Just bought a card in a shop in the North Lanes in Brighton. The card shows a copy of a lithograph by a British artist named Cyril E. Power who lived from 1872 to 1951. He created some fantastic and very graphic images of the London Underground and buses.
When I was a kid I was into the space program. I stayed up late watching the moon landing and I dreamed that, one day, I would watch a launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. I bought all the model rocket kits and was a bit unique in this respect as most kids of my age were into football or kung fu. In the evenings I would stay up to listen to the “Bongs” of News at Ten to see if there was an item on the space program. Gradually, after 1969, the space program lost momentum and fewer and fewer bongs included astronauts. The public had become blasé about space.
No matter, I had discovered Science Fiction. I started on Marvel comics. The outsider characters were my favourites: Spiderman, The Hulk, the Silver Surfer. I graduated to the novels of Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock and Phillip K. Dick. I eagerly devoured the meagre diet of Science Fiction films which were screened on British TV: The Day The Earth Stood Still, Silent Running and Dark Star. I was regarded as a little eccentric by my peers. One guy told me that I could see a brick and think it looked like a space ship……and I could.
I listened to Hawkwind and Tangerine Dream and subscribed to two magazines: Omni and Analog. These ran Science Fiction stories alongside the latest thinking in science and technology. I discovered the wonder of fractals and read about memes, chaos theory, alternative universes and virtual reality.
In 1977 Star Wars and Closer Encounters Of The Third Kind were released and at last we had big budget films with fantastic special effects. Science Fiction was suddenly popular.
I studied computer science at school and got a job as a computer operator working on minicomputers known as PDP11s running an operating system called RSTS/E. Our first machine had 96K of RAM and the disk drives were the size of washing machines and held 40 megabytes each. Locked away in machine rooms with computers the size of wardrobes I was pigeon holed, not as a “techy”, but as a “computer person”. Nobody knew what we did and nobody set any rules. We dressed how we wanted, we worked how we wanted and we had a lot of fun. Moving to London I discovered an obscure science fiction book shop in Denmark Street called Forbidden Planet.
Home PCs became available and it was possible to create fractal images with the press of a button. Computer gaming got going and the simple text based games such as Advent and Dungeon, which I had played at work, were replaced by full colour shoot ‘em ups.
Something odd was happening: My interests were becoming main stream. The popular media seemed to be mining my childhood for ideas.
In 1982 Blade Runner was released and suddenly all the weird and disturbing themes of Phillip K. Dick were simplified, tarted up and splashed all over the big screen. A fantastic film yet the special effects and the charisma of the actors overshadowed the subtle and mundane realism with which Dick somehow manages to portray the strange and insidious.
In the 80s a wave of technology based innovation ran through finance and banking and governments deregulated. Money sloshed around the industry and fortunes were made. Computers became ubiquitous and as fast as Intel improved the hardware capacity Microsoft bloatware ate it up. People started paying allegiance to software vendors as if they were football teams; Windows vs OS2, Windows NT vs Netware and, these days, iPhone vs Android. Had we all lost the plot?
Publishers such as New Riders churned out endless poorly edited books claiming to teach IT but which were little more than rewritten documentation. Computer departments appeared in book shops. In the early 80s I struggled to find books on operating systems and networking but by 1990 the computer departments in bookshops were ballooning and Foyles devoted a whole floor.
The money attracted Price Waterhouse and KPMG who read a few books on technology, set themselves up as consultants and started selling the bleeding obvious back to customers. The smooth talking suits followed a simple creed: “Bullshit baffles brains” and if there was one thing they knew about it was bullshit.
Hollywood made feature length versions of the old Marvel comic books. Batman in 1989 then moving on to the anti-heroes of my youth, Spiderman in 2002 and the Silver Surfer in 2007.
In 2001 the Lord of The Rings was released. Hold on, this was getting personal. Was nothing from my childhood sacred? It seemed that the very stuff of my psyche was being commandeered by the corporations. The fabric of my personal philosophy was being ground up, digested and regurgitated back at me stripped of subtlety, emotion and meaning.
The spirit of the 60s and 70s was optimism and hope. Science would create a bright future. “Just machines to make big decisions, Programmed by fellers with compassion and vision” sang Donald Fagan belatedly in 1982. I recommend listening to this song and reading the lyrics. The young may get a feel for the optimism of a different age and the old man like to remember.
However, the seeds of doubt were always present and I had picked up on them in my youth. Now the dystopian ideas of Phillip K. Dick were taken up by new authors such as William Gibson and transformed into cyberpunk. In 1999 The Matrix was released portraying a sinister world in which humanity lived unknowingly in a virtual world while their physical bodies lay inert.
The marketing industry got into its stride and started targeting our sub-conscious. We mortgaged our futures to pay for the dreams used to sell deodorant. As Dick had predicted the corporations bent reality to maximise their profits.
This week Hollywood are, again, engaged in recycling cultural icons from the past. A new movie has been released based on the marvel comic book character Captain America. Perhaps, at this time of conflict and economic uncertainty, America is trying to return to its youth. Trying to revert to those days when most of us had faith in science, democracy and the future.
But what does the future hold? What stories or icons or memes of today will Hollywood recycle in thirty years time? Corporations cannot generate art they can only package and sell it. They can only reproduce existing ideas so where are the ideas? The blind optimism of the 60s and 70s is as outdated as the cynical greed of the 80s and 90s.
It’s time for a new direction but our compass is still spinning.
So why do I feel optimistic? Right now we are on the cusp of change. Right now is when the seeds of the future are being sown. I am maturing in years and rather than thinking about spaceships and time travel I find myself speculating about pensions and politicians. I suspect that the young already have an idea of where we’re going.
It would be nice if they shared it with the rest of us.
Spent most of the flight watching the American version of The Office which is pretty good. Once you get over the fact that it is not merely a copy of the British program. About 4am BST I started watching Family guy and drifted off to sleep.
Stepping off the aircraft in Hong Kong in the brief transition between aircraft and walkway a feint but palpable waft of warm humid air hit me. With the smell of mildew in my nostrils and bright sunshine outside it felt very good to be back in the tropics. I and headed straight for the vast plate glass window and looked out onto the big glaring sky. A flat blue sea stretched away from the runway and islands lay scattered around. I was not in Heathrow anymore.
After a quick visit to the washroom to change my shirt and brush my teeth I wandered around the shops. Cleaner, more spacious and more orderly than The UK but to be fair Chek Lap Kok is a new airport. Even so it compares favourably with Heathrow Terminal 5. They let a lot of light in and don’t insist that every square inch of space be used for advertising.
Tablet computers seem to be big news here and Apple do not appear to have the prominence that they do in Europe or the America. I noticed tablet computers by the French company Archos which is interesting as, though these are pretty good products, they do not have much prominence in the UK. The book shop was stuffed with books on the new China in both Chinese and English. With China industrialising now seems to be a good time to write books about the rise of China and the decline of The West. A bit fo a bandwagon if you ask me. One book, in Chinese, had a picture of President Hu surrounded by images of 5 women. What could this be? I Emailed a Chinese friend who translated the title as: “Hu Jintao’s Five Golden Flowers Female Best Friends”. From the title alone, my friend suggested that this could be “one of those romance novels about President Hu”. Ah yes, one of those. I see (he said, but he didn’t really). Perhaps democracy is not such a bad thing if it spares us creepy romance novels about politicians.
Upstairs I looked around the food halls which were similar to those you find all over the far east. Shops selling food and shared seating areas. I had no currency. Should I change money to get a soda? – There I slipped into American again. 10 hours out of the UK, the whiff of the tropics and this Englishman has started to come alive again.
There is an interesting piece of installation art on display at Fabrica at the moment. Cascade by Stephane Cauchy is a series of buckets suspended on pulleys over a tank of water. Pipes run down into the buckets and they fill at different rates. Now and then one bucket will become so fill of water that it will pivot on an axel and empty the water into the tank at which point the bucket becomes light and is pulled up by the other buckets which are filling up. OK, OK…. you probably have to see it.
Also good to see that a band was playing on the bird cage band stand and they’ve laid out deck chairs for people to sit an enjoy the music.
Looking back over the past decade and more the United Kingdom seems now to be emerging from a period of temporary insanity. Perhaps the rot started with Thatcher and the Greed Is Good mentality but it really took off when New Labour gave up on substance and focused entirely on appearances. Blair, Mandelson and Brown. The sultans of spin.
These days the whole bullshit Britain edifice seems to be collapsing. First it was the bankers who were exposed as incompetent and greedy charlatans. Then the MPs were found to be seedy little fraudsters fiddling their expenses. Now we find that the press have been routinely breaking the law and the police have been colluding with them! In a way it was obvious. Both the press and the police use private investigators and for the same reason: To employ illegal methods without getting their hands dirty. Now we just need proof that the monarchy orchestrated the killing of Princess Dianne and the whole of the British establishment can be considered corrupt. To put it another way we just need a Queen for a full house – baboom. Oh, please yourselves.
Ed Milliband is getting good press for his stance on News International and his calls for new media ownership rules but, once again, Mr. Milliband is behaving like a hypocritical chancer without conviction or a coherent strategy.
In December 2010 Ofcom was considering the attempt by News International to buy outright British Sky Broadcasting (BskyB) and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, was caught off guard saying that he had “declared war on Mr Murdoch”.
There were calls for Mr. Cable to resign and Mr. Milliband joined in saying “David Cameron has made the wrong judgment and he has kept Vince Cable on, not because of the national interest but because his Conservative-led Government needs the prop which Vince Cable provides.”
Yet now Mr. Milliband appears to have declared war on Mr. Murdoch himself. The BBC quotes an interview for the Observer in which Mr. Milliband says:
“I think that we’ve got to look at the situation whereby one person can own more than 20% of the newspaper market, the Sky platform and Sky News. I think it’s unhealthy because that amount of power in one person’s hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation. If you want to minimise the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous.”
Pity Mr. Miliband didn’t have the courage to condemn News International before Rupert Murdoch’s fall from grace but I suspect he didn’t have the balls. Talking of which we haven’t heard a squeak from Ed Balls for a while.
Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport, 4pm, Friday, 24th June 2011
At Heathrow airport, after passing through security, I am disgorged directly into an alcohol and perfume shop. Naturally. What else? As I continue through this shopping mall I am faced with a fork in the path. Turn left and hit expensive perfume and then on to the relatively up market Sushi bar or turn right and be confronted with chocolates and WH Smiths. Even at the airport England is a class ridden society. The areas closer to the departure gates are the Mayfair of Heathrow for the upper class. Champagne and salmon. Shirts by Pink and bags by Mulberry; there is even a fucking Harrods! Farthest from the gates are the shops selling last minute “I’ve been to London” memorabilia. But British airports are a great leveller for whatever one’s class, religion or ethnicity we are all temporary captives of the airport marketing machine.
The idiotic Bridge Bar is one of a very few places to get a real meal but is always packed and has no waiter service yet one must have a table to order a meal. If you are lucky enough find a vacant table you must go to the bar to order and inevitably join a queue. Inevitably, again, by the time you have ordered you have lost your table.
The ludicrously named Cafe Italia uses a little seating area with an almost Soviet canteen feel to it. I am tempted to say that at least this place has waiters but to call the voiceless delivery men waiters is going too far. I sit by the trolley laden with dirty dishes and eat an expensive but tasty Lasagne.
The air conditioning is not able to cope with the number of people and the environment has become muggy, humid and filled with the wreak of discarded food. The shop assistants resort to fans but the public are left to fester.
“This a security announcement. All persons are reminded that…” – Other than public announcements when else do we refer to people as persons? I think that the British lack self confidence and this manifests itself in pomposity in public announcements. Along with moronic violence at football matches of course.
The romance has been surgically extracted from the modern British airport. Gone is the aviation themed decor, there is no view of the runway, there are not even pictures of aeroplanes. In fact once inside there is no indication that we are in an airport at all. We may as well be sitting in the shopping mall of any mid size British town. Gone are the days of the large boards where people could sit in peace and wait for their gate to appear. Now we are forced to trudge around to find a little display board. This enforced perambulation is probably a ploy by British Airport Authority (BAA) to push us past the shops and encourage us to buy yet more crap. In the old days there would have been a large clock visible by everyone but no longer. I suspect that the absence of a clock is to accentuate our feeling of detachment. We are suspended in time and space. Our here and now is controlled by BAA and our raison d’etre is shopping.
No natural light enters and after an hour or so we lose track of the time. Is it early morning, mid afternoon or the middle of the night? We have no way of knowing. We have jet lag before we have left the ground. Like termites we scurry around in our mound unaware that just few feet away lies another world. The world of the support staff where people go about their normal lives. Drivers, technicians, cooks. Thousands of people working away to support this artificial environment of transitory morons.
I sit gormlessly staring at a departure board. Adverts are beamed into my subconscious. Smartphone – Italy – Must use Smartphone in Italy.
Eventually the gate opens and we are told that first class and business class may board through gate B . Frequent Flyer Gold and Platinum may board through gate A. Disabled and various other concessionaires may board at any time. And me? What about me? I must board last Good, for as ghastly as the airport is at least I have some leg room.
Have been wanderring around Queensland over the past few weeks and particualry around the sugar cane growing region near Eungella National Park. The Australians use some fantastic farm machinery and seem to have a lot of old kit lying around. I managed to get some pretty good photographs.