he answer to any question that begins "Do you want to see Ken Campbell…" is always "Yes"

Wake up at 7:00 very tired indeed. Elect to sleep on as I did last week, but wake up again at 7:30 (when I’d normally be finishing my sitting) and decide to get up, since on those occasions I do allow myself a lie-in I feel a crushing sense of failure. Well, a mildly discomforting sense of dis-achievement, anyway.

I spend the day hewing at the page designs some more, until I have a matching pair in the two sizes. There’s more margin space on the larger one, but a narrower column width on the smaller. Perhaps we can use both. I cut some out to see how they feel "in the hand". I kind of worry that perhaps I’ve not got enough of the 21st century into them (a specific part of the brief).

Laura calls to see if I want to go and see Ken Campbell at the ICA this evening. Instinct cuts in and I say "Yes" (for the record, the answer to any question that begins "Do you want to see Ken Campbell…" is always "Yes"), even though my body is screaming at me that all I want to do is sit on the sofa dribbling gently and filling the living room with chopped-up pieces of paper. But Instinct wins out, and quite right too.

I check out some journals that deal with technoculture in the ICA bookshop, and no matter how zappy they subject matter they all seem to be in the fill-the-page-with-words utilitarian design that all journals have. The only concession to style is the occasional use of groovy sans or nearly-sans on the running-heads.

The corridors of the ICA have been turned into goodness-alone-knows-what, with swing double-doors and video games. I assume it’s some kind of artwork, either that or some bright spark has decided that what the world needs is an arts centre that doubles as a dowdy art-school corridor-cum-amusement arcade. They certainly seem to have swallowed the idea that Nintendo/Playstation are the bright harbingers of cultural progress and that what the world needs more than anything else are egocentric but essentially anonymous blokes self-consciously sharing their record collections with us.

So. Without wishing to convey the idea that I’m mindlessly negative (I hope that I am at least mindfully negative at worst), I have to say that even though I have been annoyed by galleries and arts centres before, this current incarnation of the ICA is the only one that I’ve found positively repellent. but more on that later.

This is a sort of polemic by Ken, about his application to run the National Theatre in a "peculiar and specific way". Essentially though, it’s a demonstration on the one hand that the more fun bits of culture might be what he calls (after Frank Muir) Mimi – all the bits of ""arseing around in front of everyone else that people have been doing since they were in caves" that sloshes around the ankles of the High Culture (or at least what is taken to be High Culture). Ken notices that Ken Dodd has never performed at the National, not so much "mincing around in Tartuffe", since "he’s got his own show, with the Diddymen and the bloke who sings country and western". Also he invokes the Great British Actor Seymour Hicks, a master of stagecraft, master of tragedy and comedy, who railed against the idea of a National Theatre when it was first proposed in Edwardian Times, attempting to contact Hicks at a seance in Stamford Hill, but getting Laurence Olivier instead. Ken asks Larry to update his comment on the Greatest Actor of the Age (when he originally spoke, it was Charlie Chaplin and he mumbled something about Danny Kaye), and the Spirit of Larry says the GAotA is Jackie Chan (and he mumbles something about Jim Carrey).

Ken shows us the climax to Police Story 4, which is very exciting.

So he’s got Ken Dodd on Sundays and Jackie Chan to fill up the cavernous vertical spaces at the Olivier, and, oh…

He goes on to invoke Keith Johnstone, the Guru of Improvisational theatre, who was the Royal Court’s Court Jester for ten years until he was banished to Canada for not being serious enough; Anne of Green Gables; turning the Big Lyttleton into a regional rep; Actual Proper Acting (as opposed to being told what to do by a director) with anciliary skills such as entering downstage right (backwards, in case anyone ever asks you); German Theater Spektakle; Paul Pena, the Tuvan throat-singing blues singer and many things I’ve probably forgotten.

It all seems chaotic and impromptu, but of course it’s not, however much Ken’s words appear from a miasma of mutterings and vocalese. As the audience are entering, he’s running through some videos, one of which is The Court Jester starring Danny Kaye, so that’s Larry’s GAotA in a film which is referenced to Keith Johnstone, tied in to the NT (Larry was the NT’s first director, and one of the architects of its policy, and an heir to Seymour Hicks as the official GAotA as well as having one of the NT’s theatre’s named after him).

And he’s right. Not only should he be given the job, but the world would be significantly better place if he was given the job. And of course he never would be, in a million years.

To my mind, the problem is not that the people who run stuff (I’m working very hard here not to use the term Cultural Elite, but you know what I mean) don’t embrace Mimi, because they love it, it gives them tremendous street cred and the sense that they are down with the kids, but that in order for them to be seen anywhere near it, it has to be elevated to the status of Art rather than being allowed to be the Mimi that it really is. So Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy are games for goodness sake, and the Playstation or the Nintendo are toys. And for my money (actually, when it comes down to it, for anybody’s genuine hard cash) chess or Go (the Japanese strategy game rather than the world-travelling knock-off of Monopoly, although that’s pretty good too) are infinitely better games, and Lego is an infinitely better toy. And to be honest, if you want Art, between the National Gallery and the Tates Britain and Modern you should be able to find something to your taste.

In fact, now I come to think of it, video games aren’t games at all. They’re pastimes. They’re the hi-tech equivalents of whittling.

OK, now I’m ranting like a Seventeenth-century cleric under Divine Influence, some terms defined:

  • A Game is defined as the set of rules and parameters within which one Plays.
  • A Toy is defined as the tool or object with which one Plays, and can be part of a Game or can contain within it its own rules (for example, a doll suggests certain ways in which it can be employed and still remain a Doll. Those are the Game rules. If you use a doll for banging in a nail, it is no longer a Toy, but a Tool).
  • Play could be defined as Irresponsible Work, that is to say that when one is playing, one has checked any responsibilites other than tho ones demanded by the Game rules at the door. As such, it is a useful way of generating the necessary skills and attitude to be employed at Work. For example, a Lion cub employs at play with its siblings and adjacent adults the same skills of attack and fighting that will later be employed at Work on a gazelle or a wildebeest or, if we are lucky, a Big Game Hunter.
  • A Pastime is something that one does in order not to spend one’s entire life staring into space dribbling. Pastimes tend to be closed, self-referential activities rather than open, connective ones, so whittling is unlikely to develop useful skills unless you need a lot of stakes on account of the vampire activity; crossword puzzles are calisthenic exercise for the mind, but ultimately the end product (the filled-in crossword) is somehow less than the unstarted one. Doing a crossword is a bit like taking a guided tour of a museum rather than being left to wander around for oneself. There’s a lot that the guide won’t show you for reasons of time, logistics or their own taste. but if they’re a good guide you may be lucky enough to get an interesting, entertaining, if packaged and limited experience.
  • Work is what one does. I can’t reslly put it any better than that. It’s activity with responsibility. If you’re lucky, probably buddhistic, you approach Work as an extension of Play. If you are unlucky and bound within the confines of Calvinism, Play is restricted to the limitations of Work. A jazz musician for the former, I suppose, and a collector of model trains for the latter.

More on this when I’ve thought about it, I’m sure.

It’s like the relationship between Practise and Practice, the distinction between Technique and Craft. Unless an activity has both sides, it’s somehow lacking, to my kidney, at least. Not without value, but not as blesséd an activity as something that embodies both qualities. So a gamer may have considerable Technique, but there is no Craft to gaming (although perhaps there is in the design of games).

Both Art and Mimi require both Technique and Craft.

Anyway, what I find so dispiriting about the ICA thing is that the things that it has latched onto as The Future – gaming and clubbing and (I suppose, although it’s not explicitly stated) drugs is that they reek (as popularly practiced at least) of the Pastime rather than Play. Oddly, there may be more receptiveness to Ken’s message on the South Bank than he imagines, and less at the ICA. Essentially, the ICA is Cool. And Coolness is about embodying qualities rather than doing things. If creativity is (as Ken states, after Keith Johnstone) about sponteneity, about not editing, then Cool is only about editing. Cool does not want to create, only to curate. And although the two activities are (after Eno) related or somehow conflated, they are not the same. After all, Eno, the non-musician who elevated curatorship to the status of Art, is always doing, always creating, and his curatorship is an extension of his creativity, not a replacement of it. Read his Diary With Swollen Appendices if you don’t believe me.

Or as the Guitar Craft Aphorisms have it:

An artist acts with the assumption of innocence within a field of experience.


Even genius requires a competent technique.


Any fool can play something difficult.

a moth is a giant marauding behemoth

Looking at The Elements of Typographical Style some more, and set off for Walker’s full of excitement for typographical layout, which is an unusual state of mind, even for me. Though perhaps it ought not to be. I have tried a sample layout at 246×189, and it looks good already. or at least I think it looks good.

Jolly day at Walker’s, trying to work out how to make things fit under flaps.

Back home, I go back to the layouts again. I chat to my sister about it (or talk in her general direction – she’s a bit under the weather) and discover that the size that George would prefer is 234×156, so I transliterate the design into that size. It has its advantages (a 2×3 page proportion, for example, which becomes a 4×3 spread proportion, which I think is quite neat), but it’s slightly more difficult to make a proportional column. And what I liked about the larger size was the possibility for huge margins.

That said, a) the margins of 234×156 are still pretty huge, and b) there’s always the possibility that someone will look at a lot of white space as somehow wasting them money ("couldn’t you get some more words in here, cut down on the page count?" To which the answer is Yes, but you might be missing the point).

Fiddling with randomly drawn tectangles, I discover that drawing from corner to corner of pages and spreads, where the lines cross always mark 1/3 of the depth of the page and various other proportions. Well, hardly discover, since it’s the kind of thing that will have been a doddle to Pythagorus and his gang, and I’m sure I’ve been told it / discovered it for myself at least three times, but this time it’s sticking. Other various bits of information about proportion and classical whatnot are surfacing in my tired old brain, a bit like Night of the Living Dead played out in the La Brea Tar Pits.

A bit late to bed, my head fizzing with typography, awakened again two hours later by some kind of altercation (or possibly just high spirits) outside my window. I suspect that I was in the middle of a dispiriting dream, because thoughts of doom, penury and a non-Kornfieldian attachment to the world haunt my thoughts. Of course if I am facing a bleak, grinding future on the streets, I might as well do it after a full night’s sleep, but it’s a situation that’s out of proportion anyway – when one is trying to get to sleep, inconvenience is disaster, a moth is a giant marauding behemoth and an unpaid telephone bill signifies financial collapse.

I am not one of those people.

Into Walker’s again, late (again – Friday and today add up to one-and-a -half days) although this time because I was under some kind of vague instruction to do so.

Diverse quibbles over which computer I am to use, that sort of thing.

At 5:00, bang on schedule, the rain cascades out of the sky. Half an hour later and it’s still cascading, so I have to trudge soggily home in it.

There are discplined, wise and enlightened people who carry am umbrella around with them at all times, because they realise that it may begin to rain at (almost) any time, and that if they are so prepared, they can protect themselves from unwanted moistness.

I am not one of those people.

Having completely forgotten that it was a VAC night, I don’t go, even though it would have been (a) a good thing and (b) possible. That said, I’m worrited that I might be the current custodian of the Eternal Flu, passed from person to person at Walker’s for what seems like years and never allowed to go out. Or at least that’s the way it seems. Of course the possibility of unwellness makes one inspect oneself for symptoms, and the thing with sypmtoms is that unless they’re really obvious (gigantic green spots, turning into member of opposite sex, leg dropping off) you can usually find them no matter what your actual state of health is. I am occasionally sneezing. Very occasionally. is it a cold or merely an expression of the sheer joy of sneezing?

Disaster is losing the element of surprise.

Up bright and early to do the re-reformatting.

I discover that I can’t run a more recent version of Drive Setup (which I think I’ll need in order to set it to HFS+) using OS 8.1, which is what is running on the desktop computer. So I install 9.0 on there. Or at least attempt to – the first time it happens, the computer freezes (since I still have the Powerbook connected as SCSI, and it destabilises operations like that). So I have to restart using the Norton Disk and piece together the system folder and try again (facing the very real possibility that I might have buggered both my macs in the space of three days).

Disaster is losing the element of surprise. It’s not so much striking as checking in to have a cup of tea and see how I am.

But eventually I manage to install 9.0 and update it to 9.1, so that’s an improvement.

But now, whenever I try to run the more recent versions of Drive Setup, I find that it freezes. I suppose that I should just leave it. I leave it for two and a half hours. It’s definitely hung. Or hanged.


Eventually I discover that the Drive Setup that was bundled with OS 8.6 (that came with the Powerbook) will do HFS+ (or as it calls it Extended Mode,as opposed to the nearly useless Standard Mode, which is what it defaults to).

By mid-evening, I’m back to what passes for normal, except that I suppose the Powerbook runs a bit better for all that Nortoning and reformatting and, as it were, whatnot.

So I have two days of catching up to do. I spend the evening on the significantly more important task of making a compilation CD to take into work. I’ve got my priorities straight, see.

Disaster strikes again! Variously.

Disaster strikes again! Variously.

I go and get the copy of Norton and run it on the Powerbook. It appears to work. Hurrah!. However, whenever I try to boot from a CD, it crashes. Curses! So I connect the PBook to the desktop computer as a SCSI disk and attempt to fix it that way. I spend most of the day copying stuff from the PBook hard disk to the desktop computer (which also involves doing a lot of archiving to make way for it) and then in the evening finally manage to completely erase the disk (cleansing every sector of data) and copy the system back to it.

I discover that less than half the stuff has almost filled it. This turns out to be because I have reinitialised it as HFS rather than HFS+. How obvious. Pah.

Tomorrow I must go through at least some of the rigmarole again.

(Waves fist at imaginary persecutor)

I am just about to go off to the gym when… disaster strikes! The computer refuses to restart, flashing a question mark icon at me. Grr. Disk First Aid ascertains that the disk is there, but not communicating. I call Dan Buzzo (the only person I can think of who will be able to set my mind straight) and he tells me that I’ve buggered the Boot Block, but that the latest version of Norton Utilities will fix it. We also ascertain that I have ignored some pretty fatal errors in my time. in case anyone should be in any doubt of that.

I’m not going to let a little setback stop me from going to the gym. Gosh, no.

(Waves fist at imaginary persecutor)

In the afternoon I go for a stroll and a chat with Judith Silver on Hampstead Heath with cake to follow. Which is all very good. Particularly nice to meet up with a real human being when I’m having such difficulties with the computer.

Back home I try to think of things to do that don’t involve the Powerbook. It’s surprisingly/unnervingly/depressingly difficult. I watch O Brother, Where Art Thou on DVD, which I can heartily recommend as a distraction to any of you. Don’t go for the Scowling at a Recalcitrant Item of Hardware thing though, I can tell you from bitter experience that it’s very ungratifying

heavy lifing in tights

I allow myself to lie in until 10:30, an unimaginable luxury.

Play with Cubase, writing something that very closely resembles an early 80s electropop song until it turns into unlistenable soup. You have to watch out for when they turn into unlistenable soup. It’s very difficult spotting the Soup Event Horizon until you’ve crossed it and are sucked into a black hole of unlistenability.

I watch the DVD of M Hulot’s Holiday – absolutely magnificent. I find myself laughing uncontrollably at what I know from experience merely mystifies most people ("What are you laughing at? Its just two blokes looking at each other").

I’m interested in the "shark" insert (which I believe was added for a rerelease after Jaws came out), where Hulot gets in the broken canoe. What was the original payoff to that scene, I wonder (the shots of people fleeing the beach were obviously shot later, with different hairstyles and, of course, no original cast members. With such a tightly constructed ensemble as this that really stands out)?

Curious that for a man blessed with such natural grace, the vocation is not ballet (which is essentially just heavy lifing in tights), but slapstick comedy. I have also borrowed the remastered DVD of Tati’s masterpiece, Playtime, but that will wait for another night. Besides, I’m still waiting for the reassembled original release version (compiled from the 70mm neg) and I imagine I’ll have to wait in vain for a long long time.

large quantities of dithering

I waste the morning on large quantities of dithering, returning to the flat more than once to collect things I’ve forgotten. Eventually reaching Walker.

After work to Joan’s for v. fine chili (with special instructions on how to keep those veg crunchy), amazing trifle (essentially cream mixed with grated chocolate and tinned fruit which is how we want it) courtesy of Edwina, and the video footage of Alastairs gig at the VAC – the nearest thing to The Last Waltz that I’ve been in any way related to.

staring-into-space-drooling-gently mode

Walker, where The Usual Stuff takes place. It is fajitas day at lunch. This is an important thing. I am proudly wearing my Residents t-shirt, which garners some reaction. Kewl.

I had originally intended going to the VAC tonight, but finish work at 7:00, making it impossible to get home, get my guitar and reach Moriarty’s by 7:30, especially since Angel is closed. Besides, I’m too tired.

The Zanzibar is now nothing more than a pile of rubble. Of course these days it’s probably overreacting a bit to mourn the loss of a pub, but it’s still a bit sad. What struck me was how small it must have been (since it will soon be nothing more than a corner of the cathedral’s car park).

Back home I adopt staring-into-space-drooling-gently mode. A heavily favoured mode around here.