Friday, 30 September 2011

Things I Saw Where I Lived and Walked: Part 32

Flowers outside a clinic on New Cavendish Street; ever wanted a giant J-cloth to clean the front of your building? Well, now you can, check the difference between the grand floor and first floor stonework; tropically-heavy rain sweeping across the centre for about fifteen minutes at 17:00; red carpet and flaming torches for Katrina Kaif at my local Cineworld, which is one of the larger Bollywood cinemas outside India.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Why Governments Like the Thermodynamic Theory of Weight Management

The thermodynamic theory of weight management is the one behind "eat less, exercise more". It is the preferred theory of weight management of governments everywhere, which alone ought to make you suspicious. Why do governments like it?

Let’s suppose that the human body responds continuously to changes in exercise and diet. Eat a little less, you’ll lose a couple of grams; walk a little further, you’ll lose another couple of grams. And all four of those grams will stay off. Eat less, exercise more, however little, and you will lose weight slowly and surely. What are the implications for public policy? You don’t need trainers, gyms, sports parks or special advice. Drink low-fat milk and get off at the stop before your regular stop. Keep that up for ten years and you will lose a stone. Of course, that 3,000 calorie Christmas dinner will blow months of gradual weight loss out of the window. You must be ever vigilant. You can’t weaken once. Failure is clearly down to your lack of self-discipline, but don’t fret, you can always start all over again. How useful: a government policy that costs nothing and blames the citizen when it fails. That doesn’t happen often.

Now let’s suppose the body does not react continuously to changes in exercise and calorie intake. It’s a local equilibrium machine, which means that if you eat a little more, it will speed up to burn it off; if you eat a little less it will slow down to conserve; if you exercise it will prompt you to eat a little more; and if you don’t exercise, it will ease back on the promptings. In this case, not eating that croissant and walking the extra quarter-mile will make no difference at all. You need to shake your body off its equilibrium and take it to another one at a lower weight and body fat ratio. That is going to mean a discontinuous change in diet and exercise routine. This is not easy for anyone, as adult lives are generally only manageable by routine, and can cause all sorts of insecurities and upsets with partners. Plus you know nothing about diet and serious exercise, so you need a trainer for a while – and now we have a public policy problem. Good trainers cost money and don’t work for the NHS (though it might be cheaper if they did and the NHS stopped spending hundreds of millions on drugs with names ending in ..statin and ..formin).

So that’s why governments believe what they do about diet and exercise. Not because it’s true, but because it gets them off the hook of having to know something and provide facilities and training, instead of spending the money on something useful like a huge computer project that fails but gets the senior Civil Servant a partnership with a top five consultancy. Because they can blame you for lack of self-discipline and moral fibre, instead of themselves for failing to provide useful advice, facilities and for creating an economy that consists more or less entirely of low-calorie-burning jobs.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

When Was The Last Time I Went On A Date?

Depends what you call a date. I agree with Hank Moody (David Duchovny's character in Californication). A date is two adults, after seven-thirty in the evening, with the possibility of sex.

I can do the first two parts, but not the third. There is no possibility of sex. At least, none that I believe.

First, I spent too many years in a relationship where, for one reason or another, we had stopped having sex. We stuck with it through many years of bad times, so many years that by the end the good times weren't even a memory. I got very used to the idea that sex was something that didn't happen in relationship. Now I don't believe it happens at all.

Second, I have damage limitation to consider. When I have been without sensual touch (as opposed to squashed against other commuters) for an extended period of time, the slightest holding of hands sends hormones rushing round my bloodstream and turns me into an idiot. I realise what I have been missing, I notice the emotional greyness of the skies I live under. And then the come-down happens. I don't know about you, but for me disappointment is a physical feeling, doubtless caused by nasty chemicals some gland squirts into my bloodstream at that moment when I understand that what I was hoping was going to happen, isn't going to. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you have never really wanted anything enough. The aftertaste of disappointment is bitterness, often at myself and the world. When I was younger, I couldn't avoid all this and had to live with it, but at my age, I can and don't have to.

Third, who is she going to be? I have reached the point that all men eventually come to where, due to age, fading looks, slowing energy and insufficient disposal income to show a girl a good time, I want what I can't get and don't want what's left - assuming either group would want me.

I'm a man. I will go to my grave wanting the physical company of women because that's what it means to be a (heterosexual) man. Which means I have a few years of numbness-by-choice and occasional sharp jabs of regret and pain. I reserve the right to bitch and moan about this - you can exercise the right not to read to the end of the paragraph.

I would reverse this attitude tomorrow if God pushed a willing and not obviously alarming someone into my path. (And, by the way, if I thought He wasn't kidding.) But I have a limited amount of energy and I need most of it for the day job, exercise and chores. I don't have enough left over for low-expected-payoff activities like finding someone who will be kind enough to let me take them out on a date, which means, that they would also be crazy enough to find me sexually acceptable (attractive is probably asking too much).

And then there's the not-so-pretty side of all this. Which is around what I really get out of "relationships", sex and similar stuff. But I will leave that for later. Possibly much later.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Things I Saw Where I Lived and Walked: Foley and Titchfield

My walk from the office to Harley Street, where my osteopath Taj Deoora, has her clinic, takes me through that sort-of-garment district / sort-of-media-district between Oxford Street and Euston Road, and Tottenham Court Road and Great Portland Street. This corner, Foley Street and Great Tichfield Street, seems to be the local watering-hole. I've passed Sergio's at a number of different times and it is always busy, and always with people who look like they are having extended business lunches.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Pavement Graffiti, York Road SE1

I have no idea who spray-painted this diagram of the cables under the pavement - and how they found out - but I wonder if they were / are a graff artist in their spare time. There's a sureness of touch and sense of proportion about the lines and the colours that you just don't expect to find in a regular roadworks.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Go Ahead John: The Music of John McLaughlin

I recently finished reading Go Ahead John: The Music of John McLaughlin, by Paul Stump. Half-way through I was confirmed in what I have been afraid of saying out loud for many, many years. Before I do, I accept and agree totally that John McLaughlin is the most virtuoso plectrum guitar player who will ever live. I heard him play on Bitches Brew and thought "no-one can play that fast", and when I saw the McLaughlin-de Lucia-diAmiola Trio play on TV, I knew no-one could play that fast. I actually saw the Tony Williams Lifetime play, at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon. It was loud, it was fast, it was utterly, utterly, totally and completely unmusical.

The anti-McLaughlin is Neil Young, who is famous for, amongst other things, playing solos that consist of one note. But it's the right note, and it's played the right way, each time. That's musicality. Here's the Mahavishnu Orchestra on Meeting of The Spirits...

...and here's Hendrix on Pali Gap doing everything that McLaughlin does, but, well...

One is musical and the other isn't.

McLaughlin has his musical moments, many with Miles Davis. His playing on In A Silent Way is light, skipping and musical: technique in the service of music. His chordal playing on Jack Johnson is perfect: meaning that it's what it needs to be to make the music sound good. Mostly he lets his awesome technique run away with him. Speed, modes, odd scales, weird time-signatures: just because you can, doesn't mean you should. The Art of The Fugue is in common time and D Minor, and proceeds at a measured pace.

If it was just him, it wouldn't be so bad. But many people seem to have decided that since that was the way Miles' guitarist played, they should play like that - unless they were going to be hard-boppers or Derek Bailey / Sonny Sharrock clones. So a large number of jazz guitarists play fast, noisy, often with some fuzz, almost always with an attempt to play with a rock influence, building to a string-bending climax as fake as a bored wife's orgasm. It doesn't work. Ritzy Bryan makes a splendid chaotic noise against a rock beat because she keeps it simple. Mary Halverson, John Scofield and others run all over the fretboard and just make a racket. I know they are trying to avoid jazz-lite (Pat Metheny on a bad day), or of course, sounding like Barney Kessel or Charlie Christian, but there are more ways of doing that than turning up the amplifier or doing the guitar equivalent of honking on the tenor sax.

The challenge for any artist is to work the media (instrument, musical genre) to express what you need to say, in your voice, so that other people feel what you're feeling. The goal is to play three notes and have everyone bet their house on who it is. Though each make and model of guitar has its own sound, Joni Mitchell will sound like herself no matter what axe she plays, and so will Eric Clapton: given, say, a Les Paul, each of them will work with it to get the "Les Paul" sound they can work with. It's a little bit more complicated than "tone is in the fingers", but that old saw expresses a truth.

And it is about feeling. Music is always about feeling. Except when you play so damn fast on an instrument that doesn't respond well to speed that you can't feel anything. That was what I always thought was wrong with McLaughlin's playing. Once upon a time I wanted to play that fast. That's not the deal I would make at the crossroads now: now, I would just want to play more like me.

Monday, 5 September 2011

California Dreaming at the Crossroads

The other Sunday I was about to leave Ed's Diner in Soho, after an American and vanilla shake, which was itself preceded by watching The Nim Project at the Curzon Soho, and before that a run and swim at my gym, and was to be succeeded by an expensive browse round Foyles and a drive home (that's what I call a Sunday morning), anyway, I was about to leave when on came this track...

I had to stay. I was singing the harmonies under my breath as was the lady who had ordered a milk shake without the milk earlier. I wonder...

When they listened to the playback, did they look at each other and know they had crossed the line from being a decent vocal band to the creators and performers of an immortal song? That their lives would never be the same again, and that they had a place in the world? Well, maybe not that last bit. Did they know it was a masterpiece?

There are many occasions when people cross the line from being an ordinary Joe or Susan to being Someone with a Stake. Clifford Stoll describes this process in his classic book The Cuckoo's Egg. I imagine it happened to Joe Strummer and the clash when they holed up in Chelsea for six months composing London Calling. It's like that Robert Johnson Crossroads myth: you make a commitment to something, and if it takes, it changes you.

What I want to know is, does it feel on the inside what it looks like on the outside?