Foto: A Nautilus On Wardour Street

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Alright, it’s a big Chinese lantern, but damned if it doesn’t look like an alien jellyfish flying towards Trafalgar Square. The big blue Mothership in the distance is the W Hotel, which changes colour like a contented cuttlefish at night, gently pulsing around the colour wheel.

Sometimes the town I work in is still capable of surprising me.

Graf Your Grub

A little something to bear in mind next time TLC and I have a bite to eat with that damned elusive docoBanksy. German food co-op The Deli Garage has come up with an edible food spray that could add an extra blingy touch to the Christmas dinner. Currently available in gold, silver, red and blue, the manufacturers claim that the colour is both odour-free and tasteless. Which is a bit of a shame. I kinda like the idea of spray-on barbeque flavour in a hot-rod red.

Flavoured spray could also add a whole new dimension to the graffiti shenanigans at Leake Street. Your line and fill might be a bit suspect, but boy does your piece taste good. Why cover up a rival’s graf when you can just lick it off? King Robbo: tastes like chicken. I know you can get spray cheeses and oils already. It wouldn’t take much to make my little dream come true.

It would certainly put a whole different spin on the idea of pepper spray…

Washing Instructions

Yes, it was late, and yes I was tired, and yes I had been drinking. And there is certainly an element of pareidolia (the phenomenon where we see faces in clouds and Jesus in a bit of toast) in what I saw.

So I have to take comfort in the fact that the washing instructions on our new hand towel  aren’t really telling me to OBEY.

Because gods know, that’s all I can see now when I look at that tag.

Documenting disorder: a riot aggregator

I think the last thing we need today is another under-informed commentator spraying ill-thought opinion around like a muskrat marking it’s territory. I’ll stick to aggregating some of the more interesting output I’ve seen over the past 36 hours,

As a sign that things have turned upside down, the most cogent and thoughtful early analysis came from the Telegraph. Mary Riddell’s piece “The Underclass Lashes Out”, nails the financial meltdown, the failings of the Met and the complacency of the government as equally contributory factors. The always provocative Laurie Penny is even starker:

People riot because it makes them feel powerful, even if only for a night. People riot because they have spent their whole lives being told that they are good for nothing, and they realise that together they can do anything – literally, anything at all. People to whom respect has never been shown riot because they feel they have little reason to show respect themselves, and it spreads like fire on a warm summer night.

Meanwhile, anger at the riots was coming from the most unexpected of sources. National Treasure Danny Baker’s Twitter account seemed to have been taken over by one of his listeners.

That tweet got his show on Radio London shut down for the day, and he remains unrepentant. I can’t condemn his reaction.

Meanwhile, news that the mobs, taking a cue from student protestors and UK Uncut, were mobilising via Blackberry Messenger led to calls for the system to be opened and searched for clues. RIM, unsurprisingly, are less than keen, and as Boing Boing report, a bunch of hackers calling themselves Team Poison hacked into the company website and left threatening messages.

Squawks of outrage at the use of technology during the unrest were quashed as Twitter and Facebook users united to clean up the streets on Tuesday morning. This picture summed up the attitude, and the intent to keep the streets clean and safe.

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That effort, of course, continues. The best one-stop shop for info on how you can help is riotcleanup.co.uk.

Technology is also helping to spot and stop the miscreants, and the Met have set up a Flickr group to help users identify looters. Photoshoppers have also entered the fray, and the Photoshop Looters Tumblr is doing a great job of making the fools look more foolish. My personal favourite:

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Homes, families and businesses have all suffered as a result of the unrest. But the riots have been potentially disastrous for small UK independent record labels and DVD distributors. Their stock was mostly held in one central warehouse, the Sony DADC distribution centre in Enfield, which was burnt to the ground on Monday night. Labels like Sub Pop, Matador, and Domino, and DVD labels like Artificial Eye, Dogwoof and Guerrilla, have all lost their entire stock catalogue. This is a horrible situation for small, dedicated businesses trying to bring a little bit of art and independent thought to the music and film scene.

There are ways in which we can help. Brendon Connelly of Bleeding Cool has compiled a comprehensive list of sites where you buy downloads of films from the stricken distributors. Meanwhile Boomkat has an easy-to-navigate list of MP3 or FLAC purchases you can make from the labels of the PIAS catalogue affected by the fire. It’s worth spending a little time and money helping these guys out.

In fact, now more than ever, community is the keyword. Whatever we think of the riots, the rioters, their root causes and their likely after-effects, we are all in this together. It’s a platitude, I know, but I don’t have any easy answers. In fact, I’m not even sure what questions to ask. Like I said at the beginning, all I can reasonably add to the discussion is a bit of context, and a little help. You don’t need my liberal hand-wringing, or my reactionary howls for justice. I’m with David Allen Green, to whom I will give the last word:

…the realization came that people with political opinions tend to find exactly what they want in any civil disturbance.

Radicals and leftists find underlying socio-economic causes for certain riots, and mass vulgar prejudice for others. In turn, conservatives from Burke onwards tend to see any civil disturbance as being a failure of “law and order”.

The actual riots are rarely predicted; but when they happen, people with political opinions tend to immediately know why they happened – what really caused them.

…In fact, civil disturbances are invariably used to validate political opinions which people already hold; no conservative or radical will ever say, “Gosh, that riot changes the way I think about society. Perhaps my principles or my policies are wrong?”.

In this respect, civil disturbances are profoundly reactionary: they tend to reinforce rather than challenge views which already exist.

Six Thousand Days

To be accurate, six thousand, two hundred and six. There’s probably some flexibility in there to allow for leap years and other temporal shenanigans. Let’s stick to my back-of-an-envelope calculations for simplicity’s sake, then do a little division to come up with a rounder figure.

Seventeen years and a day ago, I stood up in front of a friendly looking registrar and a bunch of friends and family, and made a promise. I’ve broken many pledges since that day, whether by accident, spite or sheer laziness, but this one has been kept.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have someone beside me to help do that, and I would no more let her down than I would choose to stick my right arm into a wood chipper.

It all seems so mind-bogglingly simple to me that I find it hard to write it down without relying on mush and platitudes. I made a pledge. I kept and continue to keep it. in that simple act, I have found contentment.

I won’t dispute that I have been lucky, that I married my best friend, muse and lover. I do not consider the alternatives, all the choices and decisions that had to fall the right way to lead us to a bright room in the West Midlands six thousand and some days ago. I simply remain grateful that they happened in the way they did.

Seventeen years can seem like a long time. A lot of things have happened. A lot of things have changed. But the promise, and everything we have built using it as a foundation, remains unbroken. I intend to keep that promise, in the same way I always have. Day by day.

Dork’s Progress

After a couple of days working on The SEKRIT Thing That Won’t Be SEKRIT much longer, I’m back at work after two and a bit weeks off. And hoo boy, am I not ready.

I was clearly in denial about the whole prospect. I didn’t do a bag pack or a sort out of what I needed. Hence clattering round the house at half six this morning, waking up TLC by rummaging in cupboards and pockets for passes and tickets. Back into the house for my wallet after I’d locked up.

A hectic cycle ride to the station (road sense gone, nearly plowed into a pedestrian in headphones stepping off the pavement without looking) was capped off by the realisation that the key for the bike lock was back at home.
A return trip into a head wind, swearing all the way.

A stand-up train trip on tiptoes (yes, that busy) only made me more determined that an early train is the way forward. And do you people not SHOWER in the morning? (sidebar: after three bike runs, I probably wasn’t too fresh myself).

And yet I was still in work more or less on time. Shame there was no-one there to witness it, and the telecine’s not working. And I feel like a bag of swamp water and noodles now. Knackered before nine. Great start.

The End Of The World, Continued

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It’s a big old world out there, and everyone has their own ideas about how it’s going to end. It would be silly of me to suggest that the Christians have the whole Empty Earth thing wrapped up. And anyway, the concept of The Rapture bothers me. I think the whole idea of a chosen few being whisked away to safety leaving all the non-believers behind is incredibly selfish. There’s an element of that in all religions, of course. Our way is the right way, and the rest of you can (quite literally) go to hell. It also gives a whole new spin on the idea of Christian family values.

Every culture has a view on the apocalypse. The Abrahamic tradition (your Jews, Christians and Islamics) tend to view it as the end of all things. God ringing down the curtain as punishment, or rebooting creation as it’s started going a bit funny and his spreadsheet package has frozen. Buddhist and Hindu philosophy tends to think cyclically. As one age ends, another begins. It’s almost a seasonal thing, the endless cycle of death and rebirth. I can sympathise with this. Every time I think I’ve wrought the End Times on the weeds in my garden, back they come, regular as the new Golden Age.

Most religions seem to agree that we are living, if not in the End Times, then at the corrupted end of a cycle. Hindus call it Kali Yuga. The thinking goes that as we and our world go through time, we devolve from divine beings that know nothing of sin, into the sort of base creatures that can happily watch the X-Factor. According to Buddha, our life spans are also attached to this cycle. In the past, people lived for 80,000 years and were endowed with beauty, grace and strength. Over time, as we took on more worldly habits (organised religion, frozen stuffed crust pizza, Sky Sports) our life span and the gifts that go with it started to decline. Eventually, as the cycle comes to an end, we will live for ten years, become sexually active at five, and hunt each other for sport. Once only a few of us are left to repent that we ever thought Eastenders was any good, we will somehow regain virtue and become again divine. See, much more sensible than this Rapture nonsense.

I’m intrigued by the idea that most religions think that we are living in a time that is significantly more corrupt and evil than any that has gone before. I’ve heard that argument before. From my nans, mostly. Things were so much better when they were kids. There was Hovis for everyone, and there was none of this war stuff, you know apart from the war.

This hearkening back to a mythical Golden Age, and dire warnings for our future if we don’t behave, has been going on for longer than you think. Sumerian cave writings have been found that gloomily document a society grown weak, venal and corrupt – a society that, the grumpy writer predicts, will soon collapse into rubble. These writings, surely the first example of a Daliy Mail editorial, have been conservatively dated to around 2800BC. Which goes to show. If we really are living in Kali Yuga, we have been doing so for a veeeeery long time.

It’s The End Of The World Again, Almost Definitely This Time, Really, Honest.

Well, I hope you’re all packed and ready. According to Christian radio show host Harold Camping, 3% of the world’s population will be gathered up to Heaven in some sort of holy Hoovering tomorrow morning. The rest of us will then have five months to wait until God draws the curtains and shuts off the lights for good on October 21st. The fact that most churches have scheduled regular services for Sunday shows how seriously Mr Camping is being taken by the religious community at large.

In eschatological circles, Harold is a bit of a pipsqueak. He’s predicted the Rapture four times thus far, giving up (or rather, diving back into the books for a bit more of a considered approach into the numbers) in 1995. This is small potatoes. Fire and brimstone preacher Charles Taylor saw the end coming 12 times between 1972 and 1992. That’s got to put a crimp into your long-term savings plans.

The end-of-the-world racket is a fascinating subject for study, and stuffed to the brim with nutballs, loonbags and conmen of all stripes. It’s surprisingly easy to pick a date for the Four Horsemen to gallop over the horizon and then backtrack when the sun sets when nary a hint of apocolypic hoof beats. For example, Edgar Whisenant wrote a best-selling book 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988. His prediction: final trump to sound between September 11th and 13th. When those dates turned out to be trumpet-free he pushed the date forward, first to the 15th, then October 3rd. Still nothing. This didn’t deflate Whisenant, though, who released another book the following year, The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989, and would continue to release updates until 1993.

Predictions of the end time are born out of intense, numerology-heavy readings of the Bible, and as reactions to ongoing world events. The recent triple-whammy of disaster landing on Japan has, as you’d expect, sent the scene into a tizzy. But events as varied as the Rodney King shooting, the founding of the state of Israel and any manner of celestial objects getting within astronomical spitting distance have all sparked doomy predictions. As for the close-study readings, Camping’s method is an exemplar of clarity and logic compared to some I can mention. Dan Brown’s got a lot to answer for…

None of this would be a bother if it didn’t involve hucksters conning gullible rubes out of their hard-earned, and self-styled prophets setting themselves up as cult leaders. End of the world predictions can mean exactly that. Suicide cults like Heaven’s Gate and the followers of messianic maniacs David Koresh, Jim Jones and Joseph Kibweteere are all evidence that apocalypses can and do happen, and are events that we cannot see coming, and have no way to prepare for.

As for Camping and his Rapture? Well, his past record isn’t encouraging, and frankly his methodology has holes wide enough to steer the Halle-Bopp comet through. I’m not convinced. And anyway, aren’t we supposed to have until December 2012, when the Mayan calendar runs out?

Tell you what, while we’re waiting, let’s have a little dance, shall we?

This post would not have been possible without reference to Chris Nelson’s extraordinary Brief History of The Apocalypse, which is anything but brief and will eat your day if you let it.