Friday, 17 December 2010

The Walking Dead in review

I recently reviewed AMC's The Walking Dead for The Bubble Magazine. Read it here.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Flights of mancy

Two cats live next door. They keep four humans to entertain and feed them. One is a white Persian that left its previous human to burn horribly in a secret underground lair. The other is ginger. Its past times include urinating on our plants and licking its bollocks. Whether this serves some important biological purpose or else is some subtle symbol of ailuromancy remains unclear to me, but the procedure is oddly hypnotic and the urge to replicate it oneself disconcertingly powerful. During a recent trip to Scotland I came close to doing so and observed another application of ethology that, whilst less complex than divination, was much more fun.


Ian has large jowls, rather doleful eyes of watery blue and a deep, rumbling Scottish burr. He shakes my hand with a vice-like grip, hands me an over-and-under twenty gauge shotgun and we set off, arm in arm down a woodland path. Ian likes peace and quiet, waterproof trousers and discussing the difference between lead and steel shot. Sporting clays are fired in ways that are supposed to mimic animal behaviour. Some are fired up and toward you as if scared by beaters. These you should track until the end of the gun obscures the target and fire immediately. Some shoot out from under you and fly away to the distance as if disturbed by your tread—track, sink just below and take out its legs. If it had legs. The bolting rabbit, in which the clay is set on its side and sent bouncing across the ground, is a particular favourite—track, pull ahead, and fire. Some have to be taken two at a time—tremendous fun (eight for eight, the final two exploding like dropped watermelons to my great satisfaction). We continue until the barrels are hot and my shoulder bruised.

Later, I find myself in a yoga class. Our leader, Marjorie, is an octogenarian dressed in purple plaid and as flexible as an over cooked bean sprout. Marjorie takes no prisoners: After the opening meditation and chant, she instructs my companions and I to rest our left buttocks on the ground and curl our legs under our right. I hesitate, in the moment utterly forgetting my right and my left. I glance sideways, taking the lead from Dorinne, also dressed in purple. “Do you have a problem?” inquires Marj imperiously, fixing me with a gimlet eye. I struggle to respond, things below folded in a distinctly unnatural configuration and mumble “Erm…no”. I do have a problem. Several in fact. Is it possible to strain a testicle, because it honestly feels like I have? Why am I the only man here? Are the others felling firs and swigging Irn-Bru whilst mentally listing the names of other transition metals they can misspell? Why isn't this whole situation more like the Eric Prydz music video I had prepared for? And why didn’t I wear purple? I stick out like a sore thumb. Or left buttock.

And so the class progresses. Downward dog (“I can’t do this one with you, group, my arm’s been paralysed since I was eleven”), tree (“Reena? Where are you Reena? Find a wall love, we don’t want a repetition of last month”) and fish, for which I receive a compliment, as I spasm in a pool of my own fluids. We settle into purring pussy— which is probably less enjoyable than it sounds—on our backs with legs raised. The session ends with the lights turned off and all of us lying supine, silent and spent. I better have the body of a Nepalese virgin after this. And I am acutely aware that I will be unable to stand as Marjorie back flips merrily out of the room collecting in the mats with her feet.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Badgering On

I don’t come from a hairy family. Previously having contended only with the downy upper lip growth similar to that of a young Mediterranean girl, shaving has been a rare ritual. Until now, I have wet shaved with good quality cream applied with the fingertips. But as further growth is cropping up around my chin and cheeks the ritual takes place more often and I have decided to invest in a shaving brush. I have chosen one of medium size filled with super badger hair (to clarify the adjective, badger hair is graded from pure to best, super and finally silvertip).

Why? Partly because in my formative years a badger sat upon my face and I found the experience to be hugely enjoyable, but mostly because there are three principle benefits: A richer lather is created, the brush exfoliates the skin and it lifts follicles away from the face allowing for a more even shave.

In addition, a good shave is a sensual delight. My friend James, whom I care for dearly, only dry shaves and it annoys me intensely. Much like Nazism or obesity. Why forgo such a delicious pleasure? Some plea there is not enough time. This is bilge of the highest order. If a gentleman can’t set aside a quarter of an hour to indulge himself (steady on) I think a severe readjustment of priorities is in order.

Like many boys I first became aware of the basics whilst watching my father shave, talking to him whilst perched on the edge of the bathtub. For those who are used to dry shaving (HEATHENS!) or others needing guidance have a gander at the advice proffered by the gurus of Geo F. Trumper.

Choose to wet shave with a good brush.

The best a toad can get.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

449, Oxford Street

When I have my passport photographs taken in a booth my appearance is that of a man who has just taken the full force of a horse’s hind hoof to his testicles. Surprised, eyes unfocussed and deeply unattractive. Enough is enough. People all over the world will see these images. The unwashed, moustachioed passport control officer; my future employer; the policeman pulling me over as I power across town to a) have sex with my impossibly attractive Swedish girlfriend or b) catch the Glee finale.

These characters will stare at my face and then at my 45mm by 35mm facsimile. However charismatic and charming the former, they will distrust the latter. And with my feathery hair and lithe build I simply can’t afford to be sent to jail.

Now I come to think of it, I can barely find anything positive about using a passport booth. Yes, the disembodied authoritative female voice is oddly titillating, but the waiting while the couple already inside eat each other’s faces? Not having the right change? The adjusting of the stool that makes me feel like a marine, either because the action is like opening a submarine hatch because or I’m bending over?

Thank goodness then that a journalist friend of mine suggested an establishment at 449, Oxford Street, where I could have them done properly by a human, in a place devoid of oddly shaped stools, diet permitting.

Almost opposite Selfridges, 449 is a doorway sandwiched in between two shops. You’d be forgiven for thinking that therein lays a brothel or rundown orthodontic practice. A narrow corridor, an interminable amount of stairs (did I say ‘lithe’ earlier?) and you tumble into a large room divided into a reception area and studio area by rather tired looking curtains. When I visited, a small wiry man greeted my breathless, red-faced personage. He ushered me to a chair to wait and I looked about me. A large board plastered with famous patrons lay to my right: Mirren, Brand and Penry-Jones to name a few. Meanwhile, the man was parrying questions from two other customers and displaying a seemingly sound knowledge of the regulations for Canadian and Chinese travel documents.

Several minutes elapsed before a photographer popped his head out of the curtain bound studio and beckoned to me. The stool was at the correct height. I was given time to compose myself. I was lit flatteringly and was given the opportunity to examine each image to see whether it was to my satisfaction.

You cannot smile for a British passport photograph. Whitehall contacts tell me that this is so members of other countries will think we are all miserable bastards and not wish to visit. There seem to be three options: Soulless, sulky or—if feeling vaguely venereal—smouldering. I ‘worked’ (technical term) one of each and picked one to my taste. Some moments later and the photographs were presented to me in a rather neat envelope.

The result? All because the lady loves Milk Tray.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Suit Yourself

After seeing the wonderful A Single Man, I turned my mind to other besuited men on screen. Presented here, a shortlist of the most dapper:

Roger Thornhill - Cary Grant

I'd always believed the suit to be Norton and Sons, the softer drape around the shoulder and chest suggestive of their house style. But after glancing through R. Torregrossa's authoritative tome in the subject, it is apparently Kilgour.

Whatever its provenance, it remains iconic. The light grey wool, the three button front rolling to two, the ventless back (a rarity amongst the single breasted, have a gander next time you're out), the trousers falling away from the line of the jacket so perfectly...the epitome of elegance to which every gentleman should aspire.

John Steed - Patrick MacNee

Once Dr. David Keel left the Avengers, Steed got his act together working both the traditional and Modish with ease.

Bowler? Check. Buttonhole? Check. Bentley? Why obviously. Bravo, Steed.

That blue is tremendous, as are the slanted pockets. And what are those I spy peeping under the trousers? A pair of Chelseas. Suited and booted.

James Bond – Pierce Brosnan

I would never dream of saying a word against the effulgent Tom Ford, but since he took over suiting 007, I do sometimes miss the timeless Italian lines of his predecessors, Brioni, that Brosnan wore so well. Come to think of it, he looked equally smashing in Cappelli's clothes as Thomas Crown.

Elliot Ness - Kevin Costner

Looking sharp, Mr. Ness. What's that you're wearing? Armani you say? On a policeman's salary? But surely Georgio didn't found his fashion house until the mid seventies? Oh arse to such trifling anachronisms, you look gorgeous. Chin chin.

Marty Hopkirk – Kenneth Cope

If you die in your suit, you will always look fabulous in the afterlife. Especially as your ectoplasmic threads will never require the necessary care that those earthbound ones will, and they will always remain a perfect ethereal white. Hello vicar.

Bertram Cooper – Robert Morse

While many are drawn to the sharp, cut to the bone suits of Draper (centre) its the luxuriant soft suitings of Cooper (right) that catch my eye. Is that a silk handkerchief I spy, Bertram? Far groovier than the white squares Draper wears perpetually. And the bow tie…I salute you.

No shoes? No problem.

Might I recommend...

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Scissors of Navarone

The man with the blades looks like Anthony Quinn in the Guns of Navarone. I'm pretty sure he's killed a man. With his bare hands. He wears a loose denim shirt buttoned to his sternum. Thick chest hair sprouts above. His trousers are secured by a belt of worn tan leather the end of which sways serpentine. He has narrow eyes, tobacco stained hands and big pair of scissors.

There are at least two people in the world a man should be able to trust absolutely. His mother and his barber. Question is, would I trust Anthony Quinn?

Studying in London, but having my home up north, I generally plan my protein purge around trips back where my hair is cut in a small room behind a garage by one of three men -- leather jerkin, pipe-smoking marathon runner or ex-teddy boy. All of whom think my name is Alexander. I am not sure why. They cut my hair considerately, neatly and cheaply. They have my trust.

Quinn orders me to hang my coat up and directs me to a chair. I can handle a certain brusqueness if the service stands for itself. The cut is a little too quick, and the odd hair is plucked rather than cut from my head. Sharper scissors would solve that problem. When he thinks he has finished he whips the mirror from the shelf in front of us and holds it behind my head. Oh, the back of my head. A delightful thing to behold, I shall never tire of it. I request a little more off the top. Quinn asks me how much; 'A centimetre? Half an inch in your English?'. This sceptered isle has been on metric for some time, but I'm a sucker for imperial measurements so I let it slide. I have no idea how much more. I just want it thinning out. Leather jerkin would just get on with it. Pipe-smoking marathon runner would get it right first time. I ask for half an inch in my English.

I emerge an all too short time later with a cut that should do. I trust Quinn to destroy gun emplacements of the Axis, but not to cut my hair. My search continues.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

In the altogether and utterly content

This article was originally going to be submitted to The Notebook, a new creative writing magazine with a travel section. I missed the deadline.


There have been few occasions when I have felt truly at ease in the presence of a naked man. Included in the list; a corpse, chest cut open with me going at his ribcage with a hacksaw (my time as a medical student) and William Moseley in full Narnian battle regalia, with me going at him with vigour (a brief dalliance for the other side and very possibly a dream). My comfort was in one instance due to my being fully clothed and in the other due to my curiosity regarding the lesser-seen parts of human anatomy.

I can now augment that list.

Japan is a country of opposites. It is fiercely modern yet steeped in tradition. At times utterly respectful, at others devilishly kinky. Throughout history, its cities have been burnt, besieged and bombed, but its spirit endures. If it is to be understood, like so many things, it must be experienced. And there is one experience in particular that I can now thoroughly recommend. But you must know what you are doing. A faux pas is embarrassing at the best of times but is felt most acutely when starkers…

I find myself, dear reader, on a mountainside beyond Kyoto. The air is sweet and a little humid. The vegetation is a rich green, the sky azure. The scenery is beautiful—worthy of Hokusai if he hadn’t been so preoccupied with Fuji, but I am unable to appreciate it fully. My muscles ache and my previously immaculate linen shirt is creased and not a little damp. I am in need of relaxation. Thankfully there is an Onsen near by. This, for the uninitiated, is an establishment where a natural ground fissure releases hot, nutrient rich water, and is not to be confused with a Sento where normal water is heated artificially. But I am filled with trepidation. It’s my first time and I’m worried about how I’ll perform. My companion, Monish, and I (travelling alone has its merits, but on balance is best left to Buchan-style adventurers) enter the complex through a small wooden door. First, as expected, we remove our shoes and purchased small bars of soap and towelling cloths. Then we step into the changing room. Men of various nationalities and in deshabille meet us. What else is there to do? We disrobe entirely. It is unusual, and oddly liberating. My travelling companion (quite hairy, burly and blessed with proportions I would never have suspected) moves outside. I follow.

First comes the washing. I admire many things about the people of Japan but none greater than their etiquette regarding cleanliness. A row of tiny wooden stools with buckets and taps are in front of me. I fold my spindly frame on to a stool, soap and rinse every part of my body thoroughly (it is paramount one does not get soap in the bath itself) and then stand awkwardly, trying not to slip on the smooth stone floor.

Two things strike me as I enter the bath area. First the beauty (a wood and stone construction nestled in the aforementioned mountain side) and then the penises. Just what is the appropriate collective noun? A plurality, a plenitude, a plethora, a profusion? Anyway, there they all are, as numerous and as varied in appearance as Pokemon, without the inconvenience of having to ‘catch ‘em all’. Oh really, you can’t help but look. The bath is raised. One’s eye line is cock-height (technical term). But as soon as one enters the water, all embarrassment is forgotten.

In my current London abode, I don’t have the luxury of a bath. I imagine many first year readers are in a similar situation. Isn’t it a bugger? There are few pleasures more joyous than a hot bath. But an onsen is more. The water is richer, with an almost herbal aroma, and you have company. But this latter fact ceases to matter. Your muscles relax, your breathing deepens and your skin feels fantastic. You sit and you wallow in companionable silence (but for goodness sake don’t wring your towel in the bath water).

Later, on my return to Tokyo and comfortably ensconced in the Park Hyatt (woefully devoid of Scarlett Johansson) I recalled the experience as near perfect, marred only by the two French gentlemen who smuggled a camera in somehow—goodness knows where they hid it, the mind boggles. I like to think somewhere on a foreign mantelpiece lies a photograph of mountains, Frenchmen and Monish and I. In the altogether and utterly content.