Intent and Aspiration… and a shitty Fuji camera

January 17, 2011

Eugene Hutz & Pamela Racine of Gogol Bordello

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been jealous of band photographers. It wasn’t just a jealousy of their talents, but of their privileges: I wanted to be in the pit with them, taking actual pictures of amazing moments rather than just imagining how my own shots would turn out.

At university, I worked for the student radio station. After scoring arguably the best role there was – Head of Music – I found myself inundated with free CDs, gig tickets and interview opportunities. It was a dream come true. After a little while, I realised that maybe, if I asked, if I asked really nicely, just maybe I would be awarded the photo passes I’d always coveted.

I had a crap camera, but I didn’t mind; I was giddy just to be in the pit, shooting beside professionals with equipment that made mine look like a Fisher Price toy. It was stressful and difficult but so much fun. I loved every second.

Graduating from uni wasn’t nearly as hard as leaving the radio station. I’d grown to love the dirty, cluttered little building we called our home, and I knew I’d never quite get over having to leave behind my guestlist passes and freebies. The pit passes were especially hard to say goodbye to, even though I was pretty dreadful behind the lens.

I didn’t get the opportunity to photograph again until the very end of 2007. I took my crappy camera to a Gogol Bordello show in Sheffield, before which I was due to have a meeting with Eliot and Eugene to discuss progress on the band’s website. I shyly asked Eliot if it would be okay to photograph that night and he handed me a press sticker. I asked if this was good for three songs, the standard allowance, and he asked if I wanted more. When I squeaked out that maybe I would, he found a laminate for me and said I could shoot the whole gig with that.

I spent the rest of the night on cloud nine. From the first time I saw Gogol Bordello live, all I wanted was the opportunity to shoot them. I coveted pictures taken by the likes of Danny North and Bossanostra, wishing desperately that I had not only their talent, but the privilege of being allowed in that precious pit.

That night in Sheffield, I finally got my chance. My camera was even shitter then than it was when it was new, and my memory card could only save about 300 shots (now I take around 2,000 per gig), but it was an amazing experience.

And while my pictures from that show are basically examples of well-meaning but slightly foolhardy amateur aspiration, when I look at them now I can still feel how excited I was just to be able to take them, shitty camera be damned.



Ten Ways to Avoid Pissing Off Your Proofreader

March 3, 2010

Proofreaders are slaves to the written word. We sit and stare at ream after ream of nonsense copy, untangling sentences and removing excess punctuation until the inside of our eyes bleed. But you can make life easier for the proofreader in your life just by following these ten simple rules:

Why you need a proofreader like me

1. If you don’t know how to use; a semicolon; don’t. The semicolon is a tricksy little bitch. I only learnt the correct use a little while ago, and I’ve been working as a professional writer for several years now. I still don’t know if I’m always using it correctly. But what I do know is it isn’t something you use unless you’re totally sure you’re in the right. Oh, what the heck, stick it in where you like; you’re going to anyway.

2. It’s just not British to use ‘z’ quite so often. Microsoft Word is deceitful. It will betray you. You can set it to British English as many times as you like, but it will still change ‘organisation’ to ‘organization’ every single time. Be a little self-aware and notice auto changes; it will save your word slave no end of tedious find-and-replace activity.

3. Stop, putting fucking, commas, everywhere, please! Really, what makes you think that a single paragraph requires quite so many opportunities to pause and breathe?

4. We understand numbers as well as words, you know.
If your document is 59 pages long, don’t get us to agree to doing it by claiming ‘it’s only ten pages’. You will be found out about four seconds after we open the document, and then we’ll be even more bad-tempered than we already are on an average working day.

5. Don’t do the work yourself and not tell us.
We understand you’re busy, so how about a little understanding in return? We’re also familiar with the concept of deadlines: we have them too. Your deadlines become our deadlines. If at all possible, we will try and meet our deadline and therefore help you meet your deadline. But should said deadline suddenly creep too close for comfort, don’t think that damn lazy proofreader of yours is ignoring the work at hand and do a slapdash proofing job yourself – it’s just going to end in tears. Whose tears? Why, those of the proofreader, of course. And those tears will be of frustration, maybe even anger. There is nothing worse in our eyes than someone assigning work and then deciding to do it themselves without firing off an email to the word slave they’ve previously briefed, especially if you only let on once the completed job has been delivered to you.

We have long memories, you know. Don’t waste our precious time.

6. Just because we’re good with words, it doesn’t make us linguistic superheroes. When we get sent a document where the word count runs into the tens of thousands and see the immortal words ‘Can I get this back tomorrow?’ accompanying it, we hate you more than anyone else in the world. What you appear to have done is confuse a normal human being with 1980s hero and friend to racist depictions of Indians, Johnny 5. He may be able to devour massive texts in a matter of seconds, but we are blessed only with a slightly superior eye for comma abuse than you are. You’re mental if you think otherwise.

7. Have you forgotten what the fucking spellchecker is for? So you’ve finished your big presentation, hurray! What now? Well, at some point soon you’ll send it to be proofread, so in the meantime you read it through yourself and run the spellchecker for good measure, right? Of course you do. The spellcheck function is brilliant. Sure, it may tell you to put a z instead of an s, but it’ll pick up on your wildly incorrect spelling at the same time. Doing this takes two seconds and helps your proofreader no end. Oh, and it makes you look like less of a lazy jackass to boot. Bonus!

8. We understand numbers as well as words, you know. This one bears repeating. READ IT, REMEMBER IT: THIS ADVICE IS PRICELESS.

9. Send it when you say you will.
“I need this done ASAP, word slave! I have a presentation at 4 and I will send it at 1! Work through your lunch break to accommodate me! It’s coming at 1! Definitely at 1! I WILL DELIVER THIS WORK AT 1 AND I NEED IT BACK FOR 4!”

“Sorry this is a little late. Can I still get it back for 4?”


10. Say “thank you”.
Didn’t your parents teach you anything? If a proofreader has transformed your word jumble into a coherent piece of copy, have the common courtesy to thank your word slave for all their help. Getting paid is fine and dandy, but a little bit of appreciation goes an awful long way. We’re like bar staff: we’ll serve you quicker next round if you’re not an unappreciative toolbox the first time you want something from us. Two little words and a second of your time. Go on. Just try.


I remember when it was all fields round this cinematic classic

February 15, 2010

I hate old people whinging about computers. Oh, things were better when we whittled a pencil ourselves and scratched our pointless missives onto an unforgiving block of stone, were they? Brilliant. Why don’t you get on with really living your life in a remote cave and leave the rest of us to all this fabulous technology?

The first article I read on the Guardian site this morning was this snobbish column by Joe Queenan. He’s pissed off that the biggest grossing films of all time – the not-adjusted-for-inflation version – are all blockbusters. And worse than that, they all needed computers to make them work. GASP! SHOCK! BLOODY FUCKING NORA! He’s also pissed off that they were all funded by American money. Jesus.

Apparently, no-one makes films for people who were born before 1990 anymore, with the entire movie industry aimed at (are you ready for this?) “adolescents and tykes”:

“Hollywood doesn’t mind if grown-ups come in and see the films they make. But they’d much prefer it if they arrived with a bunch of kids. Theirs, or somebody else’s. Strays even, orphans: the industry is not fussy.”

And after blustering about The Youth (aka, the scourge of the modern world), he bemoans the fact that the likes of Jaws and Indiana Jones have been beaten off the list by the Avatar and Harry Potter. Oh yeah, cos those two films were intellectually weighty fucking epics, weren’t they? I really learned a lot watching a giant shark and Harrison Ford legging it from an enormous ball.

He also has a go at Titanic, bitching on about how it’s more about the love story than the sinking of the ship. NICE POINT! I BET NO-ONE’S ARGUED THAT BEFORE! Aside from the fact that moan has been done so many times it makes John Locke look lucky, it’s not even a justifiable one. I actually quite respect the choice James Cameron made with Titanic’s storyline, mainly because if you tried to make an audience care about a thousand people you would fail miserably. Make them care about two, maybe a handful more, and you get them to care about the others automatically. Jesus, is this guy really so stuffy that he can’t figure that one out for himself?

Here’s the thing: I like indie films. I like intellectual, stimulating, made-for-20p, depressing and dreary films starring bleak people dying alone. In fact, I fucking love them. However, I have also been known to like a blockbuster or two now and again. According to this guy, the fact I would happily pick Lord of the Rings as my desert island DVD (I can have all of them: my blog, my rules) means I’m a fan of films made for “teenagers, small children, and people who don’t want to grow up”; and you know what, that’s fine. I’d rather be labeled as someone who doesn’t want to grow up than to spend the rest of my short life as boring as this old duffer Joe Queenan.

Miserable wanker.


Going to the pictures becomes a tricky business

October 1, 2009

While it was no secret that Roman Polanksi was a fugitive child molester, I’m repeatedly shocked at the number of people in The Business who are this week happily holding their hands up in support of the guy now he’s finally been arrested. I just found out that Gael Garcia Bernal is the latest in a long line of rape apologists. GAEL! GARCIA! BERNAL! What a fucktart he turned out to be.

Check out the current list of pro-rape morons. See what kind of pockets you’re lining with your cinema tickets and DVD purchases. Think about how paying to see anything these people have made means you’re basically saying, “You’re alright, you. Sure, you think it’s okay to rape a 13-year-old girl and then make a break for the border before you have to serve real time for it, but hey, your film looks good. I’ll forgive you for your sickening loud-and-proud support of a child molester.”

Alternatively, you can just keep shovelling popcorn into your gob and forget that all those people think raping a child is basically a-okay because gosh, it was so long ago. One option is far easier than the other, but I’m not so sure anymore that enjoying films involving any of these people is worth the knowledge that I’m basically supporting their fucked moral compasses with my dollars and cents.

Which means I’ll never get to see Fantastic Mr Fox or find out who killed Laura Palmer. FUCKING HELL.

Like I said, it’s easier to enjoy stuff and ignore the moral implications, but sometimes the bigger picture is much more important.


It’s the Numbers, dude.

September 10, 2009

Did everyone watch Derren Brown ‘predict’ the lottery numbers last night? It was fantastic. I never care how he does things, just that he can. I don’t care if it’s fake; I only care that he’s able to fool us. That is a skill in itself. Pure entertainment, that man.

Of course, looking at the Guardian blog on the show is just depressing, with pages and pages of miserable fucking eejits telling us the obvious: that it wasn’t for real. IT’S DERREN BROWN. Saying what he does isn’t always real is like saying the sky’s blue and expecting shock and awe in return for your revelation. You have to be a boring, cynical cunt not to get a little bit of pleasure out of the man’s work.

How can it not fill you with a childlike glee? Don’t these people remember that wonderful feeling of watching something magical as a kid and having no clue how it was achieved? That’s how Derren Brown makes me feel: like an awestruck, gobsmacked kiddie. I know he’s all about misdirection and suggestion, but the fun is letting go of your cynical adult sensibilities and just being entertained by his skill and wit.

I loved it. I love him. I will watch the show on Friday and find out how he did it, but I will treasure that Christmas Eve-feeling of giddy excitement I got last night far more.


Someday a real rain will come

July 21, 2009

Nick ‘Don’t Have Nightmares’ Ross – he of Crimewatch fame – was interviewed on BBC breakfast news this morning in order to promote his made-for-two-pence documentary about (you guessed it) crime in the UK. Early on in that interview, he made the most baffling set of statements I’ve ever heard at that time in the morning.

There was a lot of discussion on the news in general about CCTV cameras, telling us yet again that we, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, are the most watched country in the known universe. Fascinating fact: the Shetland Islands, home to seven windswept fishermen and a lonely cow, have more CCTV cameras in operation than San Francisco. Insane. The London borough of Wandsworth has more than about 4 major world cities combined. (As an aside, one of the BBC presenters described it as “leafy”, a claim that some police dude from the area denied vehemently. Looking quickly at the map, Wandsworth includes, or is right next to, Roehampton, Wimbledon, Richmond and Parson’s fuckin’ Green. It’s so leafy it makes Hyde Park look like Pripyat.)

Since Nick Ross has all that Crimewatch experience, the BBC has clearly decided he is now an expert on crime in the UK. Y’know, after presenting something rather than working in the police force or one of the related government agencies or whatever. With that in mind, they asked him his opinion on the amount of CCTV cameras nowadays. His answer? I paraphrase slightly, but here’s the gist:

“They’re making it too easy for police. If someone’s running away, they can just see where to cut him off now, and it’s preventing them from thinking laterally.”

So that’s how you deal with crime in 2009! All along, they thought the frankly terrifying amount of technology we have sellotaped to street corners was helping catch the baddies, but really what it’s doing is slowing the intellectual faculties of police. When they have to run through the rainy streets of some depressing English town on a Saturday night, pursuing whichever goon’s just glassed someone for looking a bit funny at their missus, taking directions from a CCTV operator on where to cut them off, what they should be doing is solving a particularly tricky Sudoku puzzle and plotting the results on a complicated graph. THANKS, NICK ROSS!

They showed a clip from his show. It’s basically how I described above: Oxford, weekend, brawl, repeat to fade. In the clip they used, some guy legged it from a fight; when he was caught, he drunkenly wailed, “But I’m a TEACHER! I’m a TEACHER!”

Cut back to the studio and Ross sighing heavily at The State of Things Today. “That man was a teacher,” he moaned. “He was clearly very drunk and ran away from the police. Can you imagine someone like that being allowed to teach in our schools twenty years ago?”

Aaah, twenty years ago. The halcyon days of 1989, when tight-knit families sat around the wireless to listen to a crackly broadcast of Neighbours and everyone got together to have a great big cuddle at Hillsborough. And they knew how to prepare for a recession back in 1989! They put all our pre-economic collapse street parties in 2007 to shame!

It was just a better time. A better time we’ll never get back. *wipes away single tear*

Nick Ross for Prime Minister! The campaign starts here, right after I’m done punching the TV screen.


I have a dream…

July 23, 2008

Of late, the budget airlines have started spamming customers a while before they are due to fly. I have had mailings from Easyjet, Ryanair and Sterling recently, all with helpful reminders of my flight times and such a few days before the trip.

Sometimes, though, they’re just weird in their offerings. Take the spam I had from Easyjet yesterday, for instance. I’m flying with them to Amsterdam next month (still another three weeks away, mind), and they were kind enough to let me know I could still spend more money with them if I cared to. The exact text (with all the emphasis their own) was as follows:

Imagine arriving at the airport, using a dedicated check-in with a shorter queue and getting through the gate first so you can all sit together….

Wouldn’t that be a more relaxing way to start your family holiday?

Yeah, that sounds alright. Nothing to get excited about, but if you have seventeen brats and an incontinent granny to haul onboard I suppose it makes sense. Luckily, I’m neither laden with sprogs nor lacking in bladder control; and since I’m only travelling on a 45 minute flight, should I be separated from my two companions for that heinous length of time I’m sure I’ll just about cope without having a nervous breakdown.

As a result, I went to click ‘delete’ immediately and forget all about it. But the following line caught my eye before I hit the button:

Don’t just dream it, do it.

Is that what passes for a dream on Easyjet these days? The idea that you might be able to spend an extra fifteen minutes on their stuffy, cramped plane in order to sit next to people you know on a short-haul flight (which, in my plebeian boarding experience, has never been a problem, anyway)?

The only legitimate copy this line could have preceded without incurring my immediate scorn is as follows:

Imagine not being charged extra to check in a bag which you can’t carry onboard because of legislation hoping to prevent terrorism mid-flight. Imagine not having to fly at 4am because you can’t afford a flight at a reasonable time. Imagine not having your eyes assaulted the entire flight by uniforms in a violent shade of orange usually only worn by clean-up workers at a nuclear power plant post-disaster. Imagine not having to pay extra to avoid a violent scrum at the gate when boarding opens. Imagine never having to go to Stansted or Luton fucking Airport ever, ever, EVER again.

Ah, the power of dreams…