Friday, May 4, 2012

On buying things that on closer inspection you find you don’t like

We all must have been there; bought something impulsively, thinking it’s fabulous, then, after a day or two (or an hour or two) of owning it, you look at it and realize that it was not what you thought it was. You have somehow miss-seen it.

I did it the other day. On a compulsive whim I bought a pair of trainers, quite expensive trainers, the most expensive trainers I’d ever bought in my life. I thought they were perfect, in my head they were plain, but sort of cool. What I would call ‘funky straight’, a look I’ve always aspired to. I looked at them once, left the shop thinking about them, then rushed back 20 minutes later, tried them on, and bought them in a rush of endorphin triggering consumerist joy. They were just what I wanted, bouncy and comfortable, with maybe just enough hip-hop style for a 45 year old to get away with.

When I got them home I noticed that part of the trainer, quite a large part - the side panels, had a leopard skin pattern on them. I hadn’t noticed that when I bought them, I thought they were plain. How come I hadn’t noticed? It wasn’t a loud pattern, it was quite subtle, but I don’t like leopard skin patterns. Even as a detail on a trainer they look inappropriate.

[A friend of mine once became obsessed by leopard skin, and spent sometime researching its history. He traced it back to Bacchus, and then onward to marching bands and teddy boys. He saw them as a symbol of the excessive romantic/rocker tradition. The friend self-identified as a rocker. I’m definitely not a rocker, I’m more of a mod, but really I’m just a shabbily dressed middle-aged man. My dress sense had gone to pot in recent years. But one thing I definitely know is that me and leopard skin patterns don’t go together.]

And of course once you’ve noticed the detail it becomes more and more prominent, swamping everything else. I imagined people laughing at me, noticing the absurdity of a man of my age wearing anything with a leopard skin pattern on his feet, trainers surely designed for a hip female teenager or a young electro DJ (Do electro DJs still exist?). Or maybe no one had ever bought a pair of these trainers before, such was the absurdity of their design. In the shop they were still laughing, someone had bought the worse trainers in the world!

What to do? I wore them for a couple of days in the hope things would change, maybe I’d learn to love them – I felt unwilling to admit my mistake.  By the time I finally accepted that they were never going to grow on me, that they looked absurd, they were already too scuffed and dirty to take back to the shop. I am stuck with trainers that feature a signifier that makes me look ridiculous.

Somehow I am going to have to find a way of living with them, they were too expensive to throw away or refuse to wear. They are comfortable, and I like the rest of the trainer, just not the light blue leopard skin pattern that takes up 30% of their surface area.

At the moment I’m seeing them as my walking trainers. Things I go for walks in. But that wasn’t what I wanted, I wanted some feel good footwear, footwear which gave me pleasure for years to come, every time I put them on. I do have a pair of shoes like that, and they make me happy whenever I wear them. 

I take some solace that I'm not alone - that other people suffer a temporary blindness when purchasing things. One friend, quite poor at the time, decided that he wanted to buy a classic raincoat, the sort beloved of 1960’s businessmen. So he went out and bought one, pushing the boat out, treating himself. But something went wrong in the purchasing and he ended up with a raincoat that didn’t stop above his knees, but went down nearly to his ankles. I would have described it in Western cowboy parlance as a duster, made for the horse riding fraternity. This was not what he wanted. When he showed it to me, it looked absurd. He lived in Whitechapel, not Wyoming.

He did try to make it work, wearing it out and about, but it looked so odd that it earned stares of derision from passers by. Kids in the street shouted out ‘Hey Mr., what’s with the coat’. Friends would ask ‘Are you really going to wear that?’ as they left the house with him. Eventually he folded it up and gave it to Oxfam. He’s got a Belstaff jacket now he’s much happier with.

Mind you, it’s not the first time this has happened to me – I once bought the world’s dullest coat, and then there was the uncomfortable folding bike, the DJ decks I never used, the ugly coffee table, the list goes on. I’ve got history with the unfortunate purchase.

So in the future when out shopping I will slow down and think of the leopard skin trainers and check that there is nothing absurd, nothing I intensely dislike, about what I am about to purchase. ‘Remember the leopard skin trainers’ will be, from this day on, my consumerist mantra. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

At The University of Wellness

Carla Morris shut her eyes and relaxed, trying to follow the teacher’s instructions to let her weight fall into the floor and feel like she was at one with the universe. Only she couldn’t because she didn’t know what the teacher was on about. She knew what it meant to feel tired, or happy, or sad – but at one with the universe? She drew a blank. 

Maybe she should have been suspicious that the intensive yoga retreat was held at a place called the University of Wellness, where there was no alcohol served with the meals and the only options on the menu were vegetarian. Not that Carla didn’t love yoga, she attended 3 classes a week in London and started every morning with 23 Salutations to the Sun. But she liked her yoga plain, light on the mysticism and heavy on the just get on with it.

Still she’d had a good stretch, improved her headstand and almost got her feet flat in downward facing dog, and she did feel relaxed. She shouldn’t complain. It beat mooching around her Dalston flat, feeling annoyed about her ex-boyfriend’s recent acquisition of a new partner and worrying about the size of her mortgage. Or working; not that work was a bad thing, one thing Carla wasn’t afraid of was hard work.

She did sometimes wonder what went on during the relaxation part of a yoga class, when everyone but the teacher had their eyes closed. Did the teacher make obscene gestures and silently mouth obscenities at her pupils? Mime fatness at overweight students? Carla occasionally opened her eyes to see if she could catch them out, but so far she had only found them grinning inanely. It was a little disappointing.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Matt’s Tomato Sauce For Pasta

My signature dish. For years I searched for the perfect tomato sauce to go with pasta, my attempts often ending up as 'studenty' vegetable slops. I had a model of an ideal tomato sauce in my mind the cooking of which seemed to allude me, only ever catching its shadows on the kitchen wall.

But I eventually discovered what I wanted, and it was simplicity that won out. I suspect it’s roughly based on a Marcella Hazan recipe; the person who taught it to me was obsessed by her Italian cookery book. It’s the recipe I’ve recommended to work colleagues over the years when they’ve been looking for an easy way to impress someone with their culinary skills. I’ve used it to feed ravenous ravers on a drug come down and hungry nephews after a day on the beach, they all seemed to of liked it.
You will need (to feed 3 as a main course):

2 red onions
Lots of olive oil
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
A 400 mg tin of good quality Italian chopped tomatoes
A pinch of chilli pepper flakes
2 teaspoons of dark brown cane sugar
A couple of big handfuls of grated Parmesan
250grams of dried pasta (spaghetti or penne is best)

Chop the red onions (not too finely, keep them in strips) and add to the olive oil -  I heat from cold rather than add to a hot pan. Now is when the magic starts, you need to get the oil bubbling so the onion starts to soften and melt into the olive oil (keep stirring regularly) but doesn’t burn. After 5 to 10 minutes add the chopped garlic, when this has softened and started to melt into the olive oil you can add the tomatoes.

The secret of the recipe is to get the onions and garlic just right. It’s not that all the onion has all dissolved into the olive oil, but ‘soft and melty’ is the best phrase I can come up to describe what your after.

Once the tomatoes are in add a pinch of dried chilli flakes - just to give some extra depth of flavour - and 2 teaspoons of dark brown cane sugar. Let the mixture bubble down for about 10-15 minutes, until it’s thick and viscous. Cook the pasta while doing this.

When the sauce is reduced take half your Parmesan and mix it with the sauce, then drain the pasta and mix thoroughly, giving all the pasta an even coating. Take to the table and serve with the other half of the Parmesan to sprinkle on the top.

If you want a meaty dish, you could add some pancetta with the onions and garlic. Some torn fresh basil added at the end might be nice. But the basic recipe is a proven winner and one that I always enjoy cooking.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Coming Of The Executive Goth

Things are changing in the boardroom, at least sartorially. For years the look in the city and the higher echelons of business has been suit, shirt and tie for the boys, smart but sexy for the girls, with very little deviation, apart from on the occasional dress down Friday - which generally produced results as dull as the rest of the week.

But standing outside the Bank of England, at the heart of London's financial district, I couldn't help but notice a change. The age of the executive goth is upon us. Don't get me wrong, the majority are still pretty straight, but one in ten of the younger city types seem to be rockin’ some sort of ‘look’.

Tanya Love - she insists that's her real name - looks like a cross between Helen Bonham Cater and someone heading down a Torture Garden fetish party. 'I'm a bloody good financial analyst, and I also happen to be a goth. I make lots of money and like to spend it on dressing as creatively as I can. Because I'm so good at my job no one gives me any trouble about this. End of story'. Not even some of your older colleagues? 'If your were an old bloke, wouldn't you like someone like me around the office?' Fair enough. Anyway, in a meritocracy people can dress how they like.

Aside from goth the other look that seems most prevalent on the streets of The City at the moment is steampunk, that weird mash up of Victoriana and high tech, that has proved so popular in fiction in recent years. Sometimes this seems (deliberately) comical, one young lady banker was using an old fashioned kettle as a handbag, while looking like she could of been Queen Victoria's hand maid (apart from the Mac Book Air she had in her other hand).

One of the more extreme looks I came across was that of a futures trader called Mike who was wearing a brass jet pack on his back. 'Does it work' I asked, 'of course’ he replied, ‘it takes me back to Essex every night'. And the prevalence of weird haircuts, many of them inspired by the ruling classes featured in the film The Hunger Games, seems to be getting greater even among those still opting for more traditional dress.

Where will it end? A goth prime minister? A cyberpunk head of The Bank Of England? Maybe. Siouxsie Sioux could never of dreamed of such things...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Daytrip To Potsdam

We caught the train from Berlin to Potsdam
Half confused in the snow
We walked from the station
To the park
Tim with his scarf over his head like an old lady
Wrapped up against the cold

His mood was bleak and desperate, unhappy with his life
Before the revelation of Prozac and found self knowledge

But to me the day was magic
As we walked in the park it snowed so hard
We could hardly see the path
Like being lost in a bag of flour
‘It reminds me of that film’ I said

And then the snow stopped
And in its place was a palace
‘It reminds me of that film’ I said

Friday, November 11, 2011


Finding a good name for something can help in life and I have now decided to name what I have previously called 'special effects' (the sensory effects of mild psychosis) 'fazzle'. I didn't consciously think of the name, it just popped into my head, but if I do some retro reasoning I'm going to say it's a combination of fucked up, fazed and dazzle - fazzle. 'I went for a walk and it calmed the fazzle right down', 'I drank too much coffee and the fazzle came on really strong'. I can feel an Urban Dictionary entry coming on...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Things to moan about 2: mild psychosis

‘Mild’ psychosis, it doesn’t feel mild but, as I never become completely delusional, I’ll use that prefix. It would probably annoy psychiatrists - and that has got to be a good thing.

I’ll divide my description up into 2 parts, the sensory and the mental.

The main sensory effect I get is visual, a changing in the intensity of the way I see. Details seem too, well, detailed. Faces become somehow too real, hyper real. Colours too vivid, bright colours seeming to vibrate . And the sky, just too big. Everything has been turned up a little too much. Sometimes quite a lot too much.

It’s years since I’ve smoked spliff but I would describe the effect as been a bit like smoking a really strong skunk joint. Except you haven’t, and though those effects might be sort after by some,  I don’t want them. They make me uneasy and frightened.

When I initially flipped out in July 2008, displaying hypo-manic symptoms, one of the first changes was an increased sensitivity to colour. At the time, during The Time Of Blakean Joy, I quite enjoyed the effects. They have long since lost there appeal.

Are there any triggers for this? It happens most days, often seemingly unprompted. Though stress and anxiety, especially ‘life worry’ and when I get worked up about tinnitus, make it more likely to happen. Alcohol could temporarily calm it down, but in the long term made it a lot worse.

And the mental? There’s definitely and element of paranoia and conspiracy that creeps into my mind - usually based around tinnitus, a feeling that I might be cursed, a tendency to wander into magical thinking. The fact that the tinnitus was triggered by a medication, and that it often seems the worse possible thing that could of happened to me, the fact that it led to me starting drinking again (2 months and 7 days on the wagon, let’s count our blessings) after over a decade sober - sometimes makes me feel cursed. Like someone or something has decided to torture me. ‘Oi, Matt, watch out, we are really going to fuck with your brain.’

A teacher of mine with long term mental health problems (he had a very public breakdown while teaching me, I rather liked him) died 3 months before I flipped out - was his madness passed on to me after his death? Is there a certain degree of madness in the world that needs to be passed around? And has now been passed on to me?

And sometime I feels like something has been left to rot in my brain, leaving an unpleasant taste I can’t get rid of. I really don’t like that feeling.

Depression and suicidal thoughts are more of a problem than delusional thoughts, especially in the morning. And of course everything is aggravated by the head sound - that’s what pushes the suicide agenda to the fore relentlessly. I need to start to have strategies to deal with this. I’ve been watching the re-run of The World At War on the Yesterday channel, that might help me come up with some ideas.