / the knitter of artisanal rye-flavoured tea cosies/ the carer of LGBT animals. Trust me, the rest was musak.

Isn’t it occasionally possible to integrate these purposes into life without encumbering them with the need to bring home the bacon?

I’m being Devil’s Avocado, natch, to make a connection between something I keep noticing and something I want.

The first is the preponderance of busy little companies wopping a kooky name on their foreheads, and heading off to the internet with a red handkerchief tied on their stick.

‘About Us’ will tell you more about what gives them a dual personal/professional hard-on, than you feel comfortable knowing.

Not that it’s anything other than passion that makes a service good.

But there seem to be so many companies all getting very aroused about the same thing- with just a tiny tweak.

There’s a gap in the market and a market in the gap, but…

…here’s the second thing…

There’s probably a bigger market in bridging the gap between the market and the gap.

So, on the one hand you’ve got a maelstrom of information, services, gizmos, earnest reasons for being.

And on the other, the people who need, want, respond to them.

The eager start-ups are all wanting a slice of that giving pie.

I can offer what you offer. Only better. And with CEO after my name on LinkedIn, and my dietary preferences in the blurb.

Or curating it:

Look, see. I’ve aggregated your news/ house buying options/ washing machine costs, thereby cutting your time investment, and customizing your experience.

The point is this: What if I don’t know what news I’m interested in, or what kind of house I should live in, or what sort of washing machine would suit me best?

I’m not talking about trawling through Which? Guides and ‘Well, at first when I got the dustbuster home…’ reviews.

But the customizing, time-cutting bit that precedes the customizing time-cutting bit.

I’m talking Advanced Boolean pre-Google Searches.

Most service providers, and their middle-men, work on the assumption that we know what we want; we just need help finding it.

This is fine if you have a blocked drain, or know that you’re a family of 4 who want to stay in Cleethorpes, are who are in need of Wifi in order not to kill each other.

But some of the biggest decisions we make in life end up finger-in-the-air at best; based on stale ideas at worst.

Where to live; where to go on holiday; where to send our kids to school; what sort of alternative health route to pursue.

Or professional: what genre of marketing agency to commission; which wholesale fleece supplier to engage; what steel manufacturer to use.

What EXACTLY is it that we’re TRULY looking for?

The start-up glut is surely out there waiting by their passionate phones to give it to us.

However, in order to connect with the fruits of these passions, we need to know what ours are first.

I fancy more businesses operating on the dating game model, where likes and preferences are probed thoughtfully, and matches suggested.

Not jokey, ‘Which city should you really be living in? Berlin’, after 3 unrelated, multiple-choice questions.

But streamlined, meaningful questionnaires that cross-reference our subconscious desires with millions of variables, and tell us stuff we didn’t even know we should be investigating.

Old skool agent expertise, for the 21st Century.

For example: How do we choose holidays?

1. Pick Sun/ snow, Beach/Pool, Mountains/City

2. Bump into neighbour in the park

3. Cruise Owners Direct for somewhere pet unfriendly

Bang! You’re in France. Again. Bumping into your neighbour…

How about:

Q: What are your favourite moments of a holiday? Are aesthetics important to you? What’s your favourite view in a painting? What brand of chorizo do you like? Do you prefer perky or weird in a restaurant? Give an example. Do you like flying? Flying mice? Characterful churches? Germans? Have you got a gsoh? Are you allergic to English tourists? Flies? Intimate massages? Are you a tight arse? What sum is 1.5 times the amount of money you think you have to spend on accomms? Trinkets? Does tipping annoy you? And the wife? Does tipping annoy her? Does your wife annoy you? (That’s another website: click on this link.)

A: Pulau Seliron. Small town on the north coast of Brunei. Wasn’t in this week-end’s Sunday supplement. Your neighbour’s never heard of it. Plenty of tapas restaurants with trinket boutiques attached. Clientele of German comedians. Now bugger off and cruise Owners Direct.

What am I asking for?

– To discover more about my preferences than I have ever bothered to probe.

– To have the world of information brought to my time-poor, self-knowledge poor, fingertips.

– To marry more of all that stuff out there, with all the stuff I now realise I want.

Full-on risk-assessment, pyschological-profiling, aspiration-hunting, dream-burrowing, passion-sniffing, intelligent questions, to help put as big a bespoke life-is-short-smile as possible on my miserable, high-expectations, greedy little face.

Those are my needs.

Now, whose purpose in life is it to meet them?

 

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Filed under Mumbo Life, Mumbo Obsessions, Uncategorized