... but I stopped. Now I'm a dad, and may blog again...

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Block Chop 9: The Mystery of Takowasa

I think the time has come for a brief reminisce about Japan; it was inevitable it would start sooner or later.  Of all the things I miss about Japan – the people, the alienation, the chaos, the cosmos, the tradition, the modernity, the vast underground streets, all the usual stuff – the thing I miss the most is the food.  Specifically one type of food.

I ate out regularly; nearly every day.  Sometimes in groups and sometimes on my own.  I would just wander around the different areas of Osaka.  Ducking down alleyways in search of street food – takoyaki, okonomiyaki – and into obscure izakaya.  The best of the izakaya was a chain that we westerners all called two-eighty bars.  I have no idea what they were actually called as I never learned to read Japanese writing and never thought to ask anyone.  We called them 2.80s because everything on the menu cost 280 (at the time this was about £1.40, but is now more like £2).  A huge range of fantastic meaty, fishy, fried, weird delights, and massive tankards of beer, and they stayed open until about 4am every night.  You sat at your table and rang a bell every time you needed a waiter.

One night early in my stay I went to a 2.80 with my flat mate, a couple of other Western lads and some Japanese, and one of the local ladies asked me if I had ever had takowasa.  I hadn’t and said so, and got the old “ahh, you are not Japanese! You must have takowasa.”  I said sure.  So we rang the bell and she asked for a few bowls of takowasa.  It arrived quickly, and looked like nothing I have ever seen that could be described as food.  I was a tiny bowl with a lump of goopy gray splat sitting on a nettle leaf; tiny pieces of chopped raw octopus smothered in a pickle/wasabi sauce.  I had no reservations about this at all.  I swept up the chopsticks and popped a piece of takowasa in my mouth.  Chewy, but hard, slimy and full of wasabi heat.  I was instantly addicted.  As my Japanese fellow diners tucked in, they laughed at me in my glasses waving my chopsticks around like a wand, and called meハリーポッター (Hari Pota).

I ate takowasa at every opportunity and ranted and raved about it to anyone who would listen.  Then I came back to England and alas takowasa has vanished from my world.  No restaurants serve it; nowhere serves raw octopus of any sort.  A Google search for it reveals barely a hint of its existence, except some delicious or disgusting (depending on your taste) photos, and a single badly written recipe.  None of the Japanese or Asian markets in Manchester sell it (I have a suspicion it might be sold in jars, but can’t confirm this), and most have never even heard of it.

I’m going to have to try making, and storing some myself, however I am reluctant to try this.  Both raw octopus, and homemade food kept long term in jars, are infamous for feeding dangerous bacteria.  Is it worth risking death for? ...probably.  But in the meantime, if anyone in Japan can find it in jars, please send me some and I’ll reward you handsomely.

And what exactly does this gloriously disgusting food look like?  Ta-dah!:  

Friday, July 30, 2010

Block Chop 8:

As if job hunting isn’t hard enough at the moment, My Manchester Jobs have just emailed me a job and the closing date was yesterday.  To add insult to injury, to make the job searching that little bit more soul destroying, it’s a job that I would have actually liked to do (until I got bored of course): Admin assistant at Manchester University Physics department.  It’s in recruitment and student services so not as interesting as it could be, but still the sort of thing I consider worthwhile.  Plus the pay and hours are ok, and the location was amazing.  And I may have been able to help the next Ernst Rutherford or Niels Bohr (where are the famous female physicists who did important historical work in Manchester?).

Fortunately I found a much better job.  Perhaps it’s too good to be true, so at the moment I’m approaching it with caution.  It’s a writing job that, if all goes to plan, should be able to provide me with regular work and pay. Huzzah!  I’ve applied but I’ll keep quiet about it for now in case it all goes arse over tit.
There seems to be quite a lot of writing work out there, for those prepared to whore around a bit, and bold enough to live the life.  Although it sometimes seems like it, not all website content is generated by racists and wikipediaphiles.  There are websites with professional, paid-for content, and agents who provide work for content writers.  Plus any writing work at all is a positive step and a learning experience.  As a writer I have to be prepared to spend all day every day thinking about and practicing writing; to be able to write something authoritative and/or instructive on almost any subject with a moments notice.  There are also apparently areas of non-mainstream publishing that continue to sell extremely well, often better than mainstream bestsellers.  I’m talking about one-handed reading.  You know... erotic fiction.  I’m informed it’s a respectable industry providing saucy romance to middle aged women.  The books occasionally make it into supermarkets and airports, and many top writers started out titillating and teasing under pseudonyms.  Definitely something to think about.  Hmmm, I wonder...

Anyway, I’ve done loads of writing this week, perhaps more than at any previous point in my life.  Now my fingers ache and the tips feel stubbed.  I left writing this blog until the early evening and I’m tired.  I usually write it early in the morning.

I clearly have nothing left to say and, if you haven’t already, I advise you to stop reading now.  I’m just stretching this out to the arbitrary 450 word minimum I set myself.  Boris Johnson is on The One Show.  I might go to the cinema.  Happy weekend all.

I promise you a more interesting read tomorrow.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Block Chop 7:

The bin men around here are a disgrace.  Before I continue, if anyone has contacts in the bin-man industry, please don’t tell them where I live.  I don’t want any nasty repercussion such as having my wheelie bin left a short walk from my gate, or having an angry face drawn on my letter box >:(

Walking down the road this morning at the same time as the bin collection I saw a sorry sight.  A milk carton, and a few other pieces of detritus had fallen from a slightly over-fill bin.  They lay helpless on the pavement unable to crawl back up into their rightful binnish place.  But hurrah, along comes a saviour.  The bin men; surely they, being that it is their job, will rescue these lost souls, gaining them entry into the rubbish party in the back of the bin lorry.  But, no; what’s this?  This refuse representative; this sanitation soldier, has forsaken his duties.  He casually kicks aside the floor-bound waste, half acknowledging its presence as he drags the wheelie bin to the back of the dump truck.  The waste wagon’s mechanical device lifts, empties, and then returns the bin.  As our man returns the bin to the pavement he looks directly at the trash he had only casually acknowledged previously.  This time his full attention is drawn to it.  Will he spend a split-second to sweep his gloved hand down to the ground then across to the back of the lorry?  Will he fuck.  Another kick sends the litter across the pavement, where it lies gently oscillating in the light morning breeze.  And on he moves, without a care in the world.  Without exhibiting what should surely be basic standards of his profession.

Ahead of the bin wagon, where the bin men have yet to venture, the streets are largely free from litter, and the pavements are navigable.  Yet as I walk away, in the opposite direction to the bin route, I observe the destruction.  The frequency of litter is much higher: scraps of greasy paper, crushed tins, the spilled entrails of gutted black bin-liners.  Much worse however, the pavements are blocked by hundreds of sloppily placed wheelie bins.  The old ladies with their shopping bags, and the young mothers with their prams, are now obliged to walk in the road.  Every few yards the street is blocked by bins.  Further back up the road the unemptied bins are neatly lined up against garden walls; on the pavement, but tidy so as not to block the street.  The residents are considerate.  But due to simple stupid, inconsiderate, laziness emptied bins are everywhere.  Most people are taught as a child to put things back where they found them.  At the bin man job interview the first question is “Where are you supposed to put things when you have finished with them?”  If you answer “Back where you found them,” you are out; interview terminated.  If you answer “duhh” you are in the maybe pile.  And if you don’t answer at all cos you are listening to tinny music on your phone; you’re hired!

I thought the purpose of collecting rubbish was so that we don’t have to live surrounded by it.  I thought the council was opposed to obstructed roads and pavements.

I felt a pang of guilt before pressing "publish post".  It's not the nicest or most highly-respected of jobs, and in general it is an essential service that we all rely upon.  I'm also certain that is is a much more enjoyable job than telesales, and much more highly respected.  I considered editing to be less sarcastic, but then looked out of my window to see all I have just written confirmed.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Block Chop 6: Great Artists - Bob Monkhouse!

“Growing old is compulsory.  Growing up is optional.”

Just been listening to All Round Bob Monkhouse on iPlayer .  The man was an absolute legend and an inspiration for many reasons.  He has never been cool, but was always the best at what he did.  He was supremely prodigious in many different creative pursuits.  As a teenager he wrote for the Beano and various other forgotten kids comics then, always developing his writing skills began writing porn novels.  He had hundreds of naughty books published under various different names, and then began writing for ancient American comedian Bob Hope.  He did a million other jobs from acting, presenting game shows, script writing, and stand-up comedy.  He kept immaculately filed notes of his own jokes, and was the master of the one-liner.  Many well known jokes (e.g. “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father.  Not screaming in terror like his passengers”) are attributed to him.  His influence on modern masters of the one-liner, such as Jimmy Carr, is obvious to anyone who has seen their acts.  Basically he was a master craftsman of comedy, and there may never be another like him.

One of the main things he had going for him was simply how hard he worked.  He claimed to have written a 40,000 word novelette between dusk and dawn one night.  He achieved huge amounts in all he set his mind to, and seemingly never left a job unfinished.  This is where I must take my inspiration.  My to-do list grows much faster than I am crossing things off it.  Perhaps it’s not too bad, as he did live to 75, and the BBC R2 programme I just listened to condensed it all down into just under an hour.  That must make it seem like years worth of achievements and adventure fly by in the blink of an eye.

Then of course there are the jokes.  Many of them seem cheesy; on the surface a bit like the same old crap spouted by any old-fashioned comedian repeating jokes they didn’t write themselves.  But Bob wasn’t like that.  He wrote all his own cheesy jokes; he had millions on all different subjects and could recall them with split second timing.

“A miniature village in Bournemouth caught fire and the flames could be seen three feet away.”
“They laughed when I said I was going to be a comedian; well they’re not laughing now.”
“What do gardeners do when they retire?”

His humour had a dark streak, that wasn’t present in most other mainstream 1970s-era comedians:

“My mother tried to kill me when I was a baby.  She denied it of course; she said she thought the plastic bag would keep me fresh.”
“My wife and I have sex nearly every day.  Nearly on Monday, nearly on Tuesday, nearly on...”
“People often think I’m from Kent.  I hear them whisper it as I walk past.”

And he was thoughtful:

“Growing old is compulsory.  Growing up is optional.”
“Silence is not only golden; it is seldom misquoted.”

Good old Bob.  I’m not a comedian, and I should expect I never will be.  Stand-up comedy has got to be one of the most difficult and impressive of modern art forms.  I liked Bob because, despite him being a household name my entire life, he felt like a discovery.  By the 1980s he was firmly established as a churner-outer of low budget TV quizzes, and as a comedian was lumped in with 1970’s The Comedians-style dross (except with his weird poshness, as opposed to the usual Working Men's club-type).  It was easy to forget he was a proper, top-of-the-range stand-up genius, and indeed many people my age perhaps never knew this.  However by the 1990s we started to (re)discover his talent and, like Johnny Cash, he enjoyed a resurgence in popularity and a creative renaissance just in time to die at the top of his game.

(Seems a bit weird to do an obituary for someone seven years after the event, but never mind.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Block Chop 5:

Struggled to start writing today.  Considered writing about Japan, but I think I have a bit of a reputation among my friends (hello) for going on about Japan a bit too much.  It’s inevitable that I will waffle about Japan eventually but it’s too soon into the project to start now.  In the meantime, for prosperity, here are the first faltered words I wrote today:

Having mega trouble thinking of anything to write. Really need to make some money, and the flat is a fucking tip.  There is a bottle of white paint on my desk that looks exactly like a squeezy tube of mayonnaise every time I catch it in the corner of my eye.  I’m going to finish my coffee, do the washing up, apply for more shitty jobs, do some more work on the Tactical Thinking painting, and do some character development sketches for my dad’s short story.  Also got to make my girlfriend her tea; she’s got under an hour between getting in from work and going out to do her first Body Shop party.

This has become dangerously close to a diary, which is the last thing I want it to be.  If it becomes a diary it will be boring as fuck, and I will probably give up after a couple of days.  The last few days I’ve woken up knowing what I was going to write about, or thought of it just before going to sleep.  Today nothing.  And the internet is such a distraction; might have to turn it off in order to get some (unpaid) work done.

Not good enough; I agree.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  Have that, for a cliché.

Every time I try to fill out a job application form, my brain freezes up.  There is something about having to shove the same repetitive tedious details in tiny boxes that just breaks my brain.  Also each application form is just different enough to make copying and pasting difficult.  One form will want to know the reason for leaving every job you have ever had; another will deem in necessary to know every single tiny employment gap since leaving school; yet another will be desperate to find out what fucking month you left school.  Some jobs require certificates for every single trivial computer skill: a fucking word processing certificate. WTF, grrrr. For fucks sake, what happened to just hiring people.  Why so many fucking hoops; why all the bureaucracy.  A quote from somewhere:

The bureaucracy is expanding 
to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.

Too true.  What do I need more, a drink or a job?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Comic Parts: Competition

Block Chop 4:

“Science advances most when its predictions prove wrong.”
-Don E. Wilhelms, To A Rocky Moon: A Geologist’s History of Lunar Exploration

I like this quote.  It says so much about the difference between scientific method, and other systems of knowledge.  Let’s apply it to homeopathy and see what happens.

Homeopathy is a ‘medicine’ that is used to treat collections of symptoms (not actual illnesses) by taking a substance (could be arsenic, belladonna, camomile, or anything really) which induces similar symptoms.  One drop of this substance is then diluted in water and shaken up.  Then one drop of this solution is popped in another vial of water and shaken up.  This process is repeated over and over until a homeopathic remedy is produced.  The homeopathic remedy has been diluted so much that not a single molecule of the original substance is left.  Only water.  Homeopaths believe that water has a “memory” of the original substance, and the more it is diluted the more potent it becomes.  There is no known physical mechanism by which this could possibly work.  Science predicts it doesn’t work.  And in test after test the evidence comes in: Homeopathy is a placebo.  The placebo effect is a very powerful mechanism and its use is well established in medical science.  Most minor illnesses or general feelings of ickiness can be alleviated by a placebo because the patient will get better anyway as the body’s natural defences sort it out.  The symptoms of serious and chronic illnesses can be alleviated by placebos, but the underlying cause cannot be.  This is why people die when they try to treat their cancer using only homeopathy.  This is why an Australian couple are imprisoned for causing the death of their baby after using only homeopathy to treat a serious skin disorder.  

Scientists are opposed to homeopathy, not because they are scared of it or paid off by Big-Pharma, but because it doesn’t work.  It is a lie, it confuses people, and makes them believe weird and dangerous things.

But, what if the predictions of science were proved wrong and a testable mechanism was discovered whereby water had a memory of one particular substance (and somehow ignored all the shit, piss and other chemicals it had touched over billions of years), that dilution increased its potency, and that it actually worked to cure illness and disease (better than a placebo)?  It would ignite a revolution in all the sciences, not just medical, but it would change our understanding of the way sub-atomic particles interact on a quantum level.  It would make extremely cheap and effective medicines available to everyone in the world.  We could immunise an entire country by putting one drop of a substance into the water supply.  It would be huge, and everyone would embrace it.  It would be medicine, not Alternative medicine.
So if homeopaths aren’t doing any useful work, who is?  The Christie hospital in Manchester does a lot of great work in the fight against cancer: radio~ and chemotherapy, cancer research, and teaching.  I am looking into using this daily blog project of mine to somehow raise money to support them.  I’ll post here when I know more about it, but in the meantime please go to The Christie Charity website and make a donation. 

The amazing art of Ernst Haeckel

I haven't got anything to say about Ernst Haeckel as I don't know anything about him, other than what is written in the first couple of sentences on his wikipedia page.  He was a German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor and artist, who discovered, described and named thousands of new species, mapped a genealogical tree relating all forms of life, and coined many terms in biology, including phylum, phylogeny, ecology and the kingdom Protista.  I plan to read up on him and to get the books of his prints Art Forms in Nature and Art Forms from the Ocean, and then I might have something more to say.  In the meantime let's have a look at some of his awesome illustrations (anyone familiar with my paintings might spot an obvious octopussy source of artistic 'appropriation').

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Block Chop 3:

I can’t just keep writing about how I can’t think of anything to write about.  That’ll get boring very quickly for everyone, especially for me.  So today let’s talk about... why I am not a vegetarian.  It’s as good as anything else to talk about.  I just read a blog post by “Voracious Vegan” called Veganism: Where Do You Draw The Line?.  It wound me up.  The gist of the article is that veganism is the best choice a person can make (therefore eating meat is a bad choice); veganism is morally superior but there is infighting amongst vegans about all sorts of ridiculous things (eg is it ok to eat vegan food manufactured by a company that also makes non-vegan food); any form of shopping is “mindless consumerism”; and, that veganism is not (as I consider it) fussy eating, it is a “movement” (the only movement involved in my eating habits, happens about 5 hours after eating.  It’s a bowel movement, get it).

So why am I not a vegetarian/vegan?

In one sentence: Because I am not a hypocrite.  In another sentence: Because I love food.  Need another reason? Ok.  Because I am alive.

Ok, I’m sure I need to break this down a bit more.  First let’s look at the hypocrisy.  I’m sure the author of Voracious Vegan is a lovely person, and there are some damn fine recipes on her blog (I have nothing against vegan food.  I love food... all food.  Seriously, amongst the takowasa, black pudding, and ostrich burgers, one of the nicest foods I have ever eaten is the house salad at the Whale Tail cafe in Lancaster – try it!). 

But does she not see the contradiction in her statement (in About Me) that she enjoys “beautiful cruelty free foods that will not only make us healthier and happier, but are good for our planet and the animals as well,” when compared to the blog post in question where she states un-categorically that her favourite brand of vegan margarine (!) directly causes the death of orang-utans (wtf!).  Well yes, reading the rest of the blog post, she does see the contradiction, and it eats her up inside daily.  Which is a terrible shame; an almost Catholic-level of guilt.  A strict Catholic believes that our natural sexual urges are evil and, because they are a normal process of life, is destroyed by the guilt.  A strict Vegan worries about harming animals, but because this is an unavoidable part of life is consumed by guilt.  Yes, the over-riding theme of Veganism: Where Do You Draw The Line? is crippling guilt about the effect, however minor, of human activity on animal life.  Not what I would consider a fun way of eating.

Ultimately veganism is only a moral high ground if you accept the proposition that eating animals is wrong.  I don’t accept this.  Eating animals is a good thing.  I don’t believe fish feel pain (the best evidence that they do feel pain can only show that they respond to stimulus; we cannot extrapolate a conclusion about pain from this), and I believe that the suffering of mammals, cephalopods, etc, can and should be minimalised while still remembering that all living creatures are food.  All life exists to consume other life.  I eat meat because I am alive.  I am not making excuses for this (for the ‘Voracious Vegan’ there are no reasons to eat meat, only excuses), because I don’t need to.

That's all I can be bothered writing for now.  Time for a cuppa.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Block Chop 2: A New Day

Today is the second day of my everlasting writing project, and the first day of the rest of our lives.  What did I learn yesterday?  Lesbians are weird (from the mouth of a reliable source); the etymology of ‘playwright’ has no relation to the word ‘write’ (‘wright’ is an archaic term for craftsman, eg Cartwright); the conspiracists who think the moon-landings were faked are weirder than I ever imagined; and, space hoppers can be extremely hazardous to 4-year olds.

None of this is that important to me, and certainly has no internal relevance.  I’m still straining to decide what I am writing (or wrighting) today.  I imagine that over time the transition from forced-writing to easily-flowing writing will come.  At that point these blog posts should either drastically increase in quality due to the natural easy language that emerges, or plummet in quality because of the unedited stream of self-indulgent bollocks.  Either way I’ll be convinced of my own talent, and go around referring to myself as a writer.

I will be putting together a string of articles on various related subjects as part of these Block Chop blog posts.  One of the series will be articles about people I personally consider to be amongst the ranks of World’s Greatest Artists.  Possible inclusions Frank Zappa, Kraftwerk, the NASA staff during Apollo, the pro-wrestler Mick Foley, artist Martin Kippenberger, painter Cy Twombly, cartoonist Robert Crumb, writer Alan Moore, stand-up Stewart Lee.  These are very personal choices based entirely on my own preferences, but I’m open to suggestions.

Yesterday I spent an hour or so writing about the Apollo missions which, after reading Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin this week, have become a childish obsession of mine recently.  Honestly I’m one step away from putting posters of astronauts on my bedroom wall, and building little models of lunar modules to hang from the ceiling above my bed.  Fortunately I live with my girlfriend, whose chief responsibility (besides ensuring I don’t develop a mono-brow) is reigning in my nerd tendencies.  Without her I’d be playing Xbox until 6am every night, watching wrestling every week, eating takeaway cheeseburgers every day, and possibly looking at my own jizz with a microscope.  (National Geographic 1200x microscope; amazon wish list; xmas present; hint hint.)

Anyway, that’ll do for now; don’t want to overdo it on the second day.  Keep reading, it’ll get better I promise J and if you are my postman, stop bringing us fucking bills – pay them yourself you cunt.

Bye bye.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Block Chop 1:

Time to force myself to get over my writer’s block. I’ve got into a fucking lazy writing-less rut, where I can’t even string together a few rapperly rhyming couplets for the Kevines reunion song I’m supposed to be doing with Robbie, Sharpie, Mr.Dick and Neil Fitter Motherfucker. Let alone can I finish the novel I started 5 years ago in my final year of Uni? No I can’t. But I will.

The plan is to force myself to write something on this blog every day. Not exactly a diary, because I don’t want everyone (Who? Nobody reads this) to know all I do, but I’m sure I’ve got enough opinions to go around. It’s practice. It’s to get myself thinking about wordplay, prose, and the like. I’m taking my inspiration (i.e. copying) from comedian Richard Herring’s blog Warming Up which he has written every day since 2002 (about 2700 entries). Undoubtedly he has a lot more to write about, given that he is the least successful member of a comedy duo from the 90s who no-one remembers, as well as a touring stand-up, novelist and playwright. Whereas I am an under-employed, unemployed, aspiring artist, businessman, and novelist. Perhaps if I make some headway in one of my pursuits, these blog posts will become more interesting.

I started a story called Now I Remember the Slug which was basically the opening chapter of a novel. The setting was Lancaster and Morecambe, rich in history, setting of a cockle-picking tragedy, and a tedious place to live. The set-up was a young man discovering a corpse in a van under mysterious circumstances, then in a seemingly unrelated event being attacked and beaten on the canal path. This holds obvious possibilities for development. Where did the body come from? Who was he? What are circumstances leading up to the mysterious discovery, and where will it lead our characters? Until recently I have never been able to answer these questions, so all attempts to advance the story have painfully faltered.

Now the complete story has been coming to me: Character development (both of lead and support roles), plot, back-story, conceptual themes, dénouement, sub-plots, everything is revealed. There is still a hell of a lot of work to do and I will not be revealing the details of the plot here until necessary. I have many of the pieces of the story, which need arranging into a coherent whole. I have partially mapped out plot~ and character development, and have many other loose elements floating nearby. Then there is the majority of the writing to be done. I already have 10,000 words (including the chapter written 5 years ago), that leaves me approximately 80-100,000 more words to do, not including rewrites/redrafts.

I bumped into Craig (surname temporarily forgotten) who was in my writing class at Uni. He boasted that he had finally finished his novel and he would like me to read it sometime. If I know him (which I don’t really), it’ll be bloody good. He was definitely one of the top writers in my class (as was I, no doubt about it), so I have to properly push myself to fulfil my own high standards, and those of my peers.

Time to brush up on my fiction-writing heroes: Chuck Palahniuk, David Mitchell (not the one from Peep Show or the former Tory MP), and the minimalist short stories of Amy Hempel and Raymond Carver.

Personally I hate Stephen King's writing, but he was right on point when he said:
“If you haven’t got the time to read, you haven’t got the time or the tools to write”.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Blank Pages cover artist!!!

I am this months cover artist (Issue 24) in Blank Pages online magazine by Blank Media Collective.

You can see this month's issue of Blank Pages in the viewer below, or by going to the host site Issuu, here

Also you can download the magazine as a pdf here.

Thanks to Henry, John and Michael at Blank Media Collective for the opportunity and exposure!