Monday, 22 July 2013

Maurice Carlin - Performance Poetry

by Jon Cronshaw

Over the next few months artist Maurice Carlin will be transforming the drab interior of abandoned warehouse into a vibrant space filled with over 400 colourful prints.

But it is not an exhibition in the traditional sense, the processes of making the prints and the ways that the audience are encouraged to interact with the space sets Performance Publishing apart from your average exhibition.

Relief prints will be taken of the floor and brickwork, and displayed in a way that maps and scans the existing building.

Using a series of webcams, audiences can observe and respond to how Maurice uses the warehouse to create his unique prints, seeing his process as an act of performance art which is just as valid as the finished prints.

The artist wants to raise questions about how we experience art in a digital age, and where the essence of an artwork's meaning is actually located.

“Most people now engage with culture on multiple platforms. So we rarely see just a finished artwork anymore: we might see an image on a screen, and then see it in a book differently cropped in a different resolution; we might see the work in person in an art gallery or on a poster in someone's bedroom,” says Maurice.

“All of this adds up to a contemporary engagement with art and culture - and all are valid.”

Maurice's process is derived from an ancient Chinese method of relief printing which he learnt while on a residency in Beijing earlier this year. It is a technique that was originally used to copy the inscriptions from stone monuments, but is now being used to respond to a derelict building on a Salford industrial estate.

“It represents the very first time that information was able to be copied and distributed, so it represents the birth of publishing,” explains Maurice.

“I'm interested in this expanded idea of publishing - away from the book, and engaging with public space and seeing publishing as kind of interface with the public.”

For Maurice, the process of making artwork can become a type of performance when done in a public space rather than in privacy of his studio. And in the past, he has taken the idea of street art to a new level.

“I would turn up on Market Street, which is a really busy shopping street in Manchester, and take prints from the surface of the street. It's a kind of performance and a studio in open space.”

To spark discussion about his latest project, Maurice has called upon five writers from around the world to write articles based on their experiences of of his project – none of them will visit the warehouse, they will write about what they see through the webcams.

“It's based on a series that American publication Art News did in the 1950s called 'Paint a Picture',” explains Maurice.

“They sent journalists out to track the development of a single painting. They visited the studios of people like Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning three or four times and then wrote articles about the process.”

The artist sees his current project as being located far beyond the walls of the warehouse, and believes that the engagement with an online audience is a key element of his work.

“I really want to hear from the public about this work,” says Maurice, “part of the reason that it's been developed in public, is that I really want to have this dialogue with people. It doesn't have to be this one-way communication thing.”

With our assumptions about what constitutes a finished work of art called into question, this is a show that will constantly evolve and will be worth revisiting again and again.

Maurice Carlin, Performance Publishing is on display at Regents Trading Estate, Salford.
The exhibition is open to the public Wednesday to Saturday until July 22, and vis appointment until September 22.

You can view Performance Publishing online at:

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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Hungry Heart No.7: Vegetarian Hot Pot

by Michael Sterrett

Two years ago I was in something of an existential funk. Working ungodly hours at a job I hated, drinking too much, treating comedy crowds to bleak, unfunny material and consorting with a procession of girls who were for various reasons bad news.

It was a Friday night and my big plan was to get very drunk, consume as many empty carbs as possible and ‘think about stuff’. I was queuing in a small supermarket surrounded by excitable, clean looking students. They smelled nice, had haircuts, and if they were crippled with noxious self-loathing they hid it well. The guy behind the counter was one of their tribe. Tall, good looking and chatting to his patrons with affable ease. When it was my turn to be served I handed over the contents of my basket; an eight pack of beer, a bottle of Irish whiskey and a family sized bag of budget crisps.

The kid surveyed my items and asked, “Wow man, you going to a party?”

Without missing a beat I looked him dead in the eye, feeling a Cheshire cat like grin spreading across my face. “Yes”, I said.

And I was telling the truth if you define ‘party’ as a very sad man sat alone in a room drinking, eating crisps and watching fuzzy YouTube clips of Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. Truth in this instance, based on the language game we were playing, was subjective.

When engaging with the concept of subjective truth I tend to defer to Jacques Lacan’s assertion, “I always tell the truth. Not the whole truth, because there’s no way, to say it all. Saying it all is literally impossible: words fail. Yet it’s through this impossibility that the truth holds onto the real”. For me what Lacan is saying here is that there are not enough words in language to accurately articulate the overwhelming totality of existence. The language game we engage in every time we communicate falls short of the experience we try to relate. Yet ‘truth holds on to the real’ in that a dead body is a dead body, the sea is the sea. In these instances there is no room for subjectivity. It would be ludicrous and dishonest to describe someone as ‘a bit dead’.

Liz Kelly’s contention that a continuum of violence against women creates a culture in which male aggression is rendered normative and functional can be co-opted here somewhat. Perhaps we all fall somewhere on the continuum of truth, beginning with the tiniest white lie and ending with fraud, deception and disinformation on a global scale. Thus lies in their myriad forms become legitimised and normalised.

When addressing deception by governments and corporations it is easy to wander into the realms of conspiracy theory crankdom, yet the sense of impotence and disenfranchisement people feel in the face of this widespread duplicity can be attributed in large to the sense of injustice felt when lies and half-truths go unpunished. This failure to address deception on a macro level is what drives the public to be so fascinated by individuals who are exposed as liars. By vilifying fraudsters and charlatans on this micro level, we feel at least a small sense of vindication.

I am personally fascinated by people who get caught lying in public. At best you get to see a grovelling sociopath issue a crocodile tear-stained apology, and at worst a glassy eyed psychopath hauled from court for the murder of a family member they had previously begged to ‘just come home’ on live television.

I get a giddy rush of excitement when I read stories about fantasists and imposters, the more lurid and absurd their behaviour the better. A recent favourite is Roger Day, a man who marched on Memorial Sunday proudly wearing medals attained from years of military service. Upon closer inspection it turned out that he had no record of being in the armed forces and the medals festooned upon his chest were from wars he couldn’t have possibly fought in. His defence that he was merely trying to impress his wife is simultaneously pathetic and hilarious. As seemingly innocuous as this instance is we must never underestimate the important function that lies perform.

I lie to myself every day when I wake up, praying that I am not a talentless degenerate that should really just do everyone a favour and walk into the sea. We use lies to lubricate social interaction and enterprise - from telling your friend that her dreadful new boyfriend is nice, to fluffing up your CV with phantom charity work and hobbies. Every slap of fake tan, capped tooth and hair plug is testament to a reflexive, dualistic, socially sanctioned deception.

Art too can be viewed as a series of lies used to speak to a greater truth that straight forward facts cannot. Picasso’s Guernica is artifice, yet it evokes the nightmarish horror of the Spanish civil war in a way that dry historical reportage fails to. Much as Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian sets fire to the romanticised legend of The West whilst exposing the brutal, bloody realities that birthed the United States.

When I began performing stand-up comedy, I set myself a series of ground rules, the most important being that I would always tell the truth. My thinking was that if I spoke honestly of my own experience it would not only help me to develop an authentic voice, but allow me to traverse the comedy world without fear of treading old ground. On a lesser note it would make it pretty difficult for anyone else to lift my material or accuse me of lifting someone else’s.

Although I feel my commitment to complete honesty has helped in the long run, I have had to deal with people (comics, promoters and audience members alike) advising me to figuratively sand the rough edges off my material to make it more palatable for mainstream crowds. My response is to ask what would be the point of me performing if I am censoring myself and ultimately neutering my creative process? The truth is that a deeply unfunny person can be trained to get onstage and hit the right buttons to make people laugh but feels hollow and inane compared to a comic giving a sincere insight into their experience. In both cases the end result of laughter is the same but it’s like the difference between a Big Mac and a bowl of your grandmother’s soup. They are both food but one simply fills a hole in your stomach whilst the other is as good for your soul as it is for your tummy.

As painful as the truth often is, I am always drawn to the authentic, from John Fante’s first person confessional prose to the bare bones production style of David Briggs or Keith Floyd’s boozed soaked demystification of high dining. On my comedy podcast Don’t Ask myself and fellow comic Thom Milson endeavour to continue this celebration of the genuine, from discussing sexual failure to our inexplicable inability to enjoy women’s football. The show is available every Monday at

Ironically this recipe is a deception of sorts, a vegetarian hot pot that doesn’t contain any meat but still makes you feel safe and bathed in the glow of rich, earthy home cooking. The struggle with this dish is trying to replicate the deep savoury notes you get with mince and meat gravy so be generous with your seasoning and stock. And remember to deglaze the pan when you have fried off your onions, carrots and celery with a good glug of red wine.


250g brown lentils
1 medium sized onion
3 carrots
3 celery stalks
3 bulbs garlic
Vegetable stock
Vegetarian gravy granules
360g new potatoes
200g mature cheddar cheese

Soak the lentils overnight then give them a good drain and rinse.
Roughly chop your onion, celery and carrot and add to a deep pan with a healthy glug of olive oil. Place on a medium low heat and cover with a lid.
Let the veg sweat for 10-15 mins, stirring occasionally and adding a bit more oil if needed.
When the veg is nicely softened and the onions translucent turn the heat up and deglaze the pan with a glass of red wine. Add the lentils, garlic cloves and stock. Cover the pan, letting the stock boil for five minutes before turning the heat back down to medium. The lentils soak up a lot of stock so keep an eye on the pan and add more as needed. The garlic cloves will soften and break up during cooking, adding a delicate, sweet flavour.
Take your potatoes and steam for 10-15 minutes. They are pretty small so shouldn’t take too long.
Once cooked their skin comes away easily and is less annoying than trying to peel the little blighters beforehand.
After half an hour or so the lentils should be cooked but with a little bite. Add two heaped teaspoons of vegetarian gravy granules and a little more stock if the mixture becomes too thick. Remember, the lentils will lose moisture whilst in the oven so adding more stock at the end for a looser consistency isn’t a bad idea.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and place in a large oven dish.
Slice the potatoes about the same width as a pound coin and layer them over the lentils. Then cover with your grated cheese.
Bang in the oven at 220 degrees for ten minutes or so, depending on how well done you like your cheese to be. I like mine a little burnt so always leave it in for a few more minutes.
Serve with a nice Chilean Malbec whilst watching the 1971 action thriller Vanishing Point.

Michael Sterrett is a comic, podcaster and host of Spookerama on Basic FM.
Follow Michael on twitter @mjsterrett

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The console wars: Xbox One versus PlayStation 4 - first impressions

by Jon Cronshaw

With the unveiling of the next generation of consoles at this month's E3 conference, Jon Cronshaw compares the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 to see which system offers the best deal for consumers.

It's been a long time since console giants went head to head with a new generation of machines in the same year, but 2013 looks to be one of the most exciting Christmases for gamers in recent memory.

But away from the glitz and glamour of the flashy trailers and inspirational speeches of E3's biggest players, many consumers are a little confused. Yes, the games will run smoother, and the blood splats will look a little more realistic – but is it a choice between Coke and Pepsi, or is there a larger value shift at play?

PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are positioned in the marketplace as offering gamers two clearly defined experiences.

Xbox One is being packaged as more than just a games console, being positioned as kind of multimedia hub that incorporates on-demand films, TV and music.

This aspect has been pushed quite hard in recent updates on the Xbox 360, but with Xbox One it will be the corpus of the system’s appeal – cue commercials of good-looking families gushing over their new machines. But with its focus on the complete media experience, it's easy to forget that the Xbox One will also be used to play video games.

With an improvement to Kinect technology, the Xbox One's video gaming experience will be more physical than ever, with the Kinect's on-board camera responding to your physical gestures and vocal commands. But to many hard-core gamers, the move beyond a hand-held peripheral is a step too far – again, cue the good-looking families with huge smiles dancing and cavorting in front of their TVs.

The PlayStation 4 by contrast wears its gaming credentials on its sleeve. In the current climate of consumers wanting electronic devices to be fantastic at everything, this is quite the gamble by Sony.

There is no doubt that the PlayStation 4 will be able to play high definition movies, and give you access to on-demand media as Xbox One, but its position in the marketplace has already been firmly established: this is a games console – everything else is surplus to requirements.

Many of the old arguments over which system has better graphics or faster loading times are almost irrelevant with today’s console market. Realistically, 90 per cent of games will be produced to the upper limitations of the weaker system’s hardware, meaning that the gaming experience will be almost identical on both systems.

Where both systems can shine is in their in-house or exclusively licensed games. With the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the difference in hardware capabilities was quickly apparent, but each system worked to its strengths.

The PlayStation 3's hardware is far superior to the Xbox 360. This meant that the PlayStation 3 could produce visually-stunning titles like Heavy Rain, and interact online in a ways that the Xbox 360 could not with games like Little Big Planet and Demon Souls which drew on the interactions of thousands of individual players from around the world in an incredibly significant way.

But the Xbox 360's strength came from its willingness to embrace, and moreover celebrate independent game developers. Exceptional and innovative games like Braid, Super Meat Boy and FEZ would never have found the critical and commercial success they did were it not for Microsoft making it easy for indie developers to distribute their creations.

And for me, this is what made me keep hold of my Xbox 360 and sell my PlayStation 3. I wanted a system that was daring, not just one that had a better paintjob or more interactivity. When I play games, I want to get lost in another world – not, as ten minutes on any online shooter or fighting game will attest, a world full of illiterate homophobes, hormonal teenagers, or scary obsessives who have clearly spent far too many hours playing a single games.

But things aren’t all rosy for indie developers. Last month Microsoft announced that they are retiring their vaunted XNA software. This may mean very little to the average gamer, but for developers it has been a cheap and relatively simple for unknown game developers to create and distribute their creations – a move that could strike a blow to innovation and entrepreneurship.

With the next generation of consoles, things are still uncertain. Microsoft have already demonstrated its contempt towards the free market by proposing a digital rights charge for second-hand games – a move that will probably damage the business of used games retailers across the world in the process. And it’s not just the large publically listed multinationals who will suffer, independent retailers will also see a huge dip in their already diminishing profits.

Further restrictions will make it impossible to lend to a friend a game without going through an incredibly convoluted process which requires you to register the ‘transaction’ with Microsoft and have been friends with them for more than 30 days. With the Kinect's camera constantly on, and the requirement that the machine has to be kept on stand-by and connected to the internet at least once a day – it all seems a bit unnecessary, and somewhat sinister.

I wonder, will the NSA be watching on the other side? Perhaps the agent will be sitting back with some popcorn as you and a loved one are getting frisky on the sofa.

What could swing the decision for many gamers are the exclusive titles available on each system. The PlayStation 4 will probably boast new sequels in the Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo franchises, as well as new titles in the Disgaea and Killzone series. Xbox One will probably see new titles in the Halo and Dead Rising series, and another Forza Motorsports game to add to its exclusive blockbusters.

In many respects, it is up to some of the larger games developers to engage the consumer. But in recent years, it seems as though some of the industries biggest players have revelled in sticking their middle finger up to the consumer.

There is the tedious conveyer belt of rehashed games by the likes of EA and Activision who release sequel after sequel to popular franchises like Fifa and Call of Duty rather than take a risk with something original or different.

Then of course, there has been the downright exploitative. There was huge backlash by the gaming community when Capcom charged owners of Street Fighter X Tekken to unlock content that was already included on the game’s disc, and the controversy of Bethesda Softworks charging £3 for Horse Armour on Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Already confirmed for both systems are some rather uninspiring and ultimately unsurprising launch titles: Assassin's Creed IV, Call of Duty Ghosts, Fifa 14, Madden 14 and Lego Marvel Super Heroes are just the tip of a rather underwhelming iceberg.

Perhaps, more than anything else, consumers buy things based on a perception of value for money. With the release prices confirmed as £429 for the Xbox One and £349 for the PlayStation 4, it doesn't take a mathematical genius to work out which system is the most attractive prospect in financial terms.

What became evident by the end of E3 is that Sony has definitely won the PR war, with many gamers, websites and magazine reacting badly to the Xbox One. There is a tangible sense that Microsoft have shot themselves in the foot.

At the moment, it looks as though the PlayStation 4 will probably win the next console war. The system seems focused on the core activity of gaming, it's not as restrictive to consumers, and it’s priced at more reasonable level.

But of course, there are other marketing strategies beyond short-term PR that will come into force. Not only will both systems have worldwide, multi-platform advertising and viral marketing campaigns, there will be bundles offered by retailers, and consoles bolted on to mobile phone contracts. As most purchases are made by a gut decision, perhaps the victor is not so clear after all.

I suppose there's always the Wii-U.

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Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Graduate

by Amir Shariff

Smile, because it’s not going to kill you
Maybe it will. I feel sick that I have to.
It’s like I’m giving you something sacred
And when I have to, Oh! I fucking do hate it.

Those anaemic promises that our time is soon
They said: ‘Out with the old, and in with the new.
Our journeys are long some short for the lucky few,
For the rest we are to head back into our childhood rooms.

We lived away only to return like boomerangs,
To our untidy caves and our parents’ harangues.
I haven’t begun, yet I’m already knackered
Now I see that my intentions never did matter.

Sometimes, we wake up and wonder if we’re alive.
I guess we are to be satisfied at being dissatisfied.
We’ve desired no wrong, yet feel we are punished.
Equally malnourished it’s like all our dreams are discouraged.

University… It’s like we’ve never been.
Working in the same places we were at seventeen.

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A Shut in Place

by Sam Kay

A Shut In Place from Sam Kay on Vimeo.

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Sunday, 19 May 2013

In Cloud Country - in conversation with Diane Howse and Iwona Blazwick

by Jon Cronshaw

In recent years the reputation of art inspired by nature has taken something of a battering – especially if it has a tendency towards abstraction.

There is so much kitschy and inoffensive art littering the walls of hotel rooms and coffee shops that the idea of an exhibition focusing on the abstraction in nature is one that is easy to dismiss.

But the latest exhibition at Harewood House sees curators Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, and Countess of Harewood, Diane Howse, take a daring approach to the genre.

Diane Howse (left) and Iwona Blazwick (right). Picture by Bethany Clark.
In Cloud Country is an exhibition that doesn’t just capture your imagination – it teases and prods it, pulls at it and contorts it beyond recognition.

At each turn you are met with seeming unrelated works coupled together. One can see an early 19th century sketch by J.W.M. Turner hanging next a piece by contemporary artist Chris Ofili, who is best known for his paintings featuring elephant dung.

Iwona explained: “We felt we had a licence to do this partly because we had both seen an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in the 1990s curated by Michael Craig-Martin called Drawing the Line where he just ran amuck with a whole collection of drawings. You could see Leonardo Da Vinci next to Sol LeWitt – it was really liberating.

“So we thought why not travel across space and time and seeing if the concerns are the same. And sure enough, we found that there were these parallels. So, for example, we could see that you could put together an oil pastel by Degas and find it next a contemporary work by Julian Opie – they’re both intimations of something sublime, but the Julian Opie has a motorway in it.

“It was looking at the similarities, but also the differences, and rather than telling this story as a chronology, it was actually to say there are themes within this topic. The word ‘abstraction’ is as big as the word ‘nature’, and we wanted to find all different manifestations of it - hence the grouping of different themes."

The very definition of the words ‘nature’ and ‘abstraction’ are called into question throughout the exhibition. Diane said: “There’s a notion that if you work with nature that it’s about trees and landscapes seen from a certain perspective, but that’s not necessarily always so. Nature is everything that is in our physical world – there’s gravity, radiation, the movement of the planets, and so on. A lot of artists are working with that notion in the broadest sense, even though they are not in any way, shape or form landscape artists – it’s how we experience that landscape, or our relationship to the physical world.

“A lot of artists now work in the studio, completely removed from natural stimulus, so there’s a notion there of memory, embedded memory, and perhaps of personal memory or even some sort ancient memory that we all have.”

Iwona added: “Throughout the whole thing you get this miraculous process, this alchemical process where an artist can reduce an entire environment - a huge 360 degree panorama – onto a piece of paper. How do they do that? That’s what we’re hoping to show. These are the many ways that artists have done this over the last three centuries and continue to do so.”

J.M.W.Turner, Rome from Monte Mario, (c.1819).
The term ‘abstraction’ is used metaphorically throughout the exhibition. Iwona said: ”We’re looking at abstraction where art becomes a symbol, where nature becomes a symbol. So we’ve got a grouping of work around nature and society where we start with William Morris. And even though the drawing that we have, which is a design for a wallpaper, is really a very precise picture of petals, flowers and tendrils, the concept is an abstract one because he reflected a society where people saw the growth of Satanic mills and the way that human beings were losing touch with their environment and destroying it at the same time. Belching smoke, mines, factories, so Morris’s project was to bring nature back to urban society, and bring nature back into the home.”

Alongside the works of Morris and Turner are pieces by contemporary artists such as Imran Qureshi. Iwona said: “He has an extraordinary skill for depicting chrysanthemums and turning those into quite a shocking image of political trauma. That image is really about partition, and it’s a bloody footprint. But when you look more closely, you see that it made of these beautifully, exquisitely rendered chrysanthemum petals embossed with gold.”

Imran Qureshi, This Leprous Brightness, 
The exhibition ventures into the terrain of conceptual art, as Iwona explained: “There’s a thread of post-war conceptual art where language becomes another form of representation. The idea of a proposal such as Paolo Bruschi’s idea that he could colour the clouds over New York, or indeed Lawrence Weiner – one of the greatest conceptual artists in the world – evoking a structure made out of bamboo purely with words on a wall.”

But it is the historical scope of the exhibition that make it such an engaging and surprising experience for the audience. Iwona said: “You have these great, acknowledged art historical giants like Turner, but seen at their most intimate – the sketch. The deftness with which they capture something with pen and ink, or with watercolour, juxtaposed with some of the most important developments in modern and contemporary art.

“It has a strong locus of the British art scene and within British collections. We’re sad not to have Van Gogh or Mondrian, or the Barbizon school, but we do have a Degas and a Matisse. We’ve tried to map the key moments right up to Richard Long, perhaps one of the greatest post-war British artists, who uses his body as a form of mapping. He describes his journey across the moorland to create a sort of conceptual sculpture.”

In Cloud Country breaks the trend for exhibitions to focus on oil paintings or sculptures, and instead relishes in the spontaneity and potential associated with works produced on paper. Iwona said: “What's thrilling about working with works on paper is that they are rarely seen except for in small galleries and storerooms. There’s this ‘what if?’ potential about them – they’re quite utopian. They’re about grabbing something fleeting – they’re about the possibility of something more. And that somehow gives them a tremendous energy which oil paintings lack.

“I hope people come away feeling excited and maybe even grab a pen themselves, and find themselves drawing and reacting to the natural environment around them.”

In Cloud Country is on display at Harewood House until June 30.

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Friday, 10 May 2013

The Job Interview

by Stephen Vigors

Harry was already running late when he reached the fork in the road. Left to the business park and right to the industrial estate.

He was confused. His interview was definitely at a 'business', but the company was certainly based in an 'industry'. He tried to remember what the industry the company was based in was. Was it based in the business industry? Was the business industry technically an industry or would one just describe the business industry as business. He knew that you got 'businessmen', but he had never heard of an 'industryman'. That seemed strange to Harry.

On this basis he decided, as there is no such thing as an 'industryman' (although it was conceivable that there was such a thing but it was just that he had never heard to term), to take a left and walk to the business park.

This route took him through the large park that rested to the south of the city centre.

He looked to his left and saw the high-rise flats and offices half-bathed in the late afternoon sun. The buildings rose up a hill and behind the more modern, concrete buildings were church towers, town halls and university libraries poking through like old memories.

Two women were jogging towards him. They were side-by-side. One of them, who was quite a bit taller than the other, was dressed completely in black. Her leggings, trainers and tracksuit top were all black, as was her hair.

The smaller woman had black leggings, but her trainers were white and her tracksuit top was turquoise.

They were both of an age where age had lost its importance, for a while at least, before activities like jogging became things of the past.

Harry always made nervous eye-contact with everyone that went past him. They were chatting as they went by. Harry looked at the taller girl, briefly catching her brown eyes before they bounced behind him and into the past.

He was alone now. The playground at the entrance to the park had been busy. There had been a dog-walker before, but he must have turned around or followed a different path through the park. There was also an athletics track at the entrance to the park and there was activity here at any time from six in the morning until ten at night. Now, as the sun turned orange and the park grew dark, Harry had only tall trees for company, with mesh fencing to his left and some hedges that separated the concrete path from the bowling green to his right. Ahead, however, was noise.

A boy on a bike rolled from behind the trees on the right and then circled back on himself. His hood was up despite the fact that it wasn’t raining.

Someone was talking as well. As Harry grew closer he could make out the odd word – four letter words all of them – and Harry realised that the boy on the bike was a chav and the words were all his. The bike continued to circle, so much in fact that Harry thought the chav must be getting dizzy.

His right hand left the shroud of his hood and he placed his phone in the right-hand pocket of his tracksuit bottoms.

At this point Harry was well within the required distance to make eye contact with the hooded boy, which he did tentatively while his head was slightly bowed. The boy completed a final 360 degrees spin, finishing with the bike pointing towards Harry, before dropping his feet from the peddles to the soil and wood-chipping path. A puff of brown dust rose into the air from where his grey trainers dug into the dirt.

“You got the time mate?” he asked in a whiney tone that indicated that the boy had a cold, but Harry doubted this as many youths like the boy spoke like this. It was like they had placed two fingers on their nose to close the nostrils so that they could do an impression of a public announcement in a railway station or supermarket.

Harry continued to look at the boy from beneath furrowed brows - nervous and tentative with his reply.

The boy threw one of his legs over the bike and began to place the bike on its side. “Well? You got the time or what?”

Harry slipped his hand into the pocket of his long, brown, corduroy coat to find his phone. It was an old phone. He’d had it for years and, being unemployed, had never been able to get himself one of the flash phones that many of his friends and acquaintances had.

It was difficult to read the image on the phone as dusk sunlight reflected off the screen.

“Qua, qua, quarter to five.”

“What phone is that?!” exclaimed the youngster, looking at the phone as if Harry had pulled a dead rat out of his pocket.

“It’s a ner, ner, ner..”

The boy couldn’t control himself and began laughing horribly. When he finally stopped he pushed an unusually large amount of wet saliva out of his mouth into a spot that looked like it had already been spat on before.

Harry looked at the pool of spit. Some of it was green.

“Give it ‘ere fella,” barked the boy. Harry instantly obeyed, expecting him to examine it, but instead he instantly placed the phone in the pocket of his tracksuit bottoms.

“’’ow much money ‘ave yer got?”

Harry scrambled around in his jacket pockets. There were a few coins in there. He wasn’t bothered if the boy wanted them.

He opened his palms to display what he had scraped out. The boy began laughing again. It was a rasping, phlegm-filled laugh that betrayed his years. Harry had 8 pence to his name, laid out in front of the boy.

There was no laughter this time and the boy insisted that Harry pulled out his pockets to prove that he wasn't being deceitful.

“Fuckin’ ‘ell, you poor bastard. You can keep that. Nokias are shit anyway.”

And with that the boy handed back the phone, relaxed and pulled up his bike.

“You need to sort yer sen our mate. No-one has Nokias nowadays. And what are yer wearin’?”

Harry was wearing his best clothes on account of his job interview – brown, leather shoes (the soles were slightly split at the back), brown trousers that came as part of a suit he inherited from his Granddad, his corduroy jacket, a white shirt with grey pin-stripes, and a thin black tie. Wiry spectacles protruded from his thin blond hair that fell below his ears, but sometimes reached for the stars. He always insisted on being unshaven even though it made him look like an insecure teenager.

Harry explained that he was on his way to a job interview.

"Fuck that man. Jobs are for losers," the boy said philosophically before proclaiming that there are better ways to get money than by working, which confused Harry. "Where's the job?"

"B, Business solutions, I think."

"No way!" said the boy before falling back into a fit of broken laughter. Harry couldn't work out what was funny about that. "I used to work there. Man, it's fuckin' shit there. What time is your interview?"

"5 o'clock."

"5?! You better get a move on mate. You're gonna be late if you don't get a shift on. You're about a mile away from it. You're going the wrong wall 'n all."

"Where should I be going?"

The boy began giving Harry some long-winded directions before becoming lethargic and morose. Eventually the boy took Harry there, slowly cycling alongside him as they walked like friends.

When he arrived, some fifteen minutes later, they shook hands.

"Take it easy mate. Don't go walkin' through that park on yer own. There are some right knob 'eads in there." And with that the boy skidded away, rasping, laughing, coughing, fickle.

Harry turned round. The building was made of bricks. The roof looked like it was made of plastic, although it probably wasn't. The doors were definitely made of glass and he went and pushed one open.

It was dead inside the building. There was just the humming of electronics.

He wandered round for what seemed like an hour until he found someone - a cleaner. She wore black jeans and a black polo shirt. She had gold ear-rings and short, black hair. Both her head and body were very round.

"Hello," she said.

"I'm here for a job interview," said Harry.

"You're a bit late aren't you? Everyone has gone. Are you sure you've got the right place?"

Harry remembered that his Mum had printed off a copy of the email that confirmed that he had got an interview. He pulled it out of his back pocket and unfolded it.

He was in the right place. Good. The job interview was at 15:00hs. It was 17:00hs. He always had trouble with the 24 hour clock.

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Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Hungry Heart No.6: Baguette aka French Stick

by Michael Sterrett

The documentary Room 237 about Stanley Kubrick's classic horror film The Shining has been released this month. As an obsessive of the movie since my teenage years, I cannot articulate the delight I felt upon watching this mesmerising piece of cinema from beginning to end. Using footage from The Shining, Kubrick's other works and further relative sources, Room 237 is best described as a visual essay on the hidden meanings and subtext of the 1980 chiller. Ranging from theories that the film is an allegory for the Native American genocide to Kubrick's involvement in the faked Apollo 11 moon landing, it's impossible not to be drawn into the wild circles of logic the film espouses so passionately. Room 237 is now available on I-Tunes and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Aside from sating my inner horror nerd, one question posed by Room 237 resonated greatly with me. Namely, when we create art are we fully aware of the subtext or hidden narrative that reveals itself after the fact? This is a timely conundrum, as I have been working on a script for the past few months and after giving it a few weeks to breath upon completion found that instead of reading back what I had assumed was a bizarre dark comedy was in fact quite a sad little play on friendship, failed love and the American sitcoms I grew up watching. My attempt to write a Miramax genre piece ended up more akin to those upsetting melancholic dramas broadcast on Channel 4 in the 1980s. Whether it will ever see the light of day is one thing but I was taken aback by how even a hack writer like me could subconsciously imbue a story with more meaning than I had intended to.

One example of subtext revealing itself is the much loved film Three Men and a Baby. Directed by Leonard Nimoy and starring power trio Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson and Tom Selleck, the film tells the story of three cool Manhattanites who become saddled with a baby. And over the course of the movie learn not only to care for the infant but actually love it. Pretty much a staple of my youth, Three Men and a Baby appears to be a big hearted tale depicting an unconventional surrogate family acting against gender stereotypes and embracing not only their inner paternalism, but their maternalism also. And, to be frank, any film with Fleetwood Mac's Everywhere on the soundtrack is bound to get this pundit weeping like an idiot.

But let's take a step back for a second and see what the film might conversely be communicating. It's no coincidence that the three characters are all artistic, successful auteurs in their own right. This was after all the 1980s, an era of aggressive entrepreneurship that co-opted art created by the 1970s counterculture for its own financial ends. Yes, these three men are smart and creative, but they also know how to make a buck. This isn't the hippie commune idyll of non commercial artistic expression and, in turn, child rearing.

Furthermore, it's safe to posit that the male leads are essentially one man represented three ways. Ted Danson's rakish actor is the vain, irresponsible Id, unsurprisingly the actual biological father to the child. Tom Selleck's paternal architect is the superego, leading by example and handling the situation with the problem solving skills and compassionate conservatism of a can-do Reagan era American. Guttenberg's commercial artist, a role that is perhaps the least clearly defined, is the ego negotiating between the Id's endless reservoir of desire and the superego's authoritative black and white moralism.

Once we acknowledge that Danson, Selleck and Guttenberg are in fact one man, the film's true subtext becomes painfully clear. Not only is the story a critique of 1970s countercultural idealism, it is in fact a brutal rejection of 1960s and 1970s feminism. When viewed through this prism we can see that the mother figure, whose occupation of actress may as well be viewed alongside that of prostitute, gets pregnant as a result of her misguided belief in feminist female sexual agency. But this is 1980s conservative America. She does not contract AIDS, but is punished for her transgression with pregnancy. Incapable of raising the child alone, she abandons it altogether - the ultimate sin for a mother regardless of circumstance. The damning twist occurs when not only does the paternal authority represented by the three men take the child in after it's abandonment, they actively thrive in their role as father. In fact, soon they are parenting the infant better than any mother could, all the while dealing with their careers, social lives and even at one point a bunch of drug dealers. The heightened jeopardy of the drugs storyline is an important plot point which highlights how men not only have to exist in the domestic sphere as fathers, but also in the urban jungle, risking their lives and safety to protect their wives and children from the brutal realities of existence. Yet the greatest criticism of feminism is saved for the film’s supposedly heart warming denouement.

When the mother returns to New York, weeping and weak, a wretched waif almost as vulnerable as the baby itself, the three men relinquish the child to her. Her role as mother is essentially all she has to offer society. She is a pathetic figure to be pitied and the shame of abandoning her child is more than enough punishment for her. They take her and the child in as their own, the patriarchal order is restored. Cue 'The Minute I Saw You' by John Parr.

I have expounded this theory a few times recently and every time it has been met with quizzical stares and the suggestion that I am over thinking what is supposed to be a fun little film. So in that spirit here is a beautifully simple recipe given to me by my brother and baker extraordinaire Matt Sterrett

Baguette aka French Stick

250g strong white bread flour

5g yeast

5g salt

175ml water

Makes 2 small baguettes

Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the yeast, crumbling it into the flour if using fresh yeast. Then add the salt and mix it into the flour, then add the water and mix until you have a sticky dough(you may need to add a little more water).

Turn the mixture out onto a clean work surface and work it until you have a springy dough that comes away easily form the work surface, the technique in this video is helpful:

Shape the dough into a ball and leave to rest in the mixing bowl, covered with a tea towel for 1 hour.

After an hour the dough should have doubled in size. Turn it out onto a well floured work surface and divide it into two and roll each piece of dough into a ball. Cover the two pieces of dough and leave for 5 minutes.

After the dough has rested take one piece and flatten it with the heel of you hand to make a rough oblong shape, then fold one side of the dough into the middle and press it down to seal with your thumb or the heel of your hand, then repeat with the other side, then finally fold the two sides together and seal. Roll the baguette lightly to shape it and place on a baking tray lined with a floured tea towel.

Repeat with the other piece of dough and then cover them both with a tea towel and leave to rest for a further hour. At this point heat your oven to maximum with a baking stone or upturned baking tray on the middle shelf.

Once the dough has rested take the first baguette and gently place it onto a flat floured baking tray or similar that you can use to slide the dough onto your baking stone. Take a sharp knife and make 3-5 quick slashes length wise along the top of the dough. Then slide the baguette onto your heated baking stone and repeat with the other baguette. Finally spray the inside of the oven with a water spray, if you have one, this will create steam and help give your baguettes a good crust. Then bake for 10-12 minute, or until, the bread is nice and crusty then allow the bread to cool on a wire rack.

This bread is so delicious you can eat it on it's own or perhaps dipped into good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I love it with a good thick soup like Minestrone or filled with a strong mature cheddar and some peppery rocket leaf.

Best enjoyed with a cold, crisp glass of English cider and The Dana Gould Hour podcast.

Follow Michael on Twitter @mjsterrett

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