Monday, 22 February 2010

A picture of Piccadilly Circus

Whilst a-wander through the backwaters of Stoke Newington, the grey, cold, wet Sunday just gone, I chanced upon a hitherto unseen charity shop, nestling amidst a crop of Turkish cafes, bookshops and social clubs behind old shop-fronts, through the windows of which could be glimpsed moustachioed chaps playing cards and drinking tea.

It was one of the gradually disappearing breed of charity shops that haven't got their act together yet; the kind I like. As the traffic shushed past outside, I picked through its dimly lit interior – a space stuffed to the gills with the usual mix of weary high street threads, creased paperbacks and curver boxes full of broken plastic toys, presided over by a large quiet man in a feathered porkpie hat, gazing from his throne by the cash register into the impending twilight outside.

The desiderata of the charity shop hound (vintage clothes, old LPs) were not much in evidence, and pickings were thin (there's only so many badly scratched copies of Fifa 99 for the Playstation 1 a guy can own, right?) and I had just exited the shop when I spotted a small picture in the window, an image of Piccadilly Circus, at night in the rain.

I assumed it was a popular print, dating from the era of 'The Green Lady', but I was drawn to it, and at three quid I thought nowt to lose. I re-entered the shop, and signaled my interest to the proprietor, who quietly lumbered over, and extricated it from the ballast of gimcrack surrounding it.

"It's nice" he observed, holding it up to the light. "It's not a print you know" And indeed it wasn't. I only had a £20, so when he started fishing around in earnest for change, I called it a fiver, and sallied out into the dusk bearing my prize.

Taking it home I saw that it is indeed a painting – an oil painting. It's small-ish (roughly A4) and depicts – as I said before – the statue of Eros* in Piccadilly circus at night. From the old neon signs I guess it's from the 50s or 60s – there's an ad for Players cigarettes above where the Gap is now whose equivalent you pretty obviously wouldn't see these days, and the thing that looks like a clock is a 'Guinness Time' advertisment which you can get a glimpse of more clearly here. Also, the fountain and statue is encircled by road rather that pedestrianised. It's slightly naive in style, but not completely unsophisticated in technique, and very atmospheric. The lighting feels very evocative, with the hoardings casting an attractive glow on the rainswept road.

I remember my good buddy Sam telling me about a mirror printed with the Southern Comfort label that hung in the family home (it's now just over the road in Dalston), and how, as a child, he would spend hours imagining what the figures within were doing; and I could almost see myself investing a similar curiosity in the figures present here – a woman sat at the base of the fountain, a policeman just visible in the bottom-left corner. Is he going to speak to her? is she innocently waiting for someone or is she an agent of the night from Soho, taking a breather whilst out plying her trade?

Who knows. What I do know is I really rather like it. Shame my current tenant contract forbids me from hanging pictures really, so for the time being it's going to lean against the wall, next to my desk.

P.S. Apologies for the fluff in the foreground. They're my resident dust bunnies – so much less troublesome than normal pets.

•Apparently (according to Wikipedia, anyway) the statue in Piccadilly Circus doesn't actually represent Eros, but rather his brother Anteros. I quote: "In Greek mythology, Anteros (Greek: Αντέρως, Antérōs) was the god of requited love, literally "love returned" or "counter-love" and also the punisher of those who scorn love and the advances of others, or the avenger of unrequited love." Blimey.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


A plastic carrier bag, floating high above a city.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


And another one.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


Hey has anybody tried Crabbie's Ginger beer? It's pretty nice. I've got a couple of bottles cold chilling in the fridge downstairs, which have been hanging about for a few days. Normally any booze I buy gets quaffed directly on the day of purchase – usually a couple (or a few) bottles of Lech, or Tyskie or some other crispy Czech business on the weekend; but this stuff, having the cachet of not being so readily available, is something I have to stock up on when sloping round the aisles at Sainsbury's, absentmindedly staring at cheeses.

So what's it like? Ginger Ale, basically, with a kick not merely limited to its respectable 4% alcohol quotient, possessing as it does a gentle ginger afterburn. Good served over ice, with a slice of lemon. Sounds like I'm on the payroll. But no, I'm just pretty enamoured of this new tipple, and I don't think it's necessarily a symptom of my culturally embedded weekend geas to quaff booze in quantities which would leave people from other countries aghast.

And other people like the stuff too. In fact, everyone I've eagerly pushed it toward like some proselytising booze-hound has made sounds of pleased approbation, and it's been popping up in bars all over the place like the recently unemployed. Basically this stuff is liquid zeitgeist – the taste of now!

But I wonder, how long is this love affair going to last? I can still remember being vaguely wowed by the taste of Koppaberg Pear cider (tried that?) before it dawned on me that it was more sickly sweet than the bastard child of Rainbow Brite and Teddy Ruxpin.

Indeed, looking back I remember various 'now' drinks that arrived on the scene with farely minimal groundswell, yet whose relative novelty prompted all to do a double take – and never look back. Some examples:

Alcoholic Lemonade: These days alco-pops are the much maligned whipping boy of teenage liver disease. Saccharine, generally colored in the luminous hues of high-visibility workwear, they are like alcoholic sweets, and possess the taint of ineffable naffness. But while such confections are now well and truly the province of your average market-town meat-market, twas not always thus. Before Bacardi Breezers there was Hooch, and before Hooch, 2 Dogs Lemonade, which I remember my dad buying my mum for fun from the Threshers by the Plough in Heaton Moor. Sounds strange now, but at the time the synthesis of lemonade and booze seemed unprecedented – mystifying somehow. I was like: "Alcoholic...... LEMONADE???? WTF?!!!!!" and it does seem a little odd that prior to that, the closest you could get to a narcotic soft-drink was 20/20 – the original teenage bird, park bench drink (which I'm proud to say I've still never tried). Shortly after this of course, the breweries got wise, and realised there'd not been a child friendly alcoholic drink since small beer in the 1800s. The flood gates promptly opened, drowning us all in a tide of liquid intoxication not dissimilar in taste and chemical composition to the contents of a Glade Plugin vial.

Wheat Beer: Ahh, wheat beer. I actually had a wheat beer the other day, in a German Beer Hall themed boozer in next to Borough market, complete with Dirndl clad serving wenches, and long wooden benches. It was pretty nice. Refreshing. But me and my companion didn't dwell on it unduly. Faintly ironic (very faintly) since when me and the very same drinking buddy chanced upon Hoegaarden in Bar Centro in Manchester's then teething Northern Quarter, circa 2000, I was all but prepared to take up arms in the name of that cloudy, fermented intoxicant, which my dad would jest looked like the byproduct of an ill horse. Maybe it was the huge hexagonal glasses that seemed to dwarf our tiny Northern hands, maybe it was the optional bobbing chunk o' lemon – which so often seems to accessorise the arrival of a socially aspirational drink – but change was afoot that evening, I was sure of it.

Magners: When Magners arrived on these shores a few years heralded by a media fanfare consisting of long panning shots of orchards groaning with apples, and the lilting strains of The Zombies Time of the Season I was somewhat skeptical. After all, the last time I had previously consumed cider in earnest was probably in 1995, and the event quite possibly heralded the voiding of my stomach's contents. However, the addition of lots of ice did make for a refreshing drink, and for a while I was seduced by this appley tipple, until it dawned on me that the addition of said frozen water into the equation was ultimately a 'serving suggestion' akin to what you see on the front of cereal packets, and was most probably dreamed up by a pack of marketing mensch, sat around an A1 flip-pad sometime in 2005, attempting to plot new vectors onto the jaded palettes of FMCGs* everywhere. Somehow the appeal diminished after that, and I realised that after all, it was just cider, which I've never been mad on.

Fruit Cider: I touched on this before so shall return to it briefly. I suppose what most of these libations represent is an attempt by drinks multinationals to woo female and/or metrosexual consumers, with an arsenal of products less reminiscent of beard and whippets than your average pub beverage was until about 1980 – prior to which date the best you could hope for if bitter wasn't your thing was probably half a port and lemon in a warm glass. And in spite of whatever credentials of traditionality those responsible might invoke*, most of the recent crop of fruit-based ciders to emerge recently seem to fit this trend.

Tasting Koppaberg for the first time is indeed something of a novelty – mostly because you can't believe anything, in the world, could ever be that sweet. It's not so much that it's unpleasant so much as it doesn't even taste like you're drinking alcohol, which renders it somewhat insipid. In fact, Pear cider is to alcohol what trip-hop was to hip-hop – booze for people who don't like booze.

Looking at it like this, a cynic might suggest that the current drink du jour, Crabbie's, is just the latest in a long line of anodyne products to drop off the end of a fairly sugary conveyor belt, though in truth, the manufacturer does have some track record – being behind the largely forgotten about 'Green Ginger Wine'. It's hard to say. Time will tell etc. Does anyone care? At the minute I'm in the first flush of love for this exotic Eastern stranger, but like so much puppy love, it might end up with the dog getting left out in the cold when it isn't so cute anymore.

In the meantime... I'm writing about booze! can you tell that January's over! oh, wait, I drank then as well. BALLS.