Writer’s blog, Week 26, Monday

Blog16June

Back in London, as I missed the humidity, litter, scaffolding, oligarchs, controlled parking and housing bubble. They don’t even have an Aldi here! It’s Monday. A new week of fiddling while Rome burns, if fiddling is a metaphor for doing little bits of jobs rather than anything meaningful on a large-scale ongoing commission, and Rome is a metaphor for my career.

With Sitcom A in post-BBC3 limbo and Drama A in a holding pattern while a potential broadcaster gets round to reading the 32-page, 17,000-word synopsis (come on, hurry up!), my creative juices are being diverted into the channel marked “NEW IDEAS”. Although what we call in the trade “small jobs” overlapped and expanded to fill my three full days in glorious, sun-dappled, Northamptonian exile (a TV review for the Guardian Guide’s Other Side page which shouldn’t have taken that long but I still feel as if I’m on probation in the actual paper; my Telly Addict script plus clips; some time-consuming editing work which already feels as if it’s taken three times as much time as I charged for), I am now dedicating that key bumper period between being awake and falling asleep to formulating at least three new sitcom pitches.

WC14GerPorPepe

The World Cup is on. (The football one.) Because of the four- and five-hour time difference between here and Brazeel – to use the official pronunciation from ITV’s lilting credits sequence – some games kick off at 11 o’clock. At night. I’m usually tucked up in bed by then, not gearing up for 90 minutes of silky footballing action, sometimes involving a team that happens to share my nationality which has a Pavlovian effect on my general interest. England supplied their traditional dose of expectation and disappointment on Saturday night and into Sunday morning. I managed not to drink anything until 10pm, which was restraint in excelsis, but I was still imbibing at 1am, which is not my usual style unless at a wedding.

Blog16JunG1

This is me at the Guardian yesterday afternoon, fighting my way through the Lego (they’re doing their now-traditional Lego reenactments of the World Cup highlights, which are always a joy), to enact this week’s Telly Addict (coming imminently, watch this space) which includes a review of the opening ceremony and a little comment on the difference between the ITV and BBC presentation. I won’t be reviewing any games for the Guardian, and although somehow, in previous years, I’ve found time to post regular bulletins from World Cups and Euro Championships on this blog (representative samples: World Cup 2010, Euro 2012), I don’t see that luxury happening this tournament.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say (Pogba’s cake-style haircut, Andy Townsend’s continued use of the phrase, “got a toe to it”), it’s just that the best pithy commentary comes from armchair experts on Twitter, and my brain isn’t big enough to have my phone on during televised matches. The TV picture, the phenomenal Guardian World Cup Guide, conversation: that’s quite enough stimulus for me. I admire you if you can cope with all that plus social media and stay sociable in the room.

I’ve enjoyed the high-scoring matches I’ve seen so far, by the way. Own goals, yellow cards, famous players being rubbish, headbutts, physio breaks his own ankle … it’s not been without incident, has it? I can’t believe I had to choose between it and the Game Of Thrones season finale. Culture can be so cruel.Blog16JunG2

I may well make this radiant, sanguine face while producer Tom has left the studio to do something important and to tread Lego into the carpet. There’s a serious insurgency afoot in Iraq, and as if the imminent destabilisation of the Middle East and a faction too horrible for al-Qaeda committing something we loftily call “war crimes” wasn’t depressing enough, it means Tony Blair is on my television and in my newspaper. Fuck off! Admit defeat! Go and live in Donald Rumsfeld’s house if you like it so much!

Blog16JunG3

Stop press: managed one World Cup game – the game of one half: Germany Portugal – and the finale of Game Of Thrones. The latter lacked a character as vicious, malevolent and ruthless as Pepe. And it went to penalties. [Throw in further Game Of Thrones/football allusions here]

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London sucks

TA145

Sorry, failed to announce last week’s Telly Addict (and the one before) on this blog, due to crashing deadlines, so here, in the traditional manner, is the alert for what is, in code, TA145, that’s the 145th weekly TV review I’ve done since April 2011. Coming up to its third birthday! And still basically dancing the same jig: what I have done watched on the telly during the week previous, discussed, with myself, in a manner than cannot meaningfully be transcribed and run as text on the Guardian website, despite constant, whining calls for this service. (The same folk must often complain to a dog that they’d rather it was a cat.) Here we go then: Mind The Gap on BBC2, a nuanced look at the way London sucks talent and money away from “the rest of the country” from Evan Davis; Gogglebox, of course, on C4, although rationed doses for this third series, as as not to do myself out of a job; Shetland on BBC1, a detective drama almost as bleak as Hinterland; the delightful Great Canal Journeys with Prunella Scales and Timothy West on More4; the misleadingly titled Michael McIntyre Chat Show on BBC1; and a clip from Astronauts: Living In Space on C4. Normal service resumed.

Raymond reviews: bah!

look-of-love

Well, I went in to see The Look Of Love with expectations at ankle-height thanks to all the below-par reviews, which ran the gamut from lukewarm to cold-shower, enough to give anyone a winter bottom. A straightforward biopic of Soho porn baron and property magnate Paul Raymond, built, or so it seemed, around Steve Coogan’s desire to impersonate him (which he does well), and regular collaborator Michael Winterbottom’s desire to capture to pre-enlightenment days of London’s former sex district, The Look Of Love turned out to be very good.

Maybe the critics turned on it because it seemed to arrive rather engorged with self-confidence, as if asking to be pulled down a peg or two. (The string of TV comedy cameos – David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Miles Jupp, Stephen Fry – may have added to the perceived smugness.) Both Coogan and Winterbottom are prolific, and much admired, so it’s easy to knock them while celebrating their other triumphs. So, too, with screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh, who wrote Control, which was feted across the board and given a Bafta, and Nowhere Boy. I actually wondered if I was going to love it after seeing the trailer; it had the hallmarks of being “perfunctory”, as many reviewers maintain that it is. I respectfully disagree with them all.

Aside from David Sexton’s virtual lone voice of praise in the London Evening Standard (well, it is a very “London” film), few could even strain up to a three-star rating. Philip French of the Observer called it “crude”, “shallow” and complained that Raymond’s world and life lacked illumination by a “larger social context”. He also said it lacked “wit … insight and … detail”. Our own Stella Papamichael in Radio Times named Winterbottom “a co-conspirator in Raymond’s objectification of women.” Emma Jones in the Independent reported from Sundance, saying it “lacked soul” and calling it “an interminably dull orgy”, but at least recognised that this was probably Winterbottom’s intention. Tim Robey in the Telegraph, another trustworthy critic, used the words “perfunctory” and “hollow”, not to mention “flaccid”, and wondered aloud what Scorsese would have made of it. (Again, he’s clever enough to spot that a British porn baron’s tale is never going to have the crackle of Boogie Nights or Larry Flynt.)  The Mail‘s Chris Tookey stamped it a “turkey” and called it “unobservant, unerotic and dull,” and went further with “dishonest”. Though only awarding three stars, Empire at least identified its “healthy sense of naffness.”

Maybe that’s the problem, although not a problem for me: it does not make apologies for Raymond, as he rises from “entertainer” to impressario, and makes his money through property and pornography. He is plainly depicted as a cad and a sexual cheat, unfaithful in a sort of industrial manner to his first wife (Anna Friel) and his live-in girlfriend Fiona Richmond (a frequently nude Tamsin Egerton) by decree. Yes, he took a showgirl for his wife. Greenhalgh’s script presents Raymond as a man of natural charisma and wit, but doesn’t deify him; he made his living in a sleazy business in what was a sleazy part of town (“welcome to my world of erotica”), using tits to put bums on seats in theatrical sex farce and disrobed revue alike, always pushing against the boundaries of what the Lord Chamberlain allowed.

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If he was any part of a libertarian or champion of free artistic impression, this is soon eclipsed by his greed for more flesh as he buys into Men Only (whose coke-snorting editor, Tony Power, is skilfully played by Chris Addison, for whom The Look Of Love may provide a more fruitful shopfront than it ever could for the better-established Coogan, whose Raymond does brings to mind an X-rated combination of Partridge and, as per The Trip, Coogan). It’s grubby stuff, mostly, with any glamour tarnished by a combination of 60s and especially 70s naffness (the space-age telly watched by the almost-beaten 90s Raymond after his daughter’s sad death, brilliantly encapsulates the datedness of that metropolitan notion of James Bond cool that only James Bond could pull off).

In terms of the randy threesomes and the magnetic pull of the shag-pile boudoir, you get the sense that Coogan understands this self-destructive cock-led compulsion. The constant refrain of “house champagne” is a nifty way of exposing the cheapness beneath the largesse. (Raymond does keep insisting he’s the boy from Liverpool who arrived in London with “three bob” in his pocket.) If anything, on occasion, Coogan possibly makes Raymond too amusing and suave, in what must be improvised scenes, including impressions of Brando and Connery. (Maybe he was an excellent mimic, but I doubt as adept as Coogan!)

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It’s not life-changing. It is, deliberately, unerotic. And it doesn’t tell us anything new about the history of porn, which was done with more seriousness when Our Friends In The North ventured down south. But at least, for all the flesh on display – including a 70s-appropriate bush of pubic hair that’s foregrounded purely for reasons of nostalgia! – it features a strong, driven, successful woman in Richmond, through whom Egerton rises above the exploitation of her own body and compensates for all the insipid, giggling dollybirds, as they used to be called.

If it has anything to say, it’s that a vast property portfolio, enough money and assets to be named the richest man in Britain at his peak (and before the foreign money took over), doesn’t bring happiness. You’ll still be trying to impress people by telling them that Ringo Starr designed your flat (which Raymond does), and measuring your worth via notches on the bedpost. Raymond ends the film sad and introspective, and minus his beloved daughter (Imogen Poots, who steals much of the film with her rounded, likeable, unspoilt portrayal of a beneficiary of nepotism who rose above it, only to fall victim to cocaine and heroin abuse).

It may sound glib to say it’s a bit of fun, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Winterbottom shoots on the hoof, keeping budgets low, on location (Londoners will love, as I did, the sightseeing aspect), and encourages improv, and while Raymond’s story doesn’t have the innate cool or bangin’ soundtrack of 24 Hour Party People, he may happily file The Look Of Love alongside: a breezy portrait of an essentially naff English success story who charmed his way through a number of scams and left his mark. It’s a bit of a useless title, and it’s a pity Ramond’s estate owned the rights to its intended one, The King Of Soho. What about 24 Hour Porno Person?

The androgyny exhibition

BowieIsV&A3

I wonder if he’ll ever know he’s in a best-selling show? Of course he will, you idiot. Just because he preferred not to fly over to London to see the sell-out retrospective exhibition of his capes, heels and notepads, David Bowie Is at the V&A, curated by Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, has the full blessing of the Dame Himself. How could it not? Most of the stuff here – and boy, there’s a lot of stuff, over 300 items – comes from Bowie’s own archive. I want to go to there. Until that happens, this will very much suffice.

For an artist so iconic, long-lived, prolific and spread enthusiastically across so much mixed media, David Bowie keeps himself relatively to himself. Since his heart attack in 2004, now 66, he’s kept travel and work to a minimum – guest appearances in the studio and onstage with the likes of TV On The Radio, Arcade Fire, Scarlett Johansson – and I for one had resigned myself to a future with no major new release, glad to have seen him at Wembley on the Reality tour which he had to cut short in 2004 after the chest pains.

Where Are We Now? and The Next Day came as pleasant, fanfareless surprises, but despite what Waldemar Januszczak implied in his snooty review in the Sunday Times, the V&A exhibition was not designed as a promotional blitz for the new record, as the new record had no release date when the archive was raided, nor did it feel like an advert. There are a couple of references to the new LP, but if anything, David Bowie Is feels like a memorial, or at least a testimonial. A full-blooded, high-flying, celebratory one, but a testimonial nonetheless. It’s fantastic that he’s been back in the studio, but he’s given us so much already over five decades, it seems greedy to expect more.

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Having booked a 4pm slot at the V&A, we were unaware that this would mean being turfed out of the exhibition at 5.30pm, and there’s enough here to keep a Bowiephile engrossed and wide-eyed for at least two hours, if not three, as you move chronologically and occasionally thematically through his life, constantly distracted by words, music, stills, moving pictures and annexes. Although the vast collection seems to have dummied up pretty much every significant outfit Bowie ever wore onstage or in a video – and, as Peter Contrad observed in The Observer, in an otherwise incoherent review, the costumes operate like the skins he has constantly shed – it’s the details, and the smaller items, that demand your closer attention: a pencil sketch on an opened-out packet of Gitanes; a photo of Little Richard in a gilt frame he must have borrowed off his parents in the 50s that Bowie still apparently treasures; a xeroxed manifesto for the Beckenham Arts Lab which the young idealist hoped to get off the ground in his Kent hometown in the early 60s (and with which Alexis Petredis seemed particularly taken in his uniquely useful, adroit and witty Guardian review); the typed letter to his manager drily announcing the name-change to “Bowie” … there’s even a tissue he’s used to dab his lipstick, although that may have crossed the line from appreciation into idolatry.

I liked the items that aren’t his, but are displayed to add context and texture to his journey, like the pile of science fiction paperbacks, the poster for a Hendrix gig he attended, and the oddly moving cover of the Times in 1969 bearing the photograph of earth taken from space. Again, Januszczak was predictably sniffy about Bowie’s own art, but I loved his painted portrait of Japanese writer and ritual suicidist Yukio Mishima, which he had above his bed in Berlin (there’s a whole room dedicated to what the exhibition calls his “black and white period” in West Germany), and his line drawings of his Mum and Dad were, again, rather moving. More practically, his sketches for sleeves and stage sets, as well as costumes, all of which were realised by professional illustrators, designers and costumiers, showed just how clear his vision has always been. And how hands-on he was, and remains.

The people shuffling round around us were of “a certain age”, and clearly transfixed, as well as taken back to important moments in their own life soundtracked by Bowie. You are forced to wear headphones and to listen to an electronically-triggered soundtrack, but I took mine off (don’t try and tell me what to do, The Man!), as there’s enough sensory information without another layer. I liked that some people were possibly unwittingly singing along to the tunes in their ears.

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There’s not much I can say about Bowie that hasn’t already been said a hundred thousand times. If you can take or leave him, or only know the hits, you may find David Bowie Is a bit much. If, however, you consider him the greatest and most diverse musical solo artist of the last century (and some of this one), this exhibition will thrill you constantly, in miniature, and in widescreen. The final room – a vast hall, really – has floor to ceiling film of Bowie live, projected onto a sort of thin netting that allows further dummies in costume to be illuminated through it. It’s a rock concert finale to a symphony of memory, allusion, art, ephemera, light, shade, tone and poetry that also tells you whose shirts he wears. Because of the venue, most publications have sent their art critics to review the show, and many have failed to take its pulse. It’s art, but not as they know it.

Me? I was excited enough to actually see an original 1975 pack of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s famous Oblique Strategies cards, in a glass case, which influenced Bowie during his Burroughs cut-up stage.

This is what some of them suggest, in order to eliminate creative blockage:

  • Use an old idea.
  • Try faking it!
  • Work at a different speed.
  • Do the washing up.

Here’s the lyric from Blackout, which is displayed in the exhibition. You should try and see it, really.

BowieV&Alyrics_blackout

Oh, you can buy a publicity shot for the Diamond Dogs album taken in London, 1974 by Terry O’Neill, from a limited edition of 50, for £4,800 from the gift shop, or walk away with a Bowie plectrum for 75p. There’s plenty of other gifts in between, too, many of them V&A exclusives (and you can order online, but I suspect you’d rather handle and inspect them first). I hope they take this show on the road so that you don’t have to come to London to see it between now and August 11 (and most of the tickets have been sold already; the fastest selling show in Victoria and Albert’s history).

This is a show for all – that is, all the tall-short-fat-skinny people with an ear for David Bowie, not just Metropolitan dandies and tourists. Again, Januszczak is plain wrong when he says that the V&A looks ridiculous trying to be “down with the kids”. It’s not really aimed at the kids, although the kids might learn something (that Lady Gaga didn’t think of this, for a start), and I was impressed to see a very young school party queuing up when we popped back for the shop this afternoon. What a cool school trip.

  • Are there sections? Consider transitions.

The drummer from Cud?

In may ways, I like the fact that the photographic evidence of what was, for me, an historic night, is all blurry and indistinct, as my memory of it will always remain vivid and forensic. On Saturday, November 10, 2012, at approximately 19:25, I drummed with a professional band, onstage at a famous rock venue, with a paying audience in attendance, for one song. The band was Cud; the venue was Brixton Academy (these days the O2 Academy); the song was Rich & Strange. It was an honour. It was a privilege. It was a treat. In the old days, we might have called it my Jim’ll Fix It moment, but that reference point has been all but erased from history. It did involve a flamboyant man from Leeds – or from a band formed in Leeds – who, with his three bandmates, fixed it for me, but there the similarities end.

The photo above, the first of many from the friendly world of citizen phone-journalism, was taken by Andy Goymer from what must have been “down the front.” In it, I am actually hitting some miked-up drums in public! This is massive for a failed musician! If you remember that the only other time I have played drums with a professional rock band was 20 years ago, in a club in Wakefield, soundcheck only, but the same song! (cue: well-worn but always good-value pictorial evidence, by Tim Paton) …

… you’ll understand the significance of this occasion. Cud were supporting Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, who were supporting my old pals Carter USM, for whom Brixton Academy is like a second home. It was, you’ll have spotted, an early 90s wet dream for indie fans of a certain age and temperament. I attended Carter’s first reunion show here, in November 2007, since which it’s been an annual fixture pretty much. Through thick and thin, I always seem to have been able to engineer crossing paths professionally with Jim Bob and Fruitbat, via 6 Music, Radio 2, or Word magazine, or, once, the Times, and the same is true with Cud, whose flamboyant oeuvre has become a byword for me whenever I fill in on 6 Music. I even managed to tie in one of my stints with an exclusive announcement of their summer dates. I had less of a concrete friendship with Ned’s, but spent a glorious day with them in Stourbridge about 20 years ago, and managed to engineer affable singer Jon Penney onto Roundtable along with Miles Hunt and Clint Mansell once, which was, again, for me, a little bit of history. As one hits one’s forties, such visitations to one’s twenties become swollen with significance, cultural weight and, well, larks.

Anyway, back to the present, and this side-of-stage shot – ah, the hallowed side of stage, where every music journalist who ever lived has always dreamed of being! – by John Bownas, who was far more “with the band” than I.

When you are the Drummer From Cud – and younger readers who don’t remember Cud won’t fully appreciate the significance of the band’s drummer – and you were added late to the bill, to open the show, you must arrive at Brixton Academy by 5.30 for soundcheck, and a very truncated soundcheck at that. (Oh, and you will play with the Ned’s backdrop; this is the fate of the first band on! It’s a great backdrop, mind you.) I must admit, I’d been nervous about my three minutes and 36 seconds in the spotlight all week. I am a drummer in my bones, but I don’t get to practise much, as I don’t have a kit, and haven’t had one since I left home in 1984. I’ve been lucky enough to have a crack in adult life when I’ve been recruited to the 6 Music band, but there are too many drummers at 6 Music, and they don’t need me any more. Thus, all practice of the fills, patterns, cymbal smashes and intricacies of Rich & Strange were done in my head, or, unobtrusively, on my bag on public transport. Luckily, they let me have a quick go around the kit during their short soundcheck, itself beset by problems with playback, so quite tense, even for a bunch this fun-filled.

That’s a nice shot of the outside of the famous venue, from Ian Moulds. And this next one is the actual Drummer From Cud, Gogs Byrn, in situ. The original drummer, Steve, was with the band when they first reunited, but has had enough of touring now, so Gogs, a Leeds sticksman of some repute, stepped in. Or sat in. And it to him that I owe the greatest debt for my Cud’ll Fix It moment. Firstly, he had it foisted upon him a bit, as he’s never met me and has no history with me. Secondly, they only had an eight-song set, and he was willing to give up one of their most famous songs to an ex-journalist with a death wish. I thank Gogs for Saturday night. He’s bloody brilliant, by the way.

I took that shot, actually, from the stool of Ned’s drummer Dan’s kit, which Gogs’ was set up in front of. Again, the lot of the second support band! By the way, do not underestimate how awestruck I was, walking out onto that stage. Even with the venue empty, it was a head-spinner. I have been in the audience at Brixton so many times, in youth, and in adulthood (I rarely go to gigs now, but was here for Carter, Arcade Fire, Kasabian, Goldfrapp and Arctic Monkeys in recent memory), but never have I been out on that stage. What a pleasure.

Three in a row now, from Cormac, Julian (who runs 3Loop, who put out Cud’s lovely BBC Sessions box set, and have a Family Cat one imminent – order here), and Will Scott. Thanks to all for these. I might be a speck in them, and you’d need special Spooks-style scanning equipment to prove it was me behind the kit, but the context is important.

It was, inevitably, over very quickly. Three and a half minutes, in fact. We finished soundchecking about a minute before the doors opened, and had only about 15 minutes to get into character – and costume! – before going back out onstage. Carl, always a born frontman, changed into skin-tight tartan kecks and a frilly shirt sexily open at belt level to reveal a triangle of middle-years stomach. I had to make do with a new Cud t-shirt, as I hadn’t considered the showbiz element.

Here are the pros, relaxing backstage, after the gig.

And here’s the same three-quarters of Cud, with their temporary, one-song interloper.

And here is me and Gogs.

The latter two were taken by a professional photographer, Sara Bowrey, whose full set, which includes loads of superb action shots of Carter and Ned’s, is on Flickr here.

Needless to say, once I’d done my bit, and retired backstage to help Cud sup some of their rider before they headed off back up the M1 to get home before midnight, I morphed back into a happy punter, and … oh, I went to the upstairs “VIP Bar”, because I had an Access All Areas pass and it looks down on the auditorium. From here, like some tragic rock biz freeloader, I watched Ned’s tear up the house.

… And then I went into the venue for Carter, who were as magnificent as ever: just two old blokes with guitars and a backing tape, shrouded in dry ice, belting out hit after hit after hit, each one accompanied by people whose vivid, formative memories of the album 30 Something, means that they are closer to 50 Something. I wasn’t technically “down the front”, but I was to the side of the bit just behind down the front, and it was fabulous. The Impossible Dream a highlight, as it always was, and always will be.

Was it Carter’s last gig? Why would it be? Why would these bands whose heyday was 20 years ago stop doing it when there are enthusiastic punters who will happily pay good money to come and see them doing it? I had a nice chat with Jon, Rat and Alex from the Ned’s in the corridor, and in the VIP Bar, and they’re doing it for all the right reasons. They have day jobs. But when they play in Wolverhampton, as they are doing before Christmas, it’s like when Cud play in Leeds, or Carter play in Brixton.

I thank them all for proving that nostalgia need not be a disease. I can simply be a point around which like-minded souls can gather, and have a pint, and have a sing-song, and have a nod. A minor scuffle broke out in the mosh pit during Carter – just two lads with hot heads – and it was snuffed out so quickly, and the general feeling from those around it was, “Come on! We don’t do that sort of shit here.”

A big thanks to Cud, though: Carl, Will, Mike and Gogs, and their entourage, particularly Alaric, as he’s from Northampton, and brews real ale there. For Cud news, click here; for Carter, here; for Ned’s, here.

Ah. Stop press.

The biggest prize in sport

+++++++++++++++++++++++Moan alert!++++++++++++++++++++++

Yes, the 2012 London Olympics are almost upon us. If you’re unlucky enough to live in London, your giveaway evening newspaper has been providing a thrilling day-by-day countdown which I think may have begun on 7/7 in 2005, the glorious day after the capital won the Olympic bid. I’m no fan of the London Evening Standard – which is given away free to grumpy commuters each night and, as such, is by definition worthless, although it can claim to be less unloved than the morning Metro – as you have to machete your way through so much propaganda in order to get to the actual local news, but it’s been especially impenetrable this year, with the Mayoral elections, the Jubilee, Heathrow and now the Games. It’s difficult to know where the editorial ends and the advertorial begins.

But hey, such blurring of truth and profit is very much in the spirit of the Games. I didn’t vote for the Olympics. Ordinary Londoners were never asked if we wanted the biggest sideshow in sport held here, and part-funded by our council tax. We were promised regeneration of some of the East End and Docklands. We were promised a fabulous upswing in commerce and opportunity (“Every sector of the economy will benefit from the staging of the Olympic Games”, went the bid). We were promised a second Westfield shopping centre. We were promised millions of tourists descending up our already full and already filthy city. Some of these dreams may yet come true – there’s a brand new Westfield now in Stratford, whose car parks have already been closed for the duration of the games – but estimates about how many people are coming here on holiday were hugely optimistic, as many non-Olympic “vacationers” have been understandably put off, either by the threat of crowding, or just being blown up.

Let’s contextualise my disinterest in the Games. As a punter I’m really not that bothered about athletics. Sport in general is not something that gets me going. You know I dabble with football, and I ended up watching that tennis match at last year’s Wimbledon that went on and on and on out of peer pressure, but as a rule, as a spectator, I prefer artistic rather than physical endeavour. That’s just my personal choice. I have nothing against sport, or sportspeople. I care about my health and used to love going to the gym when I could afford it. Better to do sport, whether it’s a kickabout in the park or the fully-fledged sacrifice of training for the Olympics, than sit around doing nothing. What I have against these Olympics is that, as a Londoner, I get all of the aggravation and none of the benefit.

It’s not just that the Tube and buses are going to be overcrowded, although that’s pretty annoying when your job involves a lot of travelling about in London, and, I expect, even more annoying if you have a nine-to-five job that can’t realistically be “done from home”. London’s bus drivers are threatening to strike for a bonus payment, as their jobs are going to be extra stressful between July 27 and August 12, and August 29 and September 9. But passengers can’t strike. We’re stuck with it. (I think anyone whose job is going to be made harder by the Olympics should be entitled to a bonus.)

What I really object to is the relentless bombardment of corporate sponsorship. It seems tragic to me that sporting endeavour has to be privately funded. If we lived in the benign Communist utopia of my fevered dreams (and I haven’t worked out all the details yet), sport would be state-sponsored for the health of the nation and the pride of representing your country. So would the Arts. The minute you hand over the Games to advertising “partners”, and these “partners” are then able to literally dictate which credit card you use to apply for tickets, and which fizzy drinks you drink in the stadia, and which burgers you eat, then the sport comes a poor second to profit. And when even the top sports stars must flog their spandexed arses in TV ads in order to keep fit – Usain Bolt clowning for Richard Branson a typically undignified example; Victoria Pendleton getting her actual kit off for men’s magazines for more subtly commericial returns (FHM: “Victoria has the sort of legs that could, should you inadvertently find yourself in a sexual embrace with the woman, kill you”) – it’s a sad world indeed.

As a user of the already creaking London Transport network, I have for some time been assailed on all sides by adverts telling me not to travel in London during the Olympics and the Paralympics; to stay at home; to choose an alternative route; to avoid certain lines and stations; to fuck off. Even worse, there are ads everywhere put up by Procter & Gamble, the American multinational petrochemical giant, whose $82.6 billion turnover for 2011 is helping to fund a big chunk of the Olympics. P&G, as they’d prefer us to call them, want volunteers in London to help clean the place up, using P&G cleaning brands like Flash and Febreze. That’s right, the company that makes Flash wants us to give up our own time to clean the city before the tourists arrive. If they’re so keen on cleaning, why don’t they pay out-of-work Londoners the minimum wage to clean the streets? Just a thought.

On the subject of cost, the Guardian came up with some figures back in April. Originally slated to cost about £2.4bn, Olympic costs had already jumped to £9.3bn by 2007. The total kept rising. The House of Commons’ public accounts committee revealed costs were heading for around £11bn. Then Sky Sports worked out that, including public transport upgrade costs, the final score was closer to £24bn. By continually revising the budget upwards, the Olympic Delivery Authority have been able to say that the whole thing will finally come in under budget. But it’s all based on made up numbers. Big numbers that are constantly being moved about.

The Olympic village was supposed to be financed by Australian developer Lend Lease, but private investors scarpered when the economy imploded in 2008, leaving it to the government ie. us. In August 2011 they sold the village at a taxpayer loss of £275m to the Qatari ruling family’s property firm. (Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt called this “a fantastic deal that will give taxpayers a great return and shows how we are securing a legacy from London’s Games”. He’s not still Culture Secretary, is he? Really?)

As for security, after initially estimating the need for 10,000 police officers, they’ve since had to tap the military for 13,500 reserves at a time when a) the country is still fighting a war, and b) military personnel are being cut along with every other corner of the public sector. We’ve got ships situated in the Thames, Eurofighter jets and surface-to-air missiles on top of tower blocks. The cost of security has increased from £282m to £553m. There are less than 13,500 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. (Londoners get the security bill, by the way. I’m not leaving a tip.)

I guess there’s never a good time to hold the Olympics, but London definitely drew the short straw holding them at such a time of economic woe. (April’s Guardian Comment Is Free article about “celebration capitalism”, from which I’ve drawn most of these figures, is here.)

Every huge international sporting event is an advert for something. And the London Olympics just seem worse because they’re on my doorstep and I’m having my face rubbed in them. Even if you’re excited about the sport – and I understand there will be some sport somewhere in the middle of all this branding and synergy – it’s hard to argue with the assessment that it’s a public-private partnership that needs some serious counselling.

For the record, these are the private companies who are funding the Games.

Worldwide partners:
Acer Inc.
Atos
Coca-Cola
Dow Chemical Company
General Electric
McDonald’s
Omega SA
Panasonic Corporation
Procter & Gamble
Samsung
Visa
Official partners:
Adidas
BMW
BP
British Airways (thanks for despoiling The Clash’s London Calling in your TV advert, as if Scouting For Girls didn’t do enough damage to it at the Olympics homecoming gig four years ago)
BT Group
EDF Energy
Lloyds TSB
Official supporters:
Adecco
ArcelorMittal
Cadbury
Cisco Systems
Deloitte
Thomas Cook Group
United Parcel Service
Official suppliers and providers:
Aggreko
Airwave
Atkins
Boston Consulting Group
CBS Outdoor
Crystal CG
Eurostar
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
G4S
GlaxoSmithKline
Gymnova
London Heathrow Airport
Heineken International
Holiday Inn
John Lewis
McCann Erickson
Mondo Worldwide
General Mills
Next
Nielsen Company
Populous
Rapiscan Systems
Rio Tinto Group
Technogym
Thames Water
Ticketmaster
Trebor
Westfield Group

Have I missed anybody?

Long to rain over us

Well, thank God that’s all over: the longest Bank Holiday of my life. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee turned out to be a good weekend for publicans, but much less so for republicans. At times during the dampened pageantry, feudal circumstance and flag-waving fever I genuinely felt quite alone. Out of step. Locked out of the love-in. It was an odd feeling. I had no interest in last year’s Royal Wedding, but it only lasted a day and was easily avoided. This loop of God Save The Queen and hip-hip-hoorays ran from Saturday to Tuesday, each day festooned with itinerary highlights and spectacles to ring round in the commemorative Radio Times. Street parties, flypasts, parades, concerts, bonfires, unpaid stewards, rosy-cheeked children, face-painted adults, those plastic Union Jack hats with elastic under the chin, Union Jack bunting unfurled, Union Jack cava uncorked … I saw a woman walking down our street with two flags attached to either side of her head, as if she was a car during the World Cup. I wished the neighbours good weather for their street jamboree – kitchen tables in the road, official roadblock, cars cleared – although I’m afraid they didn’t get it.

I don’t seek outsider status. I never felt that much like a rebel, or an outcast, growing up. Even when I had uncompromising hair in the mid-80s. Voting for Neil Kinnock in 1987 and 1992 felt nominally out of sync with the consensus – an act of rebellion in its own, NME-sponsored way. My views on certain issues have become rather entrenched and extreme in the past ten years, I admit, but we won’t go there. Politically, I was disenfranchised by New Labour and the Iraq war and it felt at the time like a pretty permanent situation. I had no idea just how repulsive a subsequent Tory government might be. But I’m hardly alone in this assessment. If the Spectator is going after Cameron and Osborne, it’s hardly storming the barricades to decry them as remote, self-serving, silver-spoon-fed buffoons.

But the Jubilee? I have been seriously overwhelmed by the apparently universal waves of approbation for the Queen. It’s as if the nation has been drugged and somehow I find myself mysteriously immune. A million people, “subjects”, subjecting themselves to the humiliation and inconvenience of attending a public event in London at a time of heightened security and threatened rain, with no guarantee that they’ll actually see the Queen? I did my level best to avoid the TV coverage, but saw the worst of it on Channel 4 News, which maintained a certain distance, but nonetheless covered all aspects of the festivities. It would be idiotic to deny that hundreds of thousands of people – and not all of them with the commonsense waiver of tourism – had a fantastic time at the boat thing and the pop concert and the Waitrose garden party and what looked a protest march up the Mall but was actually an act of self-kettlement and had no complaint. All those people walking up a pedestrianised road to watch the Royal Family on a balcony on large video screens, erected by the Greater London Assembly and thus paid for by the cash-strapped citizens of the most expensive city in Britain. I did as London Transport advised me to and avoided Central London for four days.

What got into people? I don’t mean to mock or to undermine, I merely ask the question. It’s clear that any shade of republicanism at a time of public holiday and extra drinking is unwelcome. I typed a few incendiary Tweets, but I did not take to the streets to wave a placard. I sincerely believe, as previously stated, that the Royal Family should be privatised for tourism, and that the 86-year-old Queen and the 91-year-old Duke should be allowed a peaceful retirement. Their eldest son, too. By all means call William a “King” but strip him of all constitutional powers (I heard someone on the news last night reminding us that the monarch has important political duties, to open Parliament and to choose Prime Ministers, but this is bollocks, she doesn’t, and shouldn’t anyway, have any democratic leverage) and let him generate tourist money for a PLC. If we replaced the Queen with an elected head of state, one who was re-elected every four or five years, I could live with that. This person might not be able to command a nation to wave OK!-sponsored flags and shout “Long live the Queen” from behind crash barriers to the news cameras, but it would stop this country looking like a museum exhibit. Even in the edited highlights, I grew weary of seeing grown men and women, but mostly men of course, dressed in garters and braid and wearing impractical headgear. Dressing up is fun, but these costumes smack of the Tudors, and The Tudors is a period drama on telly. How embarrassing that people still look like this on state occasions. I am a great fan of the state, but not on days like this.

Which brings me to my final moan. I am not a spoilsport. Ordinary people deserve a day off now and again. This is not about how much money it cost – although you can expect the pre-Jubilee estimates to spiral upwards as the true charges come in – but the simple equation at the heart of it: we, the people, saying “Thanks!” to a woman who had no choice but to take the job in 1952, for not jacking it in, or dying, in the meantime. At least other celebrities who have us gathered in large numbers, cheering and spending our money, give us a bit of themselves. We do not, and cannot, know this woman, or her family. She is, by definition and design, remote. Perhaps she should have our sympathy as well as our respect and admiration. Though her daily life is not enviable, she is considerably richer than even some of David Cameron’s old schoolmates. She likes horses and dogs, we know this much, but spends most of her life waving, travelling and dressing up, and not with her horses and dogs. It’s a waste of a life. And now her husband has caught an infection, which must have royally ruined her weekend, and all because he was made to stand in the rain and cold for four hours on a Saturday while some boats went past.

Meanwhile, the killing joke, unpaid “subjects” from Plymouth, Bath and Bristol who had slept under a bridge and had to change into their steward’s uniforms in the street, worse high-viz jackets so as to stop other “subjects” moving freely about public streets. Good on John Prescott for demanding an investigation in the company that hired them.

When I was an NME-reading idealist, I would have assumed that the musicians I admired would no more play for the Queen than to play Sun City. But on Sunday night, nearly all of them did, or so it seemed. Statues, in my utopian vision, were to be kicked over. Serfdom was a thing of the past. I was knocked back on Twitter for expressing my dismay that Madness would lend their talent and reputation to such an event as the Diamond Jubilee Concert, but I can’t help it. I’ve just always had them down as occupiers of the left field rather than the establishment. What I have discovered is that the battle lines have been moved. It’s now fine to support the monarchy (and by extension our attachment to the long-gone Empire and all its ceremonial trappings and honours), but still be a bit left wing. I mean, we expect those who’ve accepted a knighthood – Cliff, Elton, Macca, Tom – to bow and scrape before the monarch who tapped them on the shoulder with a sword (does she actually do that?), and even excuse the likes of Robbie and Gary, who must be angling for similar royal appointment in the future, but where do Madness fit in? Sir Suggs? Sir Woody? Sir Chas? What about Ed Sheeran? Is he, too, a royalist? (He’s 21, so perhaps he has yet to formulate any political opinions?) As for the comedians, of whom I definitely ask too much, I guess they’re in the noble tradition of Billy Connolly, Spike Milligan and Ben Elton in cosying up to the Royals, and that doing the Jubilee Concert is no worse than doing the Royal Variety Show. But I expect my satirists to stay outside the tent so that they can urinate in, and find the acceptance of orders of the British Empire antagonistic to this important position. Should I stop worrying about all this?

At one end of the scale there’s Melanie Philips in the Mail – a paper whose post-flotilla coverage even outstripped the Telegraph‘s 17 unbroken pages – claiming a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat at the flag-waving multitude on the banks of the Thames; at the other end there’s Owen Jones, a young man prepared to nail his colours to the mast and declare himself a republican on telly. I’m at the Jones end of the spectrum, but it’s lonely out here.