This week’s book, record, and miscellaneous recommendations come from Jeff Barrett, Robin Turner and Diva Harris of CBTR HQ, and treasured contributor Sue Brooks.
– I really love the Victoria and Albert Museum, and sure, its blockbuster exhibitions are great. But it makes me sad that there are galleries upon galleries of amazing, free-to-access stuff that people don’t tend to bother looking at. I recently went and saw Another Russia: Post-Soviet Printmaking – a small display charting ‘how the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 coincided with a period of creative innovation in Russia’. It was really cool. You should go and see it too. And while you’re there, I recommend you take a mapless amble through the V&A’s corridors and see where you end up.
– The Marriage of a Bull and a Bullfighter by Stella Salumaa. It’s a little comic I bought at the D.I.Y. Art Market a few weeks ago. Surreal, pleasingly illustrated and a little bit rude, it can be yours for the modest sum of four pounds.
– Retromania in Pimlico, which I chanced upon last weekend. It’s where all the really good vintage donated to FARA charity shops around London ends up. Fill yer boots.
– Week 1 of flu, and too late for an antidote, but I did find medicine that worked. Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling. Someone who loves the UK passionately and tells you exactly how and why : the landscape, the coastline, the small towns, the cafes, the railways. Places I would never think to visit, like Kirkby Lonsdale. And he can rant. He can rant for England. Litter. Punctuation. Bus Shelters. HS2. I’m with him on every one, and best of all, he made me laugh – until I had to stop for the coughing. Good on you Bill.
– Week 2 and I’m ready for more serious stuff. George Monbiot’s Feral. I’m a great Monbiot fan from his column in The Guardian, and thought I knew a little about his rewilding passion. This book works like a mind-expanding drug. Sheepwrecking, Conservation as a prison, Wild Boar, the Trees for Life project in Scotland. The past, and a vision of the future where the land can begin to heal itself. It has helped me to see and think differently. “Wild boar are the untidiest animals to have lived in this country since the Ice Age” says George, “which should commend them to anyone with an interest in the natural world”. There are over 1,000 wild boar here in the Forest of Dean. The bluebell monopoly is coming to an end. Can I accept this? Welcome it even? By Week 3, I believe I can.
– Strange days indeed when the result of the Dutch election makes you punch the air, but that is what I did. I might have whooped too. It felt good. Finding anything, or anyone, to identify with in the world of politics is rare for me, and especially so at the present time when the opposition is so desperately useless. That said, I did hear one strong, inspiring, voice this week and it was that of Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill. I was born and live in England so she wasn’t speaking for me; the big point she made concerns the effect of Brexit on the North / South border – but amen to her ire, I wish I had someone representing me so powerfully.
– Politics was the big picture behind this week’s TV viewing too: O. J. Simpson: Made In America, a superbly edited 467 minute documentary which tells the story of the life of US sports star O. J. Simpson. It’s a well-documented tale, and I can imagine folk thinking they know the story and being put off by the running time. But don’t be. It’s an epic tale of race relations, civil rights and celebrity that unfolds before you. I believe it won this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary. It doesn’t surprise me. N.B: super good soundtrack too.
– Legion. I really never expected to enter my mid 40s with a renewed interest in Marvel comics. I’d stopped buying comics when I moved to London in 1990. I shelved my original copies of Watchmen and let the rest go. Now I find myself back in there, reading about shadowy figures in mad costumes fighting unstoppable evils. I’ve no idea if it’s me actively trying to regress to childhood and somehow Marvel have managed to find and push giant nostalgia buttons in my head, or whether they’re just going through a serious purple patch. Either way, here I am and it helps that Marvel is now everywhere. The constant trickle of movies, untold amounts of comics every week and the various iterations that are regularly making their way onto the small screen. Just this week, Netflix has just launched Iron Fist to some pretty ropey reviews (I’m not even trying to kid myself that I won’t watch it – I’ll be on it when I get back from the pub tonight). Iron Fist’s martial arts meets mystic power origin story is one thing – far more interesting prospect though is FX’s Legion. Based on an old X Men story arc, it’s about superpowers and schizophrenia. Without going into too much detail, the first episode is properly off its nut, managing to combine a good old Cuckoo’s Nest-style incarceration story with a constant sense of flickering paranoia and the occasional dance routine set to Gainsbourg. Needs to be seen to be believed. Also – top marks for casting Parks and Recreation‘s peerless Aubrey Plaza as one of the hospital’s more vocal patients.
– Tiny Rebel Cali. Looking at Wales from a distance, it’s easy to see that the town that I come from – Newport, Gwent – tends to get looked over in favour of nearby Cardiff. The Welsh capital seems to suck a lot of life – and a vast amount of the cash – out of the ‘Port. Newport was famously where the Pistols played, it was the home of ’80s hardcore, Kurt proposed to Courtney there, the Roses used the Newport corporation logo as the sleeve of Love Spreads back in 1994…but really, if you want to see Wales, you’re going to be starting in Cardiff. The one thing we do have that they don’t though is Tiny Rebel (alright, the first Tiny Rebel pub was opened in Cardiff and not Newport but still, it’s ‘Port through and through and that’s that). Think of Tiny Rebel as Wales’ Brewdog only far less divisive and far more inventive. One of their killer brews is Cali. It’s an American pale, floating somewhere in the same stratosphere as Brewdog’s totemic Punk IPA. They’ve just started selling it in cans (available online or from Mother Kelly’s bottle shops in London). It’s a hell of a drop – a glorious West Coast sup that gazes from the muddy banks of the Usk to the smooth breaking waves of Zuma beach.
– London. I’m writing this from Alexandra Palace, looking out over the city in the early evening before Underworld – a band I’ve worked with for 24 years – play their biggest ever gig in the U.K. I’m not prone to sentimentality about where I live (we’re planning to get out soon; no looking back) yet here I am, struck by how genuinely awesome this city is – this work of constant progress, this machine for draining my money, this beacon of strange signals. Red lights blink on cranes all across the skyline – up close, many of London’s new towers are grotesque. From here, it looks like some mad kid’s brilliant Meccano construction. Earlier in the week, I’d felt a similar pang about the city while watching Catastrophe. Fantastic TV for all the obvious reasons, the one thing it never seems to get credit for is the way it presents London. It’s very matter of fact, totally mundane – the way most of us who live here see it. Those are the streets I walk down all the time; the pub they shoot in is at the bottom of my road. Tonight though, the city is a spectacle and London looks mega. Mega mega in fact.