Friday, November 20, 2009


Advertiser's Announcement #1: Homage to Claire Churchill, (1967)

 Advertiser's Announcement #2: The Angle Between Two Walls, (1967)

Advertiser's Advertisement #3: A Neural Interval, (1968)

Advertiser's Announcement #4: A Placental Insufficiency, (1970)

Advertiser's Announcement #5: Venus Smiles, (1970)

Ordering back copies of Ambit magazine from a draughty warehouse in Cambridgeshire. Have officially joined Sealed Knot of earlier, better wars.
(J.G. Ballard's Advertiser's Announcements, Ambit magazine, 1967 - 1970, via Ballardian)

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I recently shot Hull band The Rocky Nest in a sandpit on Hull Marina:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


ABC passive-aggressively ambush their own show, in no way confirming those persistent rumours that network pressures forced David Lynch and Mark Frost to prematurely spoil Twin Peaks. Viewers just couldn't bear the seven episodes' (seven episodes!) worth of delayed gratification, apparently. Hardly Who Shot J.R.?, was it?

P.S. Actually, I'm not one to talk. I'm binge-watching Cracker (like Twin Peaks, one of those series that aired just on the frontier of before my time) at the moment and it feels a little retrograde to artifically recreate the traditional one-weeks' repose between episodes.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Notes for landscape tones... Long sequences of tempera. Light filtered through the essence of lemons. An air full of brick dust - sweet-smelling brick-dust and the odour of hot pavements slaked with water. Light damp clouds, earth-bound yet seldom bring rain. Upon this squirt dust-red, dust-green, chalk-mauve and watered crimson-lake.

- Justine, Lawrence Durrell

Yeah, it's Alexandria, not Budapest, but Durrell's palette seems to apply to these close, sweaty days. I rather like it. During Budapest's long work day, the quiet streets are suspended in treacle, one-foot-in-front of the other slowed by some immense drag, the heat waves rising off the concrete emit a faint hum. Every evening, a truck comes road to water the roads (against cracked tarmac?) and and by dusk the brick dust from the VIIth's ever-present roadworks hangs pink and low.


In the 1920s, Edward Bernays revolutionised public relations by teaching ad men to get ahead by appealing to the libidinal desires of the inherently-irrational masses.

In 2009 writer Iain Sinclair and film maker Chris Petit ("two people who have made journeys an essential part of their professions") made their first forey into advertising, starring in a short film (infomercial? public service broadcast?) for Audi. What follows is some vague psychogeographic freestyling from Sinclair and mumbled affirmatives from Petit, soundtracked by a piano set to meaningful and some "urban" trip hop musak. Oh, and they seem to be on some sort of journey (of course!) between Crosby Sands, Merseyside and, er, a place known only as "oblique" and "peculiar":

Once you get across there you're into something different. You're into something different instead of the thing he inhabits, which he keeps calling a darkness, as if there's a darkness inside the human body. I don't know what that darkness is, but it's what he wants to get away from.

But what does this destination "Oblique" matter anyway? It's the journey that counts. Indeed, despite this film's obscure marketing message, Sinclair's soulful metaphorisations of "journey" - the adman's all-time favourite trope - are really battered home.

And it's the car that facilitates this spiritual journey, much more conveniently than the crap cup of tea and ontological transformations offered by National Rail:

You go into this pod-like structure the car and everything switches down, especially when its as comfortable as this. You're into a sort of meditative overdrive instantly.

Well, I've watched the film a couple of times and what I'm getting is this: Audi offers a swaddled safe haven from the contingencies of the psychogeographic landscape.

Now, what could have encouraged this most enthusiastic pedestrian to get behind the steering wheel? Is this some new dérive? A rather complicated political manoeuver intending to protest against the privileged Left's demonisation of the car? Or, more likely, an instance of the oft-cited creative trade-off of cash v. art. At least in the film industry this kind of compromise generally results in "entertainments" (in some Graham Greene sense), not the reduction of your oeuvre into limp, baffling - and downright-contradictory - soundbites.


Being a ponderous bugger, I watched it again. I think I'd rather he shilled the car with a simple endorsement: "Hey, pedestrian! Psychoanalysing the psychosis of place is quicker with an Audi!"

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Some weeks ago, I took the train to Dunaújvaros (that's Danube New Town, formerly Sztálinváros) the purpose-built industrial town some way down the Danube in central Hungary. Under Soviet rule, Dunaújvaros was used to showcase the socialist perfectibility of Hungary, even after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution eminences were taken on hospitality tours of Hungary's largest iron and steel works and the wide, dappled avenues lined with Socialist Realist apartment buildings.

Left to rust after The Change of System, or System Change (note the linguistic implications of these terms for denoting the end of Communist rule here in Hungary) it has latterly undergone reinvention as a city of culture (though not as a City of Culture - that honour will be bestowed upon Pécs in 2010). Dunaújvaros now has its own Institute of Contemporary Art, artists' studio complex and the International Steel Sculptors Colony. There's something pleasantly apposite and self-sustaining about this particular process of regeneration. The iron and steel works supports the artists with materials, and in turn the works are bought by the local council and installed in public spaces, like the sculpture garden on the banks of the Danube.

No Gehry or Foster destination architecture here, nor the kind of apparently well-intentioned, yet fundamentally-insensitive attempts at Critical Regionalism you might find in British post industrial city centres under a process of regeneration. This low-key town's prime tourist pull seems to be the beautiful view across the Hungarian plains.

The Hungarian Government, like that of Britain, clearly recognises the regenerative power of that thing, culture, though, and the ease with which cultural regeneration segues so easily with commercial development. The National Theatre* and the Palace of Arts on the Pest bank of Lágymányosi Bridge are the cultural luncheon meat in a commercial sandwich that is regenerating the Ferencváros district, just north of the island of Csepel.

Here, as in other spots around the city, Budapest seems hell-bent on transforming its cityscape into the kind of glass-boxed, stone-fasciaed heterogeneity that better befits a modern European capital. Vodaphone and Morgan Stanley have already moved in. There's a riverside redevelopment apartment complex, replete with the kind of architectural clangers (lack of provision of pedestrian access or most basic services and amenities) generally associated with British redevelopment projects. There's also a good smattering of public art installed with the express intention of evoking, in ersatz style, the heritage of the area, and the deeply-emotive significance of the National Theatre in Budapest (it was demolished on a shaky pretext by the Communists in 1965). Despite these attempts at producing locality, this place, this strange shiny, landscaped enclave on the banks of the Danube could be anywhere. All they need now is a Big Screen like in Hull or Manchester - the cherry on top of all post industrial regeneration projects, I reckon - and the successful transformation will be complete.

* The National Theatre has long been a pawn in the game of tit-for-tat that is pluriform multi-party democracy here in Hungary. I'm going to resist recounting its chequered history here; those with a taste for the political absurd can go here to read the tale in full.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


  • WATCH CAMERA SHAKE (shoot 250sec or above)
- Tony Ray Jones

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009


The Budapest Zoo somehow manages to segue kitschy ethno-tat into Hitchcockian terror into a thoroughly wholesome day out which at no point prods your animal welfare panic button, as some of our European cousin's slightly more, shall we say, laissez-faire, attitude to animal conservation is prone to do. No scraggy, dead-eyed Siberian tigers here, only a gorilla eating its own shit, which, I'm told, is completely natural.

The place seems to have that masochist-zoophobic-with-a-keen-appreciation-for-high-camp market cornered, housing Komodo dragons, cockroaches, a black widow spider and a green mamba in enclosures apparently inspired by the set of The Crystal Maze. There's a suitably fetid palm house, with a mezzanine level dangling precariously over a pair of nasty alligators, where flying foxes, with binbag wings folded, Dracula-style, get some kip overhead. On the purpose-built concrete "mountain" piles of raw meat engorged by bluebottles await kestrels for luncheon. In the Petting Zoo, frenetic toddlers give Benny Hill chase to bearded goats and bunny wabbits. In the midst of this, the brown bear chews on a mangelica leg, not too bothered by the indignity of his captioner's thoroughly A.A. Milne take on the ursidae.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Amongst all the great mysteries of the universe, the one that's always puzzled me most is, quite simply: What do people do every day?

I have chronic problems with the concept of a daily routine. That's not to say I'm one of these zany, radical individualists who reject, outright, the mere concept of "daily routine" as a cramp in their revolutionary style. Although I imagine their excuses for staying up past ten on a school night go something like this:

For God's sake, Mum! Manifesting the kind of life I always knew, deep down, I was supposed to live is pretty knackering! I was up 'til 4AM tirelessly documenting the magic in the everyday with my Soviet-era toy camera and publishing these hitherto-unappreciated small treasures on my blog. All week I've been benevolently performing the little acts of kindness that will, one day, change our world for the better. Besides, I'm doing polyphasic sleep this month, remember. Give me a break - I'll get up when I'm ready!

For me, the problem is rather more banal. Like every terminally-anxious Noughtie, my mental chronometry is completely out of wack. There's always too little, or, worse, too much time to complete the simplest of tasks. Foolhardily, I've also chosen a very modern way of making of living: piecemeal teaching and writing work here-and-there and as-and-when. Though it was chosen for its flexibility (like every other 25 year-old, I have an abject - and, might I add, rather self-important - fear of the nine-to-five) I've found myself trying to shape this formless morass of job into a reasonable (but oh-so-conventional) daytime chunk. Which somewhat misses the point of this kind of work (but reveals the terrible insidiousness of the hegemony of routine, right, whimsical internet chaps?)

Anyway, because of this, I'm a very eager student of what other people do all day. The hungry middle manager might have his copy of The Seven Habits of Highly Productive People, but I'm happy to say I get my lifestyle design fundamentals from autobiographies. Actually, I'd recommend the same to all apparently-reasonable people whose trigger fingers hover just a little too long over the Buy it Now button of books of a similar ilk.

Happily, I can now seek guidance whilst engaged in the very deferral activities which doom this whole scheme to failure via Daily Routines, a blog that collects extremely eminent peoples' methods of organising their days.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Déli pályaudvar is Budapest's southern station. Reposed, it looks something like the clubhouse of an exclusive ski resort, collaged out of a colour-saturated postcard of 1967. It might once have been perched at the top of nearby Sas-hegy, supplying off-piste Jagermester and pretzels to Austrians with blonde eyebrows, in thermal unitards. It might have careered down the hill in a landslide sometime in the eighties, ended up wedged behind the var.

You'd be forgiven for not noticing its pedigree, though. From the metro station escalator, you're flung up into stacked, interconnecting walkways, atria and quadrangles. It's low-slung dimensions induce a cautious stoop. Like most public spaces in Budapest, it contrives to serve your most obscure consumer whims: antiquarian books, home chiropody kits, lace tableclothes, yellow polyester harem pants, tanning, alongside the usual Budapesti surfeit of pastry snacks, shot-sized coffees and fags.

Budapest's transport interchanges collect all that is most salty and decrepit in this exceedingly salty and decrepit city. Déli is no exception. Linger longer than a speedy transfer from metro to vonat and you'll emerge coated with a thin film of clag that is not quite wet and not quite dry.

From the curved tinted glass in the ticket hall there's a brown panorama of the XIIth. The view from Déli is already distorted, vignetted, blurred as through the meniscus lens of a Soviet toy camera.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


It was not until we had passed Diamond Head and were coming in low over the reef for landing at Honolulu, however, that I realized what I most disliked about this incident: I disliked it because it had the aspect of a short story, one of those "little epiphany" stories in which the main character glimpses a crisis in a stranger's life and is moved to see his or her own life in a new light. I was not going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life reduced to a short story. I was going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life expanded to a novel, and I still do.

- Joan Didion, In The Islands

Oh, Joan. Your politics are sour and your frailty aggressive, but as stylist of deep, insurmountable catatonia, you can't be matched.

Monday, June 22, 2009


After leaving university, I embarked on what I, tongue-ever-in-cheek, called a "portfolio career". Like a very minor Del Boy, gone legit and working in the glamorous world of provincial PR and marketing (and shilling copy, not cans of best before Spam), I juggled freelance contracts from the extendable table in the corner of our Norwich flat and was paid handsomely, courtesy of government grant or quango funding stream.

At only ten months' repose, there seems something very anachronistic, very noughties about this way of making a living. It was a very fortuitous means to an end for me, but at the time "going freelance" became more and more attractive to graduates, given the push of a extremely competitive first job market and the pull of the apparently-unlimited opportunities online, accompanied by the kind of aggressive individualism internet culture has fostered.

Since this is a vamp for an anecdote, not a rant, I'll leave that ellipsis hanging. Suffice to say, it was rather a relief to let those spinning plates fall. Here in Budapest, I earn my daily kenyér as an English teacher (though my beefs about the TEFL industry are a topic for another time too) and I love it. My students are, to a man, both interesting and interested. Moreover, it's the best cultural education I could have hoped for. When my students finally tire of my provincial bemusement (You mean you really celebrate Christmas on December 6th? and Jesus, you guys really like sour cream, don't you!), my surest conversational gambit is language teacher fallback: What do you like to do in your freetime?

The Hungarians I've met really make the most of it. The social lives of the Zsolts, Attilas and Évas in my charge are a never-ending whirl of wine tastings, horse rising expeditions, hiking trips and family dinners chez anya és apu. In the spirit of "When in Rome..." and in the realisation that hand-wringing and procrastinating probably don't count as hobbies, we've been doing the same.

Last weekend, we went to Lake Balaton, Hungary's own freshwater riviera; playground of the extremely rich, the chronically active and the exceedingly drunk, and the largest freshwater lake in Europe to boot. Our six-man tent was (due to an ongoing plumbing saga) probably better equipped than our home and I spent a very pleasant weekend cooing menacingly at infants, picking pike bones out from between my teeth and lolling around on a patio chair.

I spent my formative years getting sand up my bum on England's East Coast (and made a life's work out of sifting through the great rafts of borrowed nostalgia bestowed on me there ever since), but Joe, from Richmond, North Yorkshire - about as landlocked as we Brits can muster - spent his holidays at the Lakes, and there's more than a passing resemblance here: low-slung huts selling inflatables gathered around car parks, discount supermarkets stocking nothing edible, tow bars and foreign number plates, all-weather dressing with cheap anoraks and sunglasses, "rustic" wooden restaurant terraces and individually-wrapped sliced cheese.

We went to Lake Balaton in search of Hungarians at play, but unseasonable rain kept them all indoors. The paid-admission beaches (actually the strip of turf hemming the lakeside) were deserted and the ice cream sellers had buggered off home. We strolled around the blue-milk lake in the drizzle, Joe trounced me at csocsó and we watched the Condeferations Cup and sipped sewery beer in a tiki hut on the edge of the great, dark mass of water. Contranians both, we were pleased.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009


BROWN, LIKE THE 1970S, originally uploaded by Jennifer Hodgson.

Can you smell the interior of my 12-foot tourer caravan?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


With its chronic environmental problems, Budapest was never really going to top the list of Liveable Cities. However, if we're talking about a viable way for people to live together in an urban environment (rather than an index to help multinational corporations and Governments calculate relocation allowances), then there are certainly lessons to be learned from this fine, smoggy, congested European capital. Though your first Saturday morning gasp of fresh air on alighting the bus in the Buda Hills after a week of scuttling around Pest is second-to-none, Budapest gets a lot right.

As I've mentioned before, the early glimpse of life on the mainland gleaned from the pages of modern languages textbooks at school - where everyone wore their rucksacks on both shoulders, finished school at lunchtime, earnestly loved the Cure and played a hell of a lot of ping pong - still remains my go-to point of reference for thinking about our European cousins. Even then I knew something was wrong with our own semi-detached way of living, although I could never quite understand Marta, José and Javier's adoration for the Yellow Magic Orchestra.

High-rollers, diplomats and politicians here in Budapest take palatial villas with exquisitely-landscaped compounds in the hills at Normafa or Roszadomb (prime Saturday morning ogling, if you're ever in the vicinity). However, Budapestis, by-and-large, live in flats - be they in the glorious, tumble-down apartment blocks of central Pest or the slightly-less-glorious panel houses of Újpest, Újpalota or Kelenföld. And it works rather well. Although Budapest is a capital city, its thoroughly walkable (much of the metro system in the centre of the city is as surplus to requirements as the Covent Garden-Leicester Square stretch of the Piccadilly Line), has distinct, well-amenitied neighbourhoods and - most startlingly - there are actually people walking about on the street after 6pm! I'm not talking about the rather formal promenade of cities like San Sebastian or Seville, but streetlife here (in all its strange, unctuous forms - when Google Street View finally makes it here, they'll be prime ogling there too) continues long after close-of-play.

This last part has long been a problem for provincial cities in the UK (and for once, I mean that in the most London-centric way possible). We just don't seem to get the hang of getting up and having a walk around. In Norwich and Hull (the cities that, for my sins, I feel most able to comment upon), come six o' clock inhabitants would flee to their homes to get tucked up safe away from, well, all the people who live there. If you dawdle, or, say, fancy a stroll, you face a O.K. Corral of paranoia with that tough-looking chap walking in the opposite direction down the High Street. In fact, if you were feeling a bit Daddishly pithy, you might say that under these circumstances you could begin to see the point of Bill Drummond and Iain Sinclair's psychogeographic simonizing of perambulation.

It's unfortunate that talk of declining community values in Britain should traditionally have a Littlejohnish bent, as Mr Tolerance himself would be the last likely tenant in the experimental mixed housing schemes that are valiantly attempting to counter the complex of problems around society and sustainability in the UK. Elsewhere, with the growth of riverside developments - albeit with the barf-inducing rebranding of flats as European-style apartment living - we seemed to be getting the idea. However, the economic crisis has meant fewer are willing to invest in - or, indeed, afford - in a pricy single storey. What's more, whilst a sizeable proportion of British people still live in the mistakes thrown up during post-war redevelopment, there will always be a deep-rooted suspicion of high density housing. It remains to be seen whether you really can prise the Englishman from his semi-detached castle.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Incipient nark due to painful Burton on the stairs late last week quickly curtailed by this astonishing view from Szent-Istvan Bazilika.

Not quite Union Square, but definitely a Polanski view of the city - with iconography to match.

On Loving Angels, Instead

I leave the window open every time I go to sleep, just so she can come in. Just so she can be with me. Jack Tweed, OK! Magazine, April 7 2009

The popular response to the death of Jade Goody from cervical cancer some weeks ago took its cues from the interminable vamp in the tabloid press in the weeks and months leading up to her death. Her very public mourning has made us feel most uncomfortable: those badly-spelt tributes on The Sun’s message boards, those cheap wreaths stacked outside St John the Baptist Church, those pinch-faced women toting half-deflated helium balloons outside her home in Upshire. Yuck, the rank whiff of British working class sentimentalism. We’re a commemorative plate away from Lady Di territory here. Thank God for The Guardian, then! Their commentary straddles – hand-wringing and superior – over the tabloid dross pile, asking just what does the death of this 27 year-old woman teach us about ourselves? Matching sub-Baudrillardian analysis (postmodern!) with touching anecdotes (poignant!), they conclude: not much, but it’s terribly sad!

However, I’m not here to take potshots at The Guardian, not today anyway. Instead I want to talk about the sudden appearance of supernatural beings in our most rational of Kingdoms. I'm talking, of course, about the angels in our midst.

Here's some rather bilious cut-and-pasting from the BBC comments board to illustrate:

God bless the brand new angel and u will never forgotten u were a great woman. Jade Goody passed away to heaven as an angel. God needed another angel. R.I.P Jade. Its been a week since god blessed the sky with a new angel... the stars are shining bright for your boys Jade.

A very peculiar lexicon has emerged out of our response to these very public deaths over the last twelve years since the big one, the one that started it all, the one that we're all rather embarassed about. It's a language that is shared not only between those with the poor spelling and the Interflora wreaths, but also – curiously – those with the university degrees and respected careers in journalism who are currently employees of Richard Desmond. One arranged around some kind of quasi-religious myth, which bowdlerises its basic structure from Catholicism, its rhetoric from OK! Magazine and its iconography from Anne Geddes.

In postwar Britain, our shaky sense of the real brought a raft of moral, occultist and mystical dogma, all compensating for the decline in religious faith – those old, sacred, survival fictions. The brittle social satires of Muriel Spark, early Christine Brooke-Rose and Angus Wilson depict a nation busily crafting their own ersatz meaning-making machines. Their characters are epistemological bricoleurs, rehashing old moral systems or creating new technological and scientific cults with which to make sense of a world after rationalism, after Freud, after Einstein, de Broglie, Planck and Heisenberg. In our own, rather drab, Franklin Mint mass hysteria, in our new moral maudlinism, we too – to borrow Muriel Spark's phrase from The Comforters – are displaying our own 'turbulent mythical dimensions' under extreme duress.