Month: November 2010

Cafe au Chat


Sometimes, I’m impressed by my inner self-editor. The temptation to call this post “Cat-purr-cino” (or something along those lines) was very nearly overwhelming. But it really is the most rubbish pun ever, isn’t it?

Anyway. I’ve only recently discovered the phenomenon of the Tokyo cat cafes, and I’m equal parts fascinated and bemused.

Yes, of course I can see the appeal of hanging out in a cafe full of cats, making a fuss of the residents–particularly in a city which is known for its hardworking attitude and often draconian tenancy agreements, both of which leave little time and space for pets.

But on the other hand, as someone who is regularly ignored, insulted and–occasionally–out & out manipulated by her very own feline, I’m not sure I’d want to pay for the experience of getting that special look that only a cat can give you. (It goes up, then down, then up again, followed by an expression that clearly means, “What?”, before the cat in question turns tail, stalks off and falls asleep on top of your laptop.)

Still, at least in these places there’s a variety of cats available to slight you. You know, just in case one doing it wasn’t quite enough….



So You Want to Write a Novel…

No, don’t panic. I’m not going to give you advice–after all, who the hell am I?–but rather to share this fab little video that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook.

If you’ve ever been to any of the “How To Get Published” (or variations thereupon) panels at conventions, or had a chat with any agents–or, in fairness, know very much about the publishing industry at all–then you’ll recognise everything you’ll have heard in this. And if you haven’t, then you will soon enough…

Cameo Friday

No, not that one.

If you’re a regular here (or if you’ve ever seen my ipod – it’s easy to spot… it’s purple, permanently overloaded and the headphones are a bit knackered. And it has skulls stuck to it. Well, it would, wouldn’t it?) then you’ll know I’m a big fan of this band and I’ve been in a fizzing fervour of a frenzy waiting for the new album. It’s fantastic. Big and sprawling and noisy–and fun. I love it.

Nor do I only love the album: I love the look of it, and I love the videos. Particularly this one, which has put me in a happy geek place for most of the week, because there–side by side–are two of my favourite comic writers.

One’s dead easy, because he’s, like, Gerard Way. The other one… well, you tell me.

(Yet again, it’s a click-through to Youtube, because we all know that record companies think the internet is the devil. Must try harder – and I promise I’ve been looking for one that doesn’t send me bouncing all over teh interwebz in order to link it. Honest)

Now all I need to do is find a music video with Steve Niles and Mike Carey in and I’ve got the set….

What’s that you say? Oh, Neil’s covered.

Creepy. Especially the tambourine.

The Students Are Revolting

So for the second time in the last few weeks, the students are kicking off. From the sound of it, a good number of them have spent a chilly afternoon being kettled in Whitehall (which, for those unfamiliar with the term, means they’re boxed in on all sides by the police and held in one place. If we’re going with household appliances, I’d have gone with a pressure cooker, but hey ho. “Kettling”, to me, rather implies a nice cup of tea. And maybe a biscuit. But anyway).

Predictably, it’s all got a bit complicated and there’s been some… issues. Note: vandalising a police van? Really? Because that’s clever, isn’t it? Really going to win friends and influence people – and chances are it’s not even a student who’s part of the organised protest who started it.

Back in ye olden days when I started college, tuition fees were new, shiny and hated with a passion – made worse by the fact there were people studying who didn’t pay, by a fluke of timing, and doubly so by the fact that most of us had been too young to have a say in the previous year’s election. I remember a protest march that started outside ULU and was at best 50% students, 50% dodgy blokes in jackets and scarves looking for a punch-up. Thus goes the world. And that’s why the marches, the demos… none of it will gain any sympathy.

This, however, is something I can get behind as a form of protest. Non-violent, organised and eloquent: a group of UCL students have occupied one of the rooms in the main campus. Seeing as that’s where I studied, I’ve been watching with interest, and the way they seem to be running things is fascinating. They’re shut in and they’re plugged in: not only are they on Twitter, they’ve set up their own blog and e-mail address.

I can’t imagine it’ll do much: like I said, there were protests when I started, and I seem to remember a bunch of first-years barricading themselves in the Finance wing that autumn, and very little happened… but if you’re going to protest and you want to be taken seriously – you want your voice to be heard, not simply lost to the void – this seems like the way to do it.

Good luck, guys.

The Curious Legend of Dirty Dick

There’s a funny little pub on Bishopsgate in the City of London called Dirty Dicks. It’s narrow, but it’s easy to spot–partly because it’s got a bright red neon sign above it, and partly because there’s always a stag-night party in one stage of pissheadedness or another having their photo taken outside. It’s called Dirty Dicks (and, by the way, if you’re googling it, I cannot advise you strongly enough to check you have “safe search” enabled. Promise me you’ll check first? Please?)

It always used to fascinate me when I walked past it–usually on the way to the even more exotically-named Woodins Shades… what can I say? They had pool tables… and I figured there had to be a reason for giving a pub a name like that. Besides luring in men of a certain age wearing red polyester wigs, that is.

“Dirty Dick” was, in fact, Nathaniel Bentley, an 18th-Century merchant who owned a hardware shop and warehouse on Leadenhall Street. He was something of a dandy: stylish and well-dressed, he was nicknamed “The Beau of Leadenhall Street”.

This changed with the death of his fiancee: according to legend, he refused to wash or to change his clothes after that day, and became a complete recluse. When his cats died, he left their corpses to rot where they fell. Some versions of the story tell that his fiancee died on the very eve of their wedding and–distraught and heartbroken–Bentley simply locked the door of the dining room, leaving the table laid and the wedding breakfast to moulder within…

Sounding familiar yet?

The long and short of it was that Bentley became a celebrity of sorts–any letter addressed to “The Dirty Warehouse, London” automatically found its way to Leadenhall and that nickname, “Dirty Dick”, stuck.

Bentley ceased trading in 1804, and died shortly after. But his legacy of filth lived on: so infamous had his warehouse become that the owners of the Bishopsgate Distillery in its various incarnations bought the contents of the building and, after its demolition, moved them (cats and all) to another location nearby: the Old Jerusalem pub, which in due course changed its name…to Dirty Dicks.

As for the cats–and everything else–they used to be on display in the bar (in some instances, on the bar), although today they’re tucked away in a glass case.

The Fisher King

He had no net, hook, or line, and he could not be a fisherman; his boat had no cushion for a sitter, no paint, no inscription, no appliance beyond a rusty boathook and a coil of rope, and he could not be a waterman; his boat was too crazy and small to take in cargo for delivery, and he could not be a lighterman or river-carrier; there was no clue to what he looked for, but he looked for something, with a most intent and searching gaze. The tide, which had turned an hour before, was running down, and his eyes watched every little race and eddy in its broad sweep, as the boat made slight head-way against it, or drove stern foremost before it, according as he directed his daughter by a movement of his head. She watched his face as earnestly as he watched the river. But, in the intensity of her look there was a touch of dread or horror.

“Our Mutual Friend” – Charles Dickens

I read “Our Mutual Friend” the best part of a decade ago, and to this day it remains my favourite Dickens–and one of my favourite books. So when I read the story in the news today about the man who fishes for bodies on the Yellow River, Gaffer Hexham was the first thing that came to mind.

Actually, he was the second: the first being “Eeeeeew.”

Wei Xinpeng collects the bodies the river washes up; be they victims of accident, foul play or suicide and returns them to their families. It’s all the same to him. He believes he brings dignity to the dead and closure to their relatives (a closure, incidentally, he never had)–but he charges for the privilege. Twice: a small fee to view the corpses he collects, and a larger one should a family find what they’re looking for.

Is he doing the best he can, reuniting the living with the lost when the authorities don’t care, or is he somehow profiting from desperate grieving families? In a country like China, particularly in rural areas where old traditions still hold sway, burial is an important part of life (and death), there’s more than a hint of Charon about the boatman on the Yellow River…


All the Right Moves

This video has everything. Well, almost everything.

Glorious ballroom? Check. Fabulous costumes? Check. Mysterious masquerade-y masks? Double check. Meaningful glances galore? Check.

Gerard Butler? Uhh. I’ll get back to you on that. Still, four out of five ain’t bad…

Annoyingly, it looks like you have to click through to Youtube to watch it, but do. It’s nice, honest.

Santa Claws

It’s getting to that time of the year: the time when we think about finding the perfect gift for our best beloved. We fight our way through the ravening hordes (or to the One-Click button) and bring it home–our prize, our trophy; the one thing that will make that special someone’s life complete.

And then, of course, we’ve got to wrap the bloody thing.

Disclaimer: not my cat, clearly. I still have all my fingers, and have not needed 42 stitches across my face, arms or hands. Also: cats aren’t Christmas presents. All they’ll do is snaffle the turkey, steal your spot on the sofa and cast disparaging glances at you when you tell the joke from your cracker. So yeah, cats. Christmas. Do the math.

End of the Line

"End of the Line": Solaris books. Artwork by Luke Preece

Last night, I headed off to the launch of Solaris Books “End of the Line” anthology: a collection of horror stories set on the Underground (and the Metro, and the New York subway… but you get the idea).

It was an interesting evening: Jon Oliver chaired a small panel consisting of Christopher Fowler, Pat Cadigan & Adam Nevill, all of whom feature in the collection. There was talk of why going underground is scary – for Adam, it’s the clautrophobia, the confusion and the packed-in flesh. For Pat, it’s the idea of being buried alive, of descending into an untimely tomb; while for Chris, the Tube was such a part of his childhood that he can’t bring himself to fear it – although he’s not terribly keen on the sliding flood doors. (I’m with him on that, actually. I remember seeing a few of those when I first came to London in 1998, but now I come to think about it, I’ve not noticed one for years. Maybe they’re all gone – or maybe they’re just not obvious enough to make you notice them and immediately think “OhmigodI’mgoingtodie!”)

There was a brief discussion, too, of the Underground in movies: Creep, Death Line and Control being the notable mentions, along with An American Werewolf in London. There was a small signing, where we had another classic Lou-fail (note: must learn to stop presenting my book at signing tables with a cheery: “Hi! I’m Lou!”. It only ever ends in, “Well, that’s nice for you,” from a slightly bemused and wrist-weary author – this time, Christopher Fowler, although he did go on to tell me how big the new Superdry store in One New Change is, so I may not have broken him entirely. This is good, as despite having used “Disturbia” as a virtual guide to London when I moved here, I’ve not long discovered the Bryant & May series, and would kind of like to see how that pans out…) and then on to the Phoenix Artist Club for drinks.

These things always remind me how absolutely right the decision to go to WHC in Brighton in March was. I went there alone, knowing no-one, but it served as the most incredible introduction to a group of people who are – individually and collectively – genuinely lovely. I had a great time – I was only sorry I had to leave as early as I did, as I’d have loved to stay longer and talk more (you know me. Talking. It’s what I do. A lot).

As it was, I contented myself with having a good read on the train on the way home (note #2: best not to read horror stories set on any kind of railway while you’re sitting alone in a train carriage with slightly dodgy lights. It’s not good for the nerves).

Thanks to the Solaris team – Jon, Jenni and Dave, all of whom are most excellent people – for a great book and a great launch. And if you’re looking for something to read on the commute (and your boss doesn’t mind if you arrive in the office a bit pale & in need of a stiff drink) you could do worse than look this one up.