Friday, July 30, 2010

Rude Britannia

An inspiring morning at Tate Britain, mainly to see Rude Britannia, an exhibition surveying British comic art. Everyone from Hogarth, Gilray and Cruikshank to Glenn Baxter, Steve Bell and Viz . Oh and saucy seaside postcards. A curatorial stroke of genius was to invite Viz to present room 2 after a rather academic opening. Brought things down to a wonderfully base level.

Then explored Mike Nelson's The Coral Reef next door. I walked straght past it at first before spotted the 'entrance': an unassuming, shabby door which looked like it would open into a storeroom, which turned out to be not too far from the truth. The 'installation' is a labyrinthe of around 50 interconnected small, claustrophobic and rather creepy rooms with not a lot in them. Sort of a cross between what you might find in the bowels of the Home Office and a Stasi interrogation room. The British Council has chosen Nelson to represent UK at next year's Venice Biennale which should be interesting.

Then a very pleasant pub lunch with Andrew H at the White Swan round the corner, where Andrew C and I would plan for creative happenings 20 years ago including covering St Paul's Cathedral with bread & butter.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gardening at night

Reading an interesting book by Richard Reynolds called Guerilla Gardening. It's an attractive idea: gardening by stealth and subterfuge in vacant lots, uncared-for roundabouts and other blighted public spaces. Reynolds has set up a worldwide community of guerilla gardeners including two "graphic designers in Tokyo", David 1168 and Michael 1169... I know you you are!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pump rave

Very pleasing post from Boomkat independent music specialists:

From the annals of '80s tape culture Plague Records have uncovered raw gold in the form of Pump's semi-mythical 'Sombrero Fallout' album. Previously known as MFH on their own YHR label, Pump were Andrew Cox and David Elliott, a pair of like-minded electronic music fiends who met at Brighton uni in '79. After spilling five cassette albums of underground industrial strains inspired by Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Faust and Heldon, they spent the middle of the '80s largely estranged, with David writing for the notorious Sounds magazine alongside David Tibet, and Andrew working in Cornwall.

In '87 they finally recorded new material, heard on 'The Decoration of The Duma Continues', before colluding for this, their final album which was supposed to emerge on Trident Music International, but sadly didn't due to unknown reasons. The untimely death of Andrew in 2009 prompted a resurgence of interest, and with the utmost respect, we're f*cking blessed that it did as it's just the find of the year. Quite interestingly the album was mixed by Colin Potter of Nurse With Wound, which goes some way to describing the close, dark ambient nature of their sound, but there's many more factors at play which make 'Sombrero Fallout' so riveting.

'A Knife, possibly' sets a sour atmosphere with chugging slow drum machines and a guitar drone industrially dubbed for arcing, widescreen effect, while 'Yukiko' features spiraling marimbas diffused into stereo patterns with mournful, ghostly synths sounding like Zoviet*France gone strangely new age. At the mid way point we enter 'The 'Wife' Container', an incredibly claustrophobic and sickly doomscape with over-saturated bass hum and the distant sound of groaning guitars tortured in some sadistic dungeon ritual for over nine minutes. No sh*t, this is intensely dark stuff! Next, 'Apolinaire Enammelled' combines a reverb laden motorik backbeat somewhere between Stephen Morris and Klaus Dinger, with twirling raga-esque psychedelia, again benefitting from the Colin Potter treatment to sound drugged to the nails, followed with the stoically centred 'Etoile de mer', a blissfully darkside arrangement of beatless ambience.

Their swan song 'Falling From Grace' approaches the end with a chilling display of unholy, crawling synth tones and spectral axe work shielding a lone vocal, delivered with reserve and an arcane sense of timing. Fuuuck. This album has really touched a nerve in our office, reminding us of our favourite Industrial, darkwave and New Beat, or all those other '80s genres whose unholy allure we've always been susceptible to, and best of all, it does it without the slightest hint of fromage or pastiche. Honestly, this is beyond essential for anyone with a darker soul.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jousting in Arundel

To my great surprise and shame, I'd never been inside Arundel Castle, despite living 9 miles away for the best part of 18 years (although I had collected conquers in the grounds). We put that right this afternoon. Wonderful place. Dates back to William the Conqueror's time and has been in the Duke of Norfolk's family for 800 years. The latest descendants still live there so it's not open all year round - but April to October must be inconvenient enough. Mum got around fine.

By a stroke of luck, there was a jousting tournament in the grounds. Interesting, colourful spectacle. Lots of splintering of (what must have been) balsawood as the lances hit their targets. I talked to one of the guys afterwards. He was Italian and did this for a living. What a strange job.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dell Quay

Lunch at the Crown & Anchor in Dell Quay, a creekside hamlet just outside Chichester. Lovely pub. Lots of dinghies, wellies and nautical types. The ever-present smell of seaweed. Fishbourne Roman Palace is a mile or so away. Nick Mason of Pink Floyd used to live next to the pub.

Last day with Patrick, Tricia and little Catherine. Has been great to see them. Not the greatest photo of the girls, and it reveals a lazy choice for lunch!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Family get-together

For the first time in ages, all the immediate Elliotts have managed to get together at mum's. Patrick, Tricia and Catherine are already here. Andrew and Sally, with Florence, Andy and Sophie are down for the day. And Mary, Nick and Laura too. Ben's the only absentee but he has a good excuse: he's in Ethiopia. Lovely to see everyone. We nosh in the garden for pretty much the whole afternoon.

Mum's ankle is still giving her trouble. We're going to the doctor's tomorrow for another attempt at a diagnosis. She absolutely hates going there. But otherwise, she's in good shape and spirits.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

West Witterings

A day at the beach with Patrick, Tricia & Catherine. P&I used to come here a lot in our youth. It's a pretty fabulous beach, particularly the western end where the outgoing tide leaves great expanses of sand and wide, shallow pools of water. Today the tide is in but there was still room for sandcastles and frisbee. We brought a picnic, I had an 'invigorating' swim, and we could see the Isle of Wight quite clearly beyond the hundreds of yachts.

WW is also the home of the (Antony) Gormley family and Keith Richards had a house here, scene of the Stones' infamous drug bust in 67. I can remember my older brother, Andrew, being tremendously excited by Jagger & co appearing at Chichester Magistrates Courts. He would have been 16 at the time. I was 6 and hadn't got a clue.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chi High

A nostalgic day with my good friend, Simon: lunch in town, a browse through the racks of Chichester's only record shop and then a poke around our old school which we discover to our horror we left 31 years ago...

Originally there were two schools side by side: the old Grammar School, built in 1928, and the Lancastrian School, a Secondary Modern. In 1972, the year Simon and I started, they combined to form Chichester High School for Boys. Here we are outside the 'Lancs' building. Just to complicate things, the Girls School was also nearby although they might as well have been on a different planet.

There are a few reasonably famous alumni still knocking about: Howard Brenton (playwright), Adrian Noble (RSC), John Snow (cricketer) and, briefly, Jimmy Hill when he was evacuated here during the war.

We bump into a couple of caretakers, Bill and Ray. Bill's been there 21 years and together we go through teachers' names. Just two survive from our day: Mr Durrant (whom I can barely remember) and Mr Keane (who still teaches Maths part-time and was a bit of a ladies man). A chunk of the playing fields have been sold off to housing and there are a few new outbuildings, including a Planetarium supported by local resident Sir Patrick Moore. But amazingly most of it is the same shabby state as when we were there, even the war-time bunkers which are apparently listed.

I have reasonably positive memories of the place. There were some good teachers, some bad ones too, and of course some real characters. We called each other by our surnames, studied things like Latin, and our O and A level grades were a smattering of As, Bs and Cs as opposed to the straight As and ASs which are the norm now. I think the school got its first computer the year we left.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Here we are in Chichester, my birthplace. At risk of sounding like the Tourist Board, it’s got a hell of a lot going for it. Aside from the cathedral, the beautiful old cross in the centre, the fine Georgian houses, parks and all that, recent years have seen it become quite a cultural centre. The festival every summer used to rely on its celebrated Festival Theatre (where, bizarrely, Tangerine Dream made their UK concert debut in 1974) - this year it's Rupert Everett in Pygmalion, 42nd Street and a Stoppard/Sheridan double bill amongst others - but there’s more...

One of the most surprising successes is its International Film Festival, run on a shoestring from New Park Community Centre which is as small and unglamorous as it sounds. This year they’re showing tons of great stuff including the UK premieres of Dagenham and The Kid, lots of new European films like The Illusionist, The Girl Who Played with Fire, Coco and Igor, tributes to Kurosawa, Rohmer and Jean Simmons; Mexican Surrealist Cinema, an open air screening of My Fair Lady and loads more. Hats off to them.

Then there’s Pallant House which houses one of the best collections of British modern art in the world and is currently showing Surreal Friends: Leonara Carrington, Remedios Varo and Kati Horna – much of it based on the collection of the Surrealist patron, Edward James who lived near Chichester. And this summer will mark the debut of Vintage at Goodwood founded by fashionistas Red or Dead, who now live nearby, and featuring music, art and fashion themed by decade from the 1940s to now. And right in the centre of town they're building a new museum.

When I was in my teens, there was nothing like this going on. It didn't even have a cinema.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Growing old

Visited Liz's old German teacher, Grace Rickard (no-one's called Grace now), with whom Liz has kept in touch ever since leaving school. She was a fairly fit and intrepid soul until a stroke a few years ago. Mind still active but she's on a zimmer frame, chair-lift up the stairs and red button permanently round the neck now. Her house is full of clutter and dust. Turned out to be her birthday today so Liz played Happy Birthday on the piano and the girls and I sang along. Glad that we were able to be there to... celebrate?

Liz's mum has started writing her memoires. She dug out some old birth/death/marriage etc certificates and an interesting 19th century invoice from a Bristol undertakers. It came to £4 15s which covered "brass-trimmed coffin, carriage, bearers, and collecting the corpse from Fishponds". My vision of a distant relative floating Ophelia-like amongst the reeds and weeds was misplaced; Fishponds is a suburb of Bristol.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Down the A38, over the still impressive Tamar Bridge, skirt the bizarrely named suburbs of Eggbuckland and Pennycomequick and into the big city. I've taken the girls to see Shrek IV in 3D. I ask for a small popcorn and receive a bucketfull. A large one is presumably the size of a dustbin. The film is OK, very funny in parts (particularly the bloated Puss) but they're running out of ideas and it's no surprise that this is to be the last in the series. The girls just about 'got' the timewarp plot.

I like Plymouth. My dad was a tutor for two or three years at the Royal Naval College in Manadon in the early 70s. We used to drive down from Chichester every two weeks or so to visit, staying in a funny old chalet somewhere in its grounds. It was here, as a 10-year-old, that I played golf for the first and last time, whacking Paddy in the mouth with a 4-iron. When not trying to kill my brother, we'd go walking on Dartmoor or boating with friends in Cornwall. Happy days.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Bought Michael Palin's second volume of Diaries today, Halfway to Hollywood 1980-88, in Liskeard's great little independent bookshop on the main street called simply The Bookshop. Was supposed to be starting some books on China but, being in England, I can't resist getting stuck into this. It's so entertaining, sincere, nostalgic, easy to read. It's his middling period, in between Python and before he turned into a globetrotter, but no less interesting for that. Just spotted a photo of John Cartwright, of the British Council's Films Department, taken when Palin and Gilliam went to Russia. Honestly, I could read this in one sitting.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It always, always rains when we come to Cornwall. Not 24/7, but pretty much everyday - just enough to scupper plans, stop gardening and bring on a collective sigh. I miss the certainty of sun in Bangkok.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Football x 3

1. I'm on the home stretch of David Goldblatt's The Ball is Round, which, as the blurb says on the cover, could replace a whole shelf of books about football. In parallel, am also learning a lot about 20th century world history, economics and politics. Here's an interesting comparison between two Middle East countries and Japan. In Iran, women haven't been allowed (until very recently) to attend football matches; in Japan, 10,000 of the 16,000 members of Tokyo Verde's fan club are women, mostly teenagers. When Iraq failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, the team were forced to play a game kicking cement balls which broke the souls of their feet and toes; in Japan the teams would go over to both ends of supporters and, in a line, bow in unison.

2. This afternoon in the garden I taught the girls how to head and volley a ball. They're really quite good!

3. Watched the World Cup Final in The Stag up the road. A dirty, unattractive match but glad Spain ran out winners.

And that's the last footie post for some time.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


We're staying in Liskeard in Cornwall. Liz's mum's house is an internet-free, TV-free and Orange-free zone so we're well and truly off-line. Quite nice actually. Though it must have been somewhat frustrating for Liz growing up without TV, especially at school when your friends were talking about John Craven's Newsround or TOTP.

So I'm writing this in the public library, a small but well-stocked old building in the town centre. Liskeard itself is an old market town with some fine Victorian buildings (over 100 of them designed by one man, Henry Rice) and Cornwall's second-largest church, inbetween the moors to the north, the coast to the south and the River Tamar and Plymouth to the east. Liz's mum has lived in the same house for nearly 60 years. There's not a great deal to do, but sometimes it's good to do nowt but relax, read and potter.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The flying nun

My sister-in-law, Margaret, is a Benedictine nun. She spent 33 years living in an enclosed order at Stanbrook Abbey in Gloucestershire before being forced to leave last year. The challenge of maintaining such a large 19th century building with just 25 nuns therein was just too much and most of the community moved to a new home in Crief on the North Yorkshire Moors. Margaret, however, managed to secure a position at a convent in Rome where she is planning to run a course in Gregorian Chant. Result! Anyway, she has just flown in to London on her way to visit Crief so we've been fortunate to catch her. Good to see here. Funny the life choices we take....

Incidentally, looks like Stanbrook Abbey has finally found a buyer in Amazing Retreats who hope to market it for weddings and conferences. They specialize in off-the-wall locations like Spitbank fort in the Solent.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Clothes and cassettes

This morning we drove to a warehouse on a bleak industrial estate in Wembley, a stone's throw from the stadium, to be re-united with our winter clothes. Strange to be reminded of coats, boots and woollens we last wore five years ago. But we'll need them in Beijing.

And this evening, while drinking with Laurence C near The Angel, I was re-united with a series of cassette compilations I did for him in the late 80s / early 90s which he has not only kept but even continues to play, and considers them interesting enough to bring with him to the pub. Here he is and here they are. Blokes eh?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I've forgotten how green London is and how we Brits love our urban gardens. Yesterday we visited friends in Balham and Clapham, both with small but beautifully patioed back yards. Annette 1 & Sam's even has grapes which they're turning into wine courtesy a company just down the road in Tooting which does it for them. Annette 2 & Renzo's is equally lovely, with a swing and enough flowers to trigger my otherwise dormant hayfever while we ate barbequed lamb and aubergines under the Heathrow flightpath. It's at times like these that I really miss living in London. On Sunday we had an idyllic picnic in St James's Park. And today we had coffee in the green quad of the V&A which has become a real focal point of the museum. Of course, the weather helps.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Having closed the apartment door for the last time, said tearful farewells to Goon and tenants and sped off in K.Kantapong's taxi, we are now officially homeless. Goodbye Bangkok; we'll see you again before too long I'm sure.

One 12-hour flight later, we are in the unremarkable but pleasantly leafy suburb of Sudbury Hill in north-west London, staying as ever with Kate & Nick plus whichever of their five children happen to be around. Gotta say, London looked glorious as we drove into the West End in our bright red rental Hyundai. Blue skies & just the right temperature; busy Notting Hill pavements flanked by trees, bookshops, cafes and pubs laden with hanging flowers; people carrying the Sunday papers; decent pavements; envy-inducing townhouses in Kensington; parks full of families; Wimbledon on the radio; past grand museums and the Royal Albert Hall (Proms about to start)... and all from traffic that keeps moving. I could get used to this.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Toodle-oo Topsy Turvy

Today was A & N's last day at school. End of a big chapter in their young lives. They've enjoyed four wonderful years with lovely teachers and made many international friends.

We picked them up in the afternoon. I was expecting tears but in the end they were pretty calm and collected; maybe they'll come later. Lots of BFF (Best Friends Forever) hugs and email exchanging...

The downside of being an expat is that no sooner do you develop friendships then one or the other party moves on; this time it's us. The upside is that they're beginning to accumulate friends dotted around the world and although they won't see them often, they'll keep in touch with many of them.

Not sure if it was the goodbyes or packing stress, but actually it was Liz and I choking back the emotion...

Thursday, July 1, 2010


A small army of packers moved in today. They set to with gusto, boxing anything that moved. It's amazing to see how much stuff one accumulates over the years. We tried to keep pace with them, but every now and again, when we weren't looking, they'd start packing things that weren't ready. No amount of prior graft prepares you for the minutiae of packing. Luckily, Liz is exceptionally good at it, giving orders, knowing what goes by sea, what by unaccompanied air freight and what comes with us to England. I did what I was told, and spent an hour, amongst other things, laboriously peeling stickers off the children's wall. Fun fun fun.