22 August 2011

Maple House

I saw reports on Friday that there was a fire in Idonia Street. Deptford. According to the BBC, it was a fire in a residential tower block. There aren't any tower blocks in Idonia Street, though. I know this, because I used to live there. That's why I recognised the unusual, unforgettable name.

So this morning, for a quick ride, I decided to go and see. Here it is:
It's not a tower block, it's Maple House, a four-storey block, and the flat that's burnt out is number 21. I know this because I used to live there. Happily, it seems no-one was injured. Here's the fire brigade report.

I still wonder why the BBC described it as a tower block. Nothing in the fire brigade report says this. Maybe they think all flats in Deptford are in tower blocks.That's a nice stereotype after all. But wrong.

21 August 2011

Charlton 2 Scunthorpe 2

The last couple of years I haven't really been paying much attention to football. I would turn up to the Valley on a roughly fortnightly basis, watch the game, go home, write a blogpost, have a drink, forget, forget, forget. It was nice. I didn't have to put up with Match of the Day or the Football League Show. I almost forgot who Steve Claridge was.

As a result, I didn't know that Scunthorpe had just been relegated from the Second Division. How can that be? Not the relegation, but how did they ever reach those heights? Their results so far this season seemed mediocre, while Charlton had been imperious. So how could anything go wrong? I predicted a 4-0 win on

Turns out Scunny were much better than I'd expected. It was one of those times when I wished I could be the famous "neutral observer" - it was a cracking match, with both teams playing a nice passing game, and chances happening at both ends. The result was fair, even if you could (of course) point to a few mistakes by the referee: he got completely conned at one point by a Scunthorpe dive, and added 5 minutes of injury time to a game where there was only one time the physio was on the pitch. It didn't make a difference: the final goal was scored in legitimate added time, and the game was so open and evenly balanced it could have gone either way.

The most shameful incident was when Charlton got a corner with five minutes to go, and, at 2-1 up, decided to play it short, presumably intending to hold the ball there for the rest of the match. They managed it for about 20 seconds. For that alone, they deserved to forfeit a goal.

So, an odd feeling after the game. Disappointment that Charlton couldn't hold onto the lead, but no sense of injustice.

I've started watching Match of the Day and the Football League Show again, and I've remembered who Steve Claridge is. He's the man who was sacked as Millwall manager without leading them into a single competitive game. He must be worth listening to.

15 August 2011

Carnivorism 2.0

I'm not a vegetarian, though I have been in the past. In the end, I don't think there's a convincing moral argument that eating animals is wrong (though I'll spare you the details of my reasoning). On the other hand there are overwhelming arguments on health, economic and environmental grounds that people in our society ought to eat a lot less meat (again, I'll leave out the details - any number of websites will carry the debate about this).So if, say, 20% of people became vegetarians, it would be a Good Thing. Even if you can't bring yourself to give up meat, you ought to be glad if other people do.

These days, vegetarianism can mean two things. The original meaning is simply not eating meat. But now people possibly expect a vegetarian to be a strident crusader for not eating meat. Vegetarianism 2.0 is a campaign as well as a dietary option.

What I think has been less noticed - though possibly not by vegetarians - is that carnivorism has its preachy wing too. As always, my frame of reference is Come Dine With Me, where the carnivores typically don't only not know what to cook for vegetarian guests, but panic at the prospect of a vegetarian meal. Some go further, and suggest that people are wrong, morally wrong, for not eating meat. Well, if there's no moral argument in favour of vegetarianism, there's certainly no valid moral argument against it. (Except this: if you drink milk, you should be prepared to eat veal.) And it's perfectly possible to have a healthy diet that doesn't contain meat, as hundreds of millions of Indians will confirm.

When I was a vegetarian, I faced this kind of defensive hostility all the time. I didn't understand it then, and still don't. I think there's going to be an outbreak of carnivorism 2.0 tonight, when a team of vegetarians appear on Only Connect. I'll be following this on twitter and I'll be looking out for the funny comments about how weak and pale and generally wimpish they seem to be. I might make a drinking game of it. I'll be pissed before the missing vowels round.

13 August 2011

A Woman Killed with Kindness

Tuesday's blogpost about the "riots" in Lewisham and Catford is by far the most read ever on this blog. It made me wish I still carried adversts. Hail and farewell, new readers! This post is more like the normal routine: a half-arsed review of a play what I have seen.

A Woman Killed with Kindness is a 1603 play by Thomas Heywood. You can read it here, if you like. I did, earlier this week. I wasn't impressed. The language is caught between Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets. It doesn't have the rich verbal texture of Shakespeare or the underlying thoughtfulness of the metaphysicals. The plot and subplot are barely connected, but scenes alternate.

The production, at the Lyttleton, is directed by Katie Mitchell. I'd seen one of her plays before, a production of The Trojan Women. It seemed to me at the time that the production embodied a theory of drama, rather than a view of the play itself. From reviews of other plays it seemed that she had a strange realist view, where the characters quite obviously are talking to each other, not to the audience. She combined this, however, with formalist elements, such as closely choreographed movement, and use of unrealistic music.

I'd read that the production was just over two hours long, with no interval. Theatres don't like not having an interval - it reduces bar takings - so if a director is going non-stop, is it because she fears the audience will leave at half-time?

So, I was prepared for the worst.I even thought of not going, but staying at home, protecting my little corner of Catford from any remaining looters. But I recognised that as paranoia, so took the very slow bus to Waterloo.

And I'm glad I did. I still don't think the play's all that. But that makes it an ideal vehicle for a tendentious production. Mitchell's production is distinctly feminist, picking up on the irony of the play's title and extending it, so that you have, in a sense, two women killed by kindness. It's not entirely convincing, because the two central women aren't given good enough texts. It means that one of the best passages I noted in reading the play, a speech by Frankford, is savagely cut:

A general silence hath surpris'd the  house,
And this is the last door. Astonishment,
Fear, and amazement, beat upon my heart,
Even as a madman beats upon a drum. 
Oh, keep my eyes, you Heavens, before I enter,
From any sight that may transfix my soul;
Or, if there be so black a spectacle,
Oh, strike mine eyes stark blind; or if not so,
Lend me such patience to digest my grief,
That I may keep this white and virgin hand
From any violent outrage, or red murder! —
And with that prayer I enter.
Most of this goes. It's OK to do this, of course, but I wonder if it oversimplifies things.

The staging is striking, and a neat solution to the play's structure. Effectively two sets in one, you have a doll's house view of the public areas of the two locations: the shabby old-money home of the Mountfords, and the new (1920's style) house of the Frankfords. And there was a really stunning final piece of staging. It's as usual a bit worrying, though, when the sets are what you most remember.

There were some of Katie Mitchell's apparent predilections: several times the arrangement of furniture seems to be reinforcing the fourth wall, but less annoyingly here than in The Trojan Women. And her use of choreography to indicate passage of time was generally efficient and effective.

Let's look at some reviews. Lyn Gardner, in the Guardian, doesn't seem to have a lot to say, frankly. Charles Spencer, in the Telegraph, isn't as dim as usual (translation: he has pretty much the same opinion as me), but seems to have missed the chance to have an interval drink. (I didn't find the lack of an interval a problem, by the way: a break would have ruined the play.) Paul Taylor, in the Independent, is the most enthusiastic reviewer, but doesn't quite explain why. I think it's fair to summarise their response, like mine, as being aware that Mitchell is trying to do something very interesting, but not completely succeeding.

09 August 2011

Lewisham and Catford riots

Yesterday evening vague reports of disturbance in Lewisham were coming through, so I decided to go and look for myself and cycled through Catford to Lewisham and back.

At first, it seemed quite normal. Traffic was flowing pretty freely, but in Rushey Green a bus had been parked across the road and traffic was being diverted away from Lewisham High Street. The Argos store had a broken window, and the optician next to it was smashed wide open.

In Lewisham there was a police line across the High Street at the corner with Courthill Road. It seemed as if they were kettling the area, but I couldn't see what was happening inside.

Back at Catford there was a strange, unpleasant atmosphere. There were a lot of people walking around, partly, I suppose, because there were no buses running, partly because there were a lot of sightseers, like me, but I also felt that some were there opportunistically to grab what they could. There was no sense of a riot, no sense of a large mob rampaging. Rather there were groups of four or five, mostly in hoodies, which isn't unusual, but some wearing masks, which is. They had the stance and posture of kids in a mall, wondering which shop to go to next - which is probably exactly what they were thinking. I'd guess there were at most 100 people looking like this. There didn't seem to be many police around. A lot of small shops which would normally be open till 10 or 11 were closed and grilled at 7pm.

This morning I repeated the ride. Lewisham centre was now open and there didn't seem to be any major structural damage: no buildings burnt down. Macdonalds had smashed windows, and a few places were boarded up, but I couldn't tell if that had been a precaution rather than a consequence. A few pawnbrokers seemed to have had their grilles attacked.

In Catford, still the major damage appeared to be Argos and the optician's. At the business centre on Bromley Road it looked as if Curry's, PC World and Comet hadn't been touched. I learned off twitter that JD Sport on Catford Island had been seriously looted, and found a youtube video of that taking place, as well as the trouble at Argos.

Compared with Croydon, or even Ealing, Lewisham and Catford got away fairly lightly. My guess is that the police action in sealing off Lewisham centre was effective both in stopping any serious incidents there and in stopping it spreading down the A21. It also looked as if businesses had been given adequate information  and taken precautions. If that's true, then well done the Police.

06 August 2011

Charlton 3 Bournemouth 0

The levels of optimism before this game were high enough, but after a comprehensive win in fine style, it's going to be hard to be realistic. Bournemouth were by no means a bad team: they played an attractive passing game, and I've a feeling they'll do well this season. But Charlton were a team transformed.

Considering the team was rebuilt almost from scratch over summer, the understanding between the players was impressive. Chris Powell is continuing the work he began last season in getting the team to play nicely, passing between defense and midfield, holding the ball, waiting for the chance to break. It was controlled and patient, but there was also a bit more bite in defence. We didn't see last season's tendency to give up on 50-50 balls.

As the game went on there was even an element of adventurousness. This was best rewarded in Scott Wagstaff's goal, a stunning volley from outside the penalty area, but other players seemed willing to try an unlikely shot.

We'll probably not see a better goal this season, but if the team continues to play like this, happy days are certainly here again.

02 August 2011

How do you like your steak?

One thing my years of watching Come Dine With Me has taught me is that there is a whole semiotics wrapped up in the question of how one likes a steak.

It's clear from the shows that men feel a kind of pressure to say they want their steak almost raw. They say stupid things like "Wipe its arse and put it on the plate". Raw meat: rrrrahhh! I think if a man were to ask for his steak well-done, he'd be pitied so openly by the other guests, he'd have to at least apologise. And would probably cry in the back of the taxi going home, to an accompaniment of Dave Lamb's finest sarcasm.

Women are allowed to ask for a well-done steak. But not if they portray themselves as hard-headed no-nonsense businesswomen (and there seem to be a lot of them on CDWM) - the kind of women who proudly say other women don't like them. For them it's essential they have the steak "blue", or rare at most. More "traditional" women can assert their femininity by asking that it's cooked until it looks as little like fresh meat as possible. They don't win any prestige for their choice, of course.

I'm suggesting that the choice of how a lot of people like their steak has little to do with how it tastes, and I know that people will dispute that. But I like the tang of blood, they'll say occasionally. More likely they'll refer to the juices. I'm not sure that's much different. Eating blood has a semi-magical significance you don't need to be Claude Lévi-Strauss (or, come to that, Roland Gift) to understand.

Frankly, I don't know. My difficulty is that if someone were to ask me How do you like your steak? I wouldn't know what to say. Not that I'm a vegetarian, but I have very rarely eaten steak. When I was growing up, people used to have special steak-knives. I think they were diamond-tipped, because the assumption was that any steak a poor person could afford would be tough. I seem to remember that eating a steak was hard work; not worth the effort.

Later, in my "vegetarian hell" years, four of us were cycling in France. We'd camped about 20 miles outside Paris and the only restaurant we could find agreed to stay open later than usual for us, but all they could offer was steak-frites. Hunger got the better of us, and we all enjoyed the meal, and I'm sure it was very good, but it didn't excite me. There's something about a slab of meat that's just too much for me. Again, it's not the taste that puts me off, but the symbolism: it's carnivorism at its most naked. I've just added the picture to this entry. It's not making my mouth water; it looks more like a challenge than a treat.

But tell me, readers: do you like a juicy steak? What am I missing out on?