The Great Railway Bazaar

Dark Star Safari was the first travel book I read, I think, I mean I’m pretty sure it was.  That makes sense in my head.  All the others came after, and because of Paul Theroux’s journey from the top of Africa to the bottom by train.  Since then some of my favourite books (that list is still coming) have been travel books, including John Lane’s A Very Peruvian Practice and John Malathronas’s Brazil: Life, Blood, Soul.

Theroux’s other travel books were a mixed bag for me, The Pillars of Hercules..meh, the Old Patagonian express passed admirably, he is after all travelling down my favourite part of the world and Riding the Iron Rooster was also ok.  But don’t let that fool you, I actually enjoy his travel books on the whole, I like way he describes his travels, observations and conversations.  He rarely falls into stereotype and he can be refreshingly crouchy.  Most of the other travel books I see seem to fall into either “I’ve moved to Spain and gosh, it’s not London and the locals are refreshing laid back, but it’s taken a year for them to build a wall for me” or “I’m somewhere thats known for drugs so I must get involved in some drug story”.  I haven’t actually read any of these books, because I can’t be bothered.

So anyhoo, this convluted intro is basically because I’ve just finished reading the Railway Bazaar.  Admittedly I’m about 30 years behind the times with this, but you see I saw his book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the tracks of the Railway Bazaar, and I thought it would be pointless reading it without reading the Railway Bazaar first.  And I’ve savoured every clickety clack of the rails over the tracks for the last few weeks.  It’s a journey that Theroux takes purely because he loves trains, and purely to write a travel book.
What I enjoyed reading, possibly quite bizarrely, is that more unhinged he seems to get the further east he gets.  It’s as if the colours, sounds, people in the asian subcontinent distract him from realising what he’s actually doing and from being lonely, and once he hits Japan, the point at which he then heads back, it’s like the elastic has stretched that too far, he starts to unravel. Travelling back across the vast expanse of the siberian winter sees him sinking vodka to get through the days and we get a keen insight into his mind as the endless nothingness outside the window of his carriage forces him to look in himself and he lays himself out on the page.
Not that it’s not without it’s funny moments, at one point he is questioning why the Japanese trains don’t stop for long at their stations:

‘In other countries passengers might want more than forty-five seconds at a major station.’
‘Ah! Then the trains are slow!’
‘Right, right, but why is it -‘
As I spoke, orchestral music filled the large office.  From my experience on Japanese railways I knew an announcement was coming…
‘You were saying?’
‘I forgot my question,’ I said … I looked around.  No one was working.  Each clerk had put his pencil down and had risen.  Now the voice came over the loudspeaker, first seeming to explain and then speaking in the familiar sing-song of the exercise leader.  The office workers began to swing their arms…

Interestingly the chapter in afghanistan was cut, apparently because it didn’t actually contain any train journeys, but he has put it in Sunrise with Seamonsters (Which convinced me that as much as I love his travel writing, I’m not sure I would enjoy his novels).  I wonder if there were any further chapters that were omitted, as, and this is my only complaint, the journey back almost feels rushed.  Perhaps because he was trying to get home for Christmas or maybe because he was tired of his journey and wanted to just be home, selfishly, I didn’t want his journey to end.

Bring on Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

jazz hands

The reason I left the Tru Thoughts 12th birthday show early on Saturday night was because I had something special on yesterday, a Sunday afternoon at Dingwalls.
As much as I enjoy jazz, I have no great love for it. I am too young to have gone to the original Sunday afteroons but this is one of my favourite events of the year. I started going because I loved Brazilian Love Affair with Patrick Forge. Over the last few years I trudge up to Camden, normally in the rain and freezing cold (this years sun and blue sky was a welcome change), join the queue munching on an Argentinian steak sandwich, to spend about 6 or 7 hours dancing to jazz and being part of what I believe is a special occasion. Even for myself, the Sunday Afternoons feel like a family get together. The queues start building outside at about 12 and the dancers and regulars all greet each other with the enthusiasm that a year long seperation can build. I recognise a number of them, indeed all main ones that normally take part in the circle of dance I now recognise. Behind me in the queue was a 58 year soul DJ who was telling a lady his group had befriended in the crowd (a mother of two who had come down on her own from Cambridge to get her jazz hands out) that he had been out in Ronnie Scott’s to 4am dancing, I felt ashamed that I had left Koko at 12:20 the night before. If I have that stamina at that age I will be a happy man.

Once inside, bags and coats are bundled on the stage and the hands, feet, legs and hips are released to the music. Straight out one of my favourite dancers, who always has a bowler hat on with his money tucked in the side is pirouetting and jumping as Patrick Forge warms the crowd up. Apart the bowler there are any number of hats, with flat caps being an almost essential piece of unofficial dress code. The only other essential is a hankerchief, because you will most definitely end up sweating, even just watching the jazz dancers perform in the middle of the circles will make you sweat. The bags left on stage at the beginning are raided periodically by their owners, t-shirts are changed and glistening brows wiped.

While at the bar I learned that the original Dingwalls run from 1987 to 1991, this was the 20th anniversary of the original afternoon. With all the acrobatic, energetic dancing it’s easy to forget that some of the regulars are not as young as their swinging would have you believe, at one point one of them was sat down at the back, having his leg massaged. Perhaps in recognition of the age of it’s regular crowd, there have been live sets in the last couple of Dingwalls (perhaps before then, I can’t remember). Yesterday Zara McFarlane showcased her outstanding voice with a band that me and my friend could not decide were either extremely young or not. Regardless, they were superb, and allowed the crowd to catch their breath, Zara later came out onto the dancefloor to join in the fun.
The music continued, Sir Norman Jay and his hat made an appearance, the man Gilles Peterson claimed was a great influence on him, Bob Jones was in attendence and a steady stream of people made their way up to Gilles and Patrick on the stage. At one point I turned around and there was a guy right behind me, he was a big dude, he went up and spoke to Gilles and Patrick and came back down to dance. Shortly after Patrick brought in what he claimed would be a future Dingwalls classic, from someone who was in the house tonight. The guy was Gregory Porter and the tune was 1960 what?.
Gilles Peterson got Gregory up on stage, it was the big dude who had been behind me. He acknowledged the appreciative crowd and smashed the words out over his own song, including the mini call and response that the crowd whole heartedly joined in with. He got a lot of love when he stepped down from the stage, and after an initial flurry of well wishers stood to the side jiving with everyone else.

It was that kind of atmosphere that made this a special dingwalls for me, if not the best I have been to. There is no attitude, no chicken necks, barely any kids, just a group of people who were there at the beginning, and people only just discovering it now, but I reckon almost everyone there was there for the music, for Gilles and Patrick, and to wave those jazz hands.

Tru Thoughts

At the start of a Camden double header this weekend I made my way up to Koko on Saturday night for the Tru Thoughts 12th birthday party.  After I left I got a text from my mate who advised he was going to be late.  I stopped off at St Pancras, thinking I might take some champagne at the worlds longest champagne bar, but most of it was close, and it was freezing.  My mate had also been blocked in his road due to an accident, so he couldn’t make it.  I left St Pancras without the champagne and without a concert buddy.

Still inside Koko it was warm, and if you spent over £4 you got a cold can of Becks Vier in a plastic pint cup.  I went down to the floor, looked up and around at the once lavish decor of Koko, gilded balconys and deep reds are everywhere.  On the stage I thought some young dude was testing the decks (Quantic was Dj’ing at some point advised the flyer) but it was in fact Anchorsong, whose name I only found out later because I didn’t catch it when he said it.  He creates his music live using a sampler and a piano, playing the different components and then looping them, to me, this is fricking amazing.  He brought out a string quartet that complimented his dubby beats perfectly and got the crowd warmed up despite the sometimes melancholy sounds, even when tempo slowed, there was a big beat coming just round the corner, will be downloading his album very soon.
Nostalgia 77 played me through my next two cans of Becks, I’ve got a few tunes, but didn’t recognise any of the songs, but they played well and I enjoyed their set.
Despite feeling slightly merry, not even a southern comfort and coke could get me through the Belleruche set.  They are a good band, but I just couldn’t dig it, and it seemed to go on forever.  I was, I’m happy to admit, very in the minority.

So, because I had plans for Sunday afternoon, and although I was convinced the last train from Camden would be sometime after 1 (no idea why because that is blatantly wrong) I grabbed my coat, and enjoyed the first song from the Hidden Orchestra (who I do like) before legging it up to Camden station at 12:20ish, making the last tube home by a couple of minutes.  Absolute poor show from me..

Anchorsong website here

Tru Thoughts website here

V&A Museum

It was always there, standing to the side, hoping I would notice and go in, but I never had. Not until last year, when there was the exhibition for Grace Kelly, then I went with my girlfriend.  The exhibition was ok, but what I noticed as we wandered in off the tunnel from South Kensington tube, was that the V&A had sculpture.  I love sculpture, but I never realised there was any there.  I had never really paid any attention to the V&A at all, a design museum you say?  mmmm ok.
So today I packed my camera and headed over.  On the way to my tube station, I passed the church near my flats.  The Reverend was outside with what I assumed was a small choir.  The brilliant white robes of the choir contrasted sharply in the lukewarm morning sun with the Reverends deep black.  I was thinking about grabbing a photo of the church as I went passed, and wondered if I might be able to grab this small gathering in the front of it.  As I walked past they moved off, almost as one, and glided into the church, like a flock of swans flowing down a river.

2 tube changes later I was at the V&A, again entering through the basement and into the sculpture gallery.  With no definitive plan in mind I thought I might only do a certain portion of it, to save my legs and to take in everything I saw.  Within 5 minutes I had browsed through the Asian sculpture gallery, and had a wry smile at some of the Private Eye front covers, in a special presentation to mark it’s 50th anniversary.  I wandered through the cafe and onto the European sculpture gallery, filled with stained glass windows and holy icons, barely stopping until I had crossed again back into Japan, China and Korea.  The main gallery by the front (Cromwell Road) entrance is one of the most impressive, with sculptures from Italy, including Samson slaying a philistine, column capitals and other sculpted gems.  In the Cast Courts gallery a family were wandering through, “Why would we want to look at Cast Courts?” the mum was moaning, not even taking a breath to appreciate not only the castings, but the great hall they were displayed in.
I grabbed a comfy seat the Islamic Middle East gallery, and waited a few minutes to see the carpet lit up (Unfortunately I can’t remember anything about it I read on the sign).  I saw what I took to be a mother and daughter at the other end of the carpet, and felt some sort of relief that I wasn’t the only one that was waiting to see a rug.  At the appointed time the carpet was illuminated and I stood up to take in the intricate detail and faded colours.  The mother and daughter also got up and went over to meet the father and son who had just wandered in from another gallery.  I carried on appreciating the carpet for another few minutes and was about to move on before the moaning mum and her family wandered through, almost completely oblivious to the antiquties mounted around them.  I appreciated the rug for another few minutes.
The 2nd floor is Medieval and Renaissence Europe, and I didn’t dwell too long there.  On the 3rd floor You get to walk round a few of the main display halls which offer excellent views.  It also contains quite possibly the largest collection of wrought iron I have ever seen, gates, fences, well heads, benches (Please do not sit on this bench, You are welcome to sit down on this bench).  I found myself around Theatre and Performance, before escaping through Silver and then Gold (lots), Silver (lots) and Mosiacs (none that I could see).  Now I was in the 20th Century, the modern part of the museum, which contained nothing of interest to me and if I remember, nothing after 1970.

As I sat munching on my lunch after, I wished I had kept myself to one floor, at the most.  I wandered through most of the galleries barely paying attention (Jewellery anyone?) but at the same time apart from the plethora of sculptures, most of the rest of the collection didn’t interest me.  I think I will go back and look at the Asian galleries in more details but that’s probably it.  It’s just not my bag…

Edgar Allan Poe – The Valley of Unrest

A bit delayed while I was without internet, but here’s another poem..

Once it smiled a silent dell
Where the people did not dwell;
They had gone unto the wars,
Trusting to the mild-eyed stars,
Nightly, from their azure towers,
To keep watch above the flowers,
In the midst of which all day
The red sun-light lazily lay.
Now each visitor shall confess
The sad valley’s restlessness.
Nothing there is motionless—
Nothing save the airs that brood
Over the magic solitude.
Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees
That palpitate like the chill seas
Around the misty Hebrides!
Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven
That rustle through the unquiet Heaven
Uneasily, from morn till even,
Over the violets there that lie
In myriad types of the human eye—
Over the lilies there that wave
And weep above a nameless grave!
They wave:—from out their fragrant tops
External dews come down in drops.
They weep:—from off their delicate stems
Perennial tears descend in gems.