Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Fellow Americans in Sheffield

It's 20-odd months since Tom Humberstone and I hitched our way through sub-zero temperatures to see prospective Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama speak at a rally in the snow-caked fringes of Iowa City. Fuck it was cold that day. Few thought it would be possible on 3 January 2008, the day of the Iowa Caucus, but yesterday President Obama addressed the UN about his vision of a multilateral American future, about leaving the Bush era behind, and everyone nodded. Of course he said that; we knew he was going to say that. It's funny how quickly extraordinary events become normalised. The New Statesman's myopic, Clinton-obsessed US editor decided (from the comfort of his desk, naturally) Obama was finished within a week of the Iowa rally. Ha.

Over a year since we published (and sold out of) the book version of My Fellow Americans, Tom and I have been invited to Sheffield's 'Off The Shelf' literary festival to talk about what it's like to be cornered by deranged Mike Huckabee supporters in San Diego, or to be stalked by minor Presidential candidates in small towns in New Hampshire. In such luminous company as Peter Hook, Vic Reeves, Tony Benn and Hilary Mantel, we're doing two events: an afternoon workshop on DIY reportage for young people, and an illustrated talk about our experiences. Tickets and full details are here:

My Fellow Americans @ The Showroom Cinema: Monday 26 October 2009, 7pm

I'm also going to Budapest to play football for the England Writer's XI against the Hungary Writer's XI next week, so do let me know if you have any Hungarian tips. Please don't mention the International Goulash Festival, which I'm distraught to discover I will be missing by a matter of days.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


New Statesman Middlesbrough piece

After Corus, we weave through bizarre Disney­esque regeneration projects - all pastel colours, soft edges and bullet-pointed promises - and steer past the tucked shirts and short skirts of the high street to St Hilda's, the oldest and most maligned part of Middlesbrough. This is literally the wrong side of the tracks: the railway is the dividing line and "over the border", as local people describe the area, is eerily quiet, with half-demolished social housing standing isolated on large patches of brown-green scrub, waiting to be put out of its misery.

The New York Times tackles dubstep...

...and comes off sounding a little bit like a Radio 4 sitcom featuring a 45 year-old character actor playing a 15 year-old member of da yoof:
The only thing more disruptive than a dubstep bass line is an outright break in the music, which also happened plenty of times in the small hours of Sunday morning, as Benga and Skream, both originally from Croydon in South London, D.J.’d as a tag team, each playing a record, or three, before passing off the headphones and controls.

Sometimes the transitions were a little sloppy, and sometimes this impromptu duo and everyone else onstage with them — several dozen at the night’s peak — were so thrilled at the first few seconds of a song that the D.J.’s stopped it and let the crowd shout until they started it anew.
Someone explain to them what a rewind is: these poor New Yorkers have clearly never had Craig David all over their boing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Labour's past talks to its future

From a 1945 Labour election pamphlet targeting Liberal voters:
"When the slump comes you Liberals will have either to abandon your reforms and ‘economise’ or else go forward to crush the financial sabotage, i.e. become Socialist. Why not do it now? Why not forestall the hour of peril when a reforming government is faced with an ‘economy ramp’ worked up by the millionaires?’ If your nerve fails then, and very regretfully you join with the Tories to "keep the country solvent," you will be swept away by the flood of political reaction and unreason. You will provide the "all-party" cloak to cover the ugly deformity of a Tory majority. That is what happened before, so you have been warned!"
O hai, Lord Mandelson, speaking on this morning's Today Programme. Plz can 2 hav nationalisation of commanding heights of industry as only feasible way of saving Labour Party from complete obliteration? Kthxbai!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wombles, blitzkriegs, droughts and burritos

I've been shockingly busy recently. Well, it's come as a shock to me anyway. Here's a brief round-up of things I forgot to mention:

I finally got around to writing a piece for the New Statesman about The People’s Republic of AFC Wimbledon: an oasis of socialism in the hyper-capitalist world of 21st century English football. Oh south London (oh south London) is wonderful (is wonderful).

I spent a couple of months in the British Library for The Guardian digging up primary materials for their Second World War supplement series, which are free with the paper every day this week. Along with many soul-crushingly harrowing accounts of genocide and torture – in Europe and beyond – there were a few less grim moments. Ed Murrow’s evocations of London in the blitz for American radio audiences were particularly captivating.

I’m currently editing some ground-breaking research by the BBC World Service Trust into attitudes to and knowledge of climate change in Ethiopia, Senegal, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya. African countries are among the least culpable in the world for the effects of climate change, but in many cases lives are already being destroyed by climatic changes, droughts and floods - and it's only going to get worse. More on this project later, but for the moment here’s the Africa Talks Climate website.

I’ve been writing a series of articles about Mexican food for The Discovery Channel. That’s right muchachos, it's chimichanga time.

I dimly recall a time when I used to write about music... I'm hoping to revive this at some point.

Monday, September 07, 2009

'Cupid ain't got shit on me'

A lengthy cash-point queue in Stoke Newington, 6pm on a Friday afternoon in early September. A good-looking 20 year-old guy in crisp street-wear is being told off by a woman who seems to be his older sister: she’s wearing a business suit and a disapproving expression, probably in her late 20s.

Girl: you need to sort it out and stop treating her like this...
Boy: pshh... I don’t need to sort anything out. She knows wha gwan.
Girl: you make me ashamed, haven’t you heard of romance?
Boy [kicking heels, hands in pockets]: Ha. Whatever. That stuff is bullshit.
Girl: haven’t you ever heard of Romeo and Juliet?
Boy [petulantly]: yes. So what? She knows wha gwan, that’s the end of it.
Girl: haven’t you heard the story of St Valentine?
Boy [who clearly hasn’t]: ... yes. Whatever. What’s that got to do with me?
Girl: you need to fix up. Haven’t you heard of Valentine? Well?
Boy [getting fed up with this, still kicking his heels]: ...
Girl: don’t you know about Romeo? Hmm?
Boy [looking up, having seized upon a comeback]: yeah but listen, you know what? You know what happened to Romeo? He got killed over that shit. He died! He was a fucking idiot.


The-Dream’s ‘Love Vs Money’ finally, finally comes out in the UK on 28 September. It's been the album of the year for about six months already, whatever guys at cash-points in Stokey might think. Watch out for an interview with the latter-day ATL legend by Alex Macpherson in The Guardian soon.