Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Friday, December 27, 2013

Listorama: Facebook status updates vol 32

What's on your mind?...

is an exemplar of the TOWIE aesthetic

Is the phrase is empty or is it me?

Just had that nice Mr Daljit Nagra round for lunch

is all the talk

has been manipulated

Chapeau or titfer?

is a guestlist blagger

Dough is proving

was barely touched by the #ukstorm

Words are failing me today



There is nothing on my mind

Look at the time!

Whither Gripper Stebson?

is waiting for his plan

is taking words for Newcastle

Step and repeat, step and repeat

would like to spend a week in a dusty library

Ow! Back! Etc

Everybody loves a 404

might be wrong

Hold the line

is a system that optimizes zonal efficiency

It’s oh so quiet

is a victim of red wine sleep

is a diptych

is a five string serenade

Turkey Thursday, Black Friday

is a couplet

is this town’s religion

To Marseille

is all the secrets

is a twinge in the lumbar region

is a refraction of a refraction

is slightly baffled

We need a verb for when we idle on Facebook and go on a ‘Like’ spree. Maybe ‘likespree’ does it; sounds suitably Germanic

That Ben Wishaw – quite good at that acting

Joseph Roth + Pynchon = no writing today

is a raindrop on the window of time

is a sureshot

is an A/B test

is wrestling with networking technologies

The burrito after giving blood. Totally justifiable

Chocolate, whisky and ibuprofen. My three favourite food groups

Traditional Christmas Eve Pizza Express dinner. Done

Christmas vibes etc

Six hours in the car + four hours eating = Christmas


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ian Walker and Berlin

I am a great believer in serendipity in second-hand bookshops, and this definitely proved to be the case earlier this year in Brixton, when I stumbled across a very tattered (the right hand corner of the cover is flaking away in an attractive zig zag pattern) copy of a book called Zoo Station by a writer I'd never heard of, Ian Walker.

A little Googling, doesn't reveal much more, alas; it appears the bulk of his career happened in pre-digital days, and he died quite young, in 1990. You can find an image of him dancing, on an assignment about the New Romantics, here.

Zoo Station is sub-titled 'Adventures in East and West Berlin', and published in 1987, it in part functions as the last significant book about the divided city, as well as a series of dispatches from the alternative subcultures that had sprung up in the shadow of the wall. At one level it must have been a useful travel guide, explicitly detailing how it was possible to shuttle between the two halves of the city via U-Bahn, chancing it on the last train on a Saturday night.

The closest parallel I can think of for him is, journalistically, James Cameron, both being politically committed and seemingly much more worried about the ethics of what they did, how they reported the stories they brought back. He was unashamedly left wing, and one of the shocks upon reading Zoo Station is how red in tooth and claw it is - he has a point of view, a belief, and one that acts like an arctic blast, the shock that people actually wrote that - believed that - in the 1980s; and had jobs on The Observer!

Of course, none of this would matter if he couldn't write, but boy can he: a tone at once clear-sighted and expansive yet intimately confessional, sharp observations made fuzzy with booze, and a strong sense that something - the revels, him, maybe- is on the edge of ending.

Take this piece of description:

The bluish smoke swirled like storm clouds through Leydicke, staining ceilings and walls the colour of the autumn leaf. Tobaccanalians coughed their messages in the dark to others who drank and joked and felt sick after all that wine. One more Saturday night.
Or indeed, this deft character sketch:

Al was straight, but he celebrated dancing as an end in itself. He hated those for whom dancing was a form of foreplay. He identified himself with the outsiders. He was a genuine hipster.

(See, there were hipsters in Berlin long before now.)

There's also a playful, restless interrogation of who and why he is doing this too:

When the bus finally arrived, after a thirty-minute wait, it was bound for Wannsee. Wannsee? What the hell. I liked travelling around. I sat on the top deck by the front window, kerbside, green boughs slapping against that window as the bus negotiated the narrow country lanes. I remembered boughs slapping against windows when my grandmother took me to the seaside in a bus one time. I wondered again how I was going to organise all this material. An odyssey through the two Berlins and the fractured state of my own consciousness? Berlin has meant a great deal to you, Johnny once said. You must explain why. How am I doing, Johnny?
And of course, an acute awareness of class is present too:

Personally, I preferred sulky waiters to sycophantic waiters. I preferred the honest rudeness of Aeroflot air hostesses to the phony bonhomie of American Airlines. Rich people should be grateful enough they can eat in restaurants and travel in aeroplanes. Insisting on good service was to want the bread buttered on both sides.

Zoo Station is a book well worth seeking out, being both time capsule and memoir. And you can read some more of Walker's work here.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

On sand and indignation marks

So following Tim's reminder of his post about Josepth Roth's What I Saw, I finally bought it. And my, if it wasn't the promised box of glittering delights within. Here are just two of the bits that jumped out at me:

From 'Schiller Park':

Sand is something that God invented specially for small children, so that in their wise innocence of what it is to play, they may have a sense of the purposes and objectives of earthly activity. They shovel the sand into a tin pail, then carry it to a different place, and pour it out. And then some other children come along and reverse the process, taking the sand back whence it came. 
And that's all life is.

From 'An Apolitical Observer Goes to The Reichstag':

The seventy-nine-year-old veteran president, who has a weak voice, receives a call from the right to "Speak up!" That boorish intervention - doesn't it have a familiar ring to it? Wasn't it at a cabaret, where a gentleman, remembering what he'd paid for admission and having ordered up a bottle of wine, called out to the emcee, "Speak up!!!" in such a way that the three exclamation marks, or better - indignation marks - were clearly visible? Oh - and where have I heard that whistling coming from the communist benches? It was in high school, wasn't it, in my junior year! Is it that I've outgrown it because I'm apolitical?

'Indignation marks' is just brilliant, isn't it?


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Poetry: On surrender

A little old, but from Brian Eno and Grayson Perry's conversation in the New Statesman a few weeks ago:

Eno This is why the idea of surrender is so interesting to me, because surrendering is what we are most frightened of doing. Everything is telling you to stay in control. One of the really bad things that’s happened in the art world recently is the idea that a piece of work is as valuable as the amount it can be talked about. So these little pieces of paper you see beside every artwork, in every gallery: if you watch people, they look quickly at the painting, then they read for a long time, then look quickly at the painting again. The analytical mind always wants to say, “OK, I understand this. It’s no problem, it’s no threat.”

Which got me thinking: do we spend too much time and thought trying to understand and then explain why poems work? It's an itch no doubt many people have seen in workshops, shared in it too: a desire to get under the bonnet as it were, and try and find out - how did that thing have an effect on me? What were the patternings of language that meant that it could have that impact?

But does this, at the risk of sounding a wee bit too mystical, not inherently kill the mystery at the heart of a poem that truly transcends? In the rush to try and answer why, we can forget that it did. Perhaps we'd all benefit a little more from not letting in as much daylight upon the magic.