Sunday, 10 November 2013

So, I was at this party....

So I was at a party last night and as is always the case at the moment when you gather a group of twenty something together we all had a good moan about our jobs. Because the schools we went to told us horrible lies about our potential. One guy though told me he had a lousy job, delivering replacement microscope parts for the big fancy ones they have at university and private labs. Because I'd been drinking I told him that he was looking at it wrong, that he had an amazing job as a small but vital part of the glorious engine that is human progress.

But here's the thing, I really believe that.

I don't have a lot of faith in people, they vote for UKIP and read the Daily Mail online, but Humanity... That's something else. The things we've done, the problems we've solved blow my mind every time I remember to think about them. Did you know we've been to the Moon!? The freaking Moon! Our ancestors  prayed to the bloody thing and we've put people on it! For like, no reason! We've put robots on Mars! Better yet we found a hexagon on Saturn, a gigantic, regular hexagon... Saturn is 1.2 billion km away I can't fit that number in my head and we found a hexagon on it. Even better than that though, yes it gets better, we explained it. Using fluid dynamics models I couldn't hope to understand people worked out how and why a hexagon would appear in the swirling clouds of another world. YES!

We like to believe in great men, individuals who save us with their almost supernatural ability. People like to think Charles Darwin had the idea for evolution one day is much the same way you or I might think "I'd quite like a sandwich". But he came at the end of centuries of thought and rational development. This doesn't mean Darwin wasn't a genius but it is the truth behind all human progress. We do it together. 

It's why I've always prefered Lex Luthor to Superman, the real Lex Luthor that is, this fella: 
Green and purple, because you want your doom suit to be a statement.

When they have one of their little scraps Superman get's ready by putting his underwear on over his tights and he's done. Lex on the other hand draws on resources from all over the world, hires the best scientist from all over the world, puts all that into a suit and uses it to punch god in the face for daring to stifle human progress.

We can do amazing things, we can cure disease, reshape the face of our world and stand on others. But it takes all of us, we need the guy replacing and repairing the microscope in the lab that might cure Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, we need the guys who made the tyres of the Mars rover, we need the people who make the screws that hold Voyager together as to leaves the solar system billions of kilometers from here. 

It's easy to think we're at the end of history, reduced to social media navel gazing while we wait for the inevitable apocalypse with optional zombies. But it isn't true, we aren't Alexander weeping for no more worlds left to conquer, we're just getting going. The infinite possibilities and beautiful futures are out there waiting for us all we have to do is go out and take them. 

We don't need great men and women, we don't need super-heroes or gods to show up and save us. I carry more computing power in my pocket right now than it took to get us to the moon, we can do anything if we do it together. So remember that when you're delivering microscope parts or doing admin at a hospital or whatever that you're part of the glorious engine that's driving us into the future. This is how men really move mountains, stone by stone. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Something that brightened my day

I am, among my many faults, something of a cynic. A big part of me tends to the view that no matter what you do or how things are set up the bastards are always going to rise to the top: cream my rise but so does scum and so on. It's easy to fall into this mindset with the world as it is, HSBC being fined around a days profits for financing massive criminal enterprises, Assad carrying on killing people but it's OK now apparently because he's only using bullets and cluster bombs not Sarin and VX. The world is a place in which fairly horrible things happen every day and thanks to this being the information age we are at liberty to know about all of them.


I picked up a paper today, well the Guardian but still, while I was in a waiting area of a restaurant and I read the front page article about the trial of Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson. I nearly cried right there in public. The reason I'm writing this is because people don't seem to be taking on the awesome magnitude of this trial and quite how beautiful it really is. This trial and to a lesser extent the Leveson inquiry that preceded it really are the most brilliant and perfect thing that has happened in this country in decades.

The wheels of justice turn slowly and Leveson may seem like a long time ago but this trial shows that they do turn. It shows that everyone is subject to the rule of law, your connections might help you, your money might delay matters but the wheel turns and justice is done and it is done publicly and honestly.

I am struggling to put into words how beautiful this is but let me try with an example; they read out in court a private letter showing the six year affair between both defendants. Now it's easy to just titter and say 'oh er' behold the emperor has no clothes and I can see his winky. But it's so much more, this was read out for a reason it show the close personal connection and the willingness to share secrets that the defendants had which is an essential element of the offence with which they were charged. Do you see? It wasn't just to cast aspersions on their character as they had done to public figures so many times before it is the moral opposite, it is a personal secret revealed because it was in the public interest: exactly what they pretended to do with their petty smear campaigns. Can you hear the music?

Whether they're found guilty or not this is victory, seeing them hauled up and called to account, put in a place where they can't PR bullshit their way out of tricky questions because the interviewer wants to have them on again and there's only 3 minutes budgeted for this chat. All their friends and their power and their influence means absolutely nothing in a court of law Rupert Murdoch and the Prime Minister can't help them now. This is victory, because it shows that justice can happen, it is an object lesson for every quick tongued little spiv who thinks it's better to be clever than good, better to be Loki than Thor.

Take a moment to really appreciate it, this is the definition of a free country, Voltaire said that to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize and for a long time if you lived in the public eye that meant people like Rebecca and Andy, and yet there they are. Take a moment a savour the value of a powerful independent judiciary and the rule of law, take a moment and enjoy the idea of a QC in his silly wig and silk gown tearing into the them like he's Anthony Hopkins doing his best Odin.

So yes this really brightened my day, there is Justice in the world and not because of the honeyed words of religion promising justice in the After or Karmaic nonsense that they'll get pooped on by more birds or something. No there's Justice in the world because we put it there with courts and law and it's beautiful.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Tweed Wearer's Guide to British Taverns: An Introduction

An enlightening guide to the best (and worst) of the licensed trade from our own correspondent.

“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
Dr Johnson

~ Introduction

  It is with great pleasure that I humbly present to you, earnest student of Ataraxia, a new and hopefully regular contribution to this august publication; my own small attempt at penning for you, a guide to that singularly varied and fascinating subject, the public houses of Britain.

This disparate collection of buildings both humble and grand forms one of the most defining features of both the social and cultural landscape of this nation, spanning its great divides between class and wealth, urban and rural, modern and historic. 

Any true follower of the Ataraxian club will be all too aware of the importance we attach to the serious business of drinking, conversation and occasionally having a decent plate of something hot to prevent the onset of malnutrition. As a result, I will endeavour over the coming weeks to highlight some of the venues, both in our glorious Capital and around about in the sleepy provinces of our Kingdom, where a noble tweed clad gent can find a warm and understanding welcome. From the soaring majesty of our Victorian gin-palaces to the sleepy village local inhabited by toothless, badger baiting locals, I hope you, dear reader, will follow where I lead, and perhaps you too will discover some of the feeling of sheer contentment and restful satisfaction that can only be brought about while in the confines of a really good pub.

- Where to Avoid

 Before we begin proper on our quest for perfection, perhaps it is prudent to spend a moment discussing places no proud follower of the Ataraxian ideal should ever be seen. Loosely, these places are anywhere which describes themselves as a chain of ‘family eating houses’, ‘pub and country dining’, or anything with the words ‘carvery’, ‘sizzling’, ‘grill’ or ‘OAP discount special’ mentioned on its signage. 

These hideous, mangled attempts at traditional pub hospitality are a concept dreamt up by the fevered imagination of a PR firm in the heat 1979, yet they continue to inflict themselves on the unsuspecting general public. Their vile over lit neon glow, their stained swirly carpets and the ubiquitous presence of horse brasses, faux paintings of rural idylls and corporately ordained ‘quirky’ artefacts clumsily adorning their walls, should be enough to bring the bile to the throat of any enlightened individual. If not, then stay awhile to partake in their unkempt tasteless beer, their mass produced imitation ‘Largurs’ or await the arrival of vast plates of deep fried beige food, presented by disinterested staff dreaming of a better future away from the hot embrace of the ‘pub chain’. 

Never, I repeat never should any like-minded fellow enter these places, there is nothing here for people such as us. A proper pub, befitting the title of a ‘genuine all-rounder’, will be able to cater for the needs of the hungry and the family inclined as well as the thirsty, without allowing either party to encroach upon or undermine the other. A pub can be known for its food, as well as its drink and its welcome for all; no one should have to suffer in a noisy overblown licensed crèche with pretences of adequacy. 

 Equally shunned here at the club are the overweening middle class gasto-pubs that have been inflicted upon countless once perfectly adequate drinking houses. I repeat the mantra that food in pubs, if done correctly and sympathetically, can perfectly complement the wet trade environment and bring those who would not naturally venture into public houses into their welcome arms. What is objectionable to us, is when a pub severs its connections to its own earthly existence; it suddenly considers itself better than the majority of its long standing clientele. Black paint, stripped walls, modern sculpture, Gerbers and an ungainly, off the wall name are the order of the day, as a once welcoming local is painfully augmented to that dreadful highbred somewhere between high end restaurant and clumsy cafe, with a single lonely hand-pull left ironically on the bar. ‘This used to be a right grotty little dive’, you hear their hateful yuppie patronage with bourgeois pretentions, spout from the segregated outdoor seating area. Protected by purple velvet rope interspersed with low box hedging, they consider themselves removed from the prolls walking the streets beyond, ensconced in their little black cave eating platefuls of deliberately incomprehensible food, all reassuringly expensive of course.

 Also included in the category of avoidance, for obvious reasons, are those yobby little hell holes found in the hopelessly deprived parts of our land. These sad taverns once were the mainstay of so many a working class way of life, but many are now often the preserves of the leary unemployable sons of better fathers, drenched in overpriced ‘Largur’ with football played on a continuous loop and at a volume which precludes any level of conversation. That is not to say all working class pubs are included in this category. Far from it, after all it is in the simple working class beer house that all pubs find their common ancestor. Indeed, some of the most enlightening and enjoyable pubs this correspondent has ever had the pleasure of discovering have been in areas wracked with social deprivation, and which sharp intakes of breath and general incredulity are the norm when their names are mentioned among more prurient company; ‘Ooo, you don’t go in there, do you?’. 

Those pubs debarred for our purposes are those where the old guard of real pub people have been driven out by the young and unimaginative who have taken charge of the asylum, enforcing the banishment of decent ale, conversation and social cohesion. These places are the playgrounds of overgrown children with a pint clasped in their hand. Pity them. It is a blameless phenomenon form both those abandoned by government and society, and the businessmen willing to put up with their misdemeanours for the sake of regular trade, but they are like all the other pubs mentioned in this section, too much of one particular thing. Balance between all and for all is the key to running a truly inspirational pub, and in the coming weeks I hope to share a few of these with you. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Tipple of the Season

Dear friends, the air is thick with drizzle, the greenery hangs weather beaten and flaccid on the trees and the swallows mutter to themselves about how they should have stopped at France. This my fellow Subjects can mean but one thing, the youthful joy of Spring have faded and it is time to enter into the slightly more mature, muskier joys of Summer.

The greatest of these joys; save only for festivals; long, languid sunsets; lambs and calves; beaches; school holidays.... Right, among the many joys of Summer is of course Pimm's. For this (perhaps beloved?) correspondent at least the season has not yet begun until he has imbibed his first glass of the very British ichor. It is a drink with a fascinating history of elitism and snobbery of the lowest sort however it remains delicious so on we go.

Though I'm more than aware that many of you wonderful Ataraxians come close or even match my blasphemous devotion to Bacchus many, it occurred to me, will only be aware of the Standard Pimm's mix and will knock it together with the same mechanical tenacity and Newtonian certitude as one might mix up a bowl of Smash or blend your morning G&T. However I am here to tell you there are a myriad of ways to despoil your body with this wonderful drink!

N.B. Some of these drinks have other names, I have merely encountered them as one might spend a night with a mesmerising stranger whose number you never quite manage to ask for, those better educated in their mixology will I hope forgive such discrepancies in nomenclature.

Classic Pimm's
For those of you not yet aware, you poor devils, there is a most wonderful drink littering the supermarkets named Pimm's. In it's basest form it is simply mixed with lemonade (a concoction they even sell in cans if you are... so inclined). However Pimm's proper goes as follows.

-Pimm's No. 1
-An Orange
-A Cucumber
-A punnet of Strawberries
-A Lime
-A sprig of mint (Large)

-Large knife
-Something to stir with (I use the knife...)

The process is wonderfully inexact and in my opinion the cocktail which owes the most to personal taste. Start with the jug, add the orange chopped into sixths, the lime chopped in to quarters, 2 inches of the cucumber into slices as fine or chunky as you like, at least six strawberries quartered and the mint. Some people suggest shredding the mint, because they are idiots, rather bruise and scrunch the leaves and put in either as individual leaves or as the whole sprig in the jug.

Toss in the ice and fill the jug to one third of it's height in Pimm's (it will be less so in volume due to the other materials) and top with Lemonade. This is a wonderful drink, it fills me with all the joys of summer and as those with the misfortune to know this curmudgeon will tell you that's quite the acheivment.

Ginger Pimm's
Let's not make a big deal of it, as above but add ginger beer instead of lemonade. Personally I believe you should also remove the mint and and possibly add carrot, sounds mad I know, but why on earth are you reading this if you're not going to try it?

Mother's Pimm's
As the first only with the addition of what my parents taught me was called 'a healthy slug' of Cointreau, though as you prefer and your budget dictates Triple Sec or Grand Marnier. This is the favourite among my family, entourage and modest collection of gimps.

(Ed; from here on in the Club can on longer sanction or condone your drinking of the things he recommends)

Suicide Pimm's
Now is there anything nicer than an completely free afternoon? There is, spending such an afternoon in languid ecstasy sprawled on a lawn with your closest friends or partner. There are two ways to drink this, either at a party sloshing it back to keep out the nonsense spouted by the dullards around you (this use is what leads to it's name). Or one can spend a whole afternoon sipping away at it like a wine and musing on how much you love one another.

The recipe is agonisingly simple, as with Ginger Pimm's save only replace the ginger beer with Crabby's Alcoholic Ginger Beer and add the 'healthy slug' of the orange liqueur of your choice.

Witty Pimm's
Everyone knows certain types of Alcohol promote certain forms of... inebriation. red wine sends one maudlin, ale makes one jolly, gin prompts introspection, larger can inspire enthusiasm and WKD apparently prompts social heresy deserving of the reintroduction of burning at the stake.

Simply approach classic Pimm's as one normally would save one additional phase. When one has filled the first third of the jug with Pimm's add another third with sparkling wine. Though it pains me to say so even Tesco's stuff will do. Finer stuff is wasted in any cocktail anyway, the ideal of course is Prosecco, as ever friends let your wallet be your guide. Then of course top with lemonade.

Oblivion Pimm's
I found this recipe scribbled on the inside, back cover of a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince within Senate House in London, written in a jagged scratchy hand in a rusty red ink, signed A Crowley. Much of the recipe I have had to discard, having such ingredients as, and I quote, “The maiden-head of the first goat” and instructions like “poured while intoning the thousand names of Set”.

However dear reader I have prevailed upon myself to produce a legal version of the recipe here:

(Ed: That's not even close to legal, I'm drawing a line under this. Happy Jubilee Everyone!) 

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Paradoxes of Tehran

Having spent the last 12 months in the Iranian capital of Tehran, it may surprise you that this city has a lot to offer, even with being in the Islamic Republic. The lonely planet guide does not do this city any form of justice, splitting this city of 14 million people into 2 groups; the rich and poor. Tehran and Iran in general is not where you would go for city break, normally but having visitors over here, and showing them the finer sides to Tehran culture, they all left the country with a big grin on there face!

Being one of the editors of an arts magazine, I have been given unfettered access to a vast array of culture that most Tehrani’s refuse to believe exist. Tehran has one of the wildest party scenes in the region, which if compared to Dubai probably would be on a par, but this is in a dry state, no pun intended.

From installation exhibitions to rooftop choreographic performances’, Tehran is the city of paradoxes over paradoxes, a city rich with the beating heart of the ancient Persian empire but with the hint of a dusty Madrid layout. Coffee shops where Elizabeth Taylor used to frequent, the most valued art collection outside the Guggenheim around $7,000,000,000 roughly at today’s value. But then again you will never see these fine 20th century pieces due to the cultural restriction placed on western art.

This is the town that buying a Kia Sportage will cost you the same as a house due to import restrictions, but the Koreans can’t sell enough of the machines. Tehran, if you want to break your stereotypes about Iran then this is the city to start with.

Our Man in Tehran

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Celebrate the Craftsman

I have spent my Sunday morning going through Nick Hands Slow Coast Soundslides. Quite simply they are delightful. Back in 2009 & 2010 Nick Hand travelled around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. As he went the photographer and graphic designer profiled the craftsman and women he meet along his costal cycle ride. His travels have also recently been put into a book.

As Nick says in his Do Lecture Why we need to celebrate craftsmen 'In an age of fast, there’s slow. In an age of quantity there’s quality.' We just couldn't agree more. He quotes Paul Smith in the talk, saying 'Individuality and true craftsmanship is something we really need'. Its an uplifting talk and a refreshing celebration of craft, quality and the appreciation of the finer, smaller and slower things in life.  

What I recommend is that you stop listening to me and I firstly let Nick do the speaking in his talk, but secondly and most importantly listen to the artisans themselves. (Especially Bill the stick maker)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Round the Wireless!

We head northwards to the cold lands of Scandinavia for this week's Round the Wireless, scattered with high levels of equality, beautiful furniture, integrated transport, fields full of blonde hair and apparently very talented female music artists. 

Firstly Le Corps Mince de Francoise (LCMDF) a Finnish sibling duo:

Second more sisters, Swedish blues/southern rock trio Greta, Stella and Sunniva Bondesson:

Representing Denmark, trio Lisbet Fritze, Sofie Johanne and Loui Foo, Giana Factory:

Then 21-year-old Jenny “Lydmor” Rossander, a Danish electronic singer/songwriter