Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Bird In The Tree Is Worth Two In The Hand, Or Something

Current level of conviction in own genius: 6
Amount of creative activity achieved today: Too busy walking
Reading / Listening: 'Music and Silence' by Rose Tremain / Stuart Maconie's brain-melting 'Freak Zone' on BBC6
Hair Day: Am craving super-short on one-side haircut for more rock 'n' roll comportment

juice did a funny little gig in Whitechapel Art Gallery at the poetry/art/music night Littlest Birds, run by the curiously littlish-birdy girl who got me into the Poetry Cafe gig for my solo debut; she burbled inaudibly into the mic between acts, introducing them in such an artless, uninterested way you thought she'd sooner be curled up with a cup of cocoa at home. We're off to the not-yet-open, cutting-edge arts venue of the future, King's Place, tomorrow to test out the acoustic with fellow vocalist Mikhail, as he's asked us to sing with him in the opening week in September. Mikhail is brill, with sticky fingers in a dozen arty pies, asking us to be involved in his remix project of his last album (which hopefully he'll slip in one of Bjork's oversized, pom-pom-covered pockets) and programming us into his vocal night at cool new leftfield Dalston venue, Cafe Oto, in the autumn.

Andy and I bumped into Mikhail, resplendent in fabulous little pink rose-bobbled jumper, and his equally refined visual artist boyfriend in Tate Modern last night, where we'd turned up to hear a big sonic extravaganza by all-round creative polymath Tony Conrad in the Turbine Hall. The premise was very enticing, with drills, electronics, string quartets and silhouetted shadows on mammoth sheets that hung from the ceiling all in the high-culture mix. We settled down on the smooth stone floors (the famous crack now having been unceremoniously filled in with cement) for 90 mins of multi-sensory fun; the piece began with electric drills, amplified beyond all reason into teeth-shattering volume, which prompted a number of people to leave on the spot. 'Ha, wusses', I thought to myself, finger happily clamped over my one working ear; 15 mins later, drills still rattling my bones into dust, I was not quite so smug. The quartet, made giants by their projected shadows on the scrims, eventually rose up to methodically bow a drone that bled out of the Turbine Hall's famous hum; sadly though, the noise levels stayed the same and soon enough, I was reduced to a rabbit-eyed, cowering wreck, whimpering at Andy to go. We sat with our mates in the bar, ears ringing Big Ben-style, tremblingly forcing drinks down our throat and trying to remember our names and purposes in life. Lesson: loudness does not equal good art.

A deliberately non-arty day was had today, with Andy and I going on an intrepid canal walk through London, from Bethnal Green to Little Venice. It's an enlightening way to traverse the city, an almost-secret otherworld, suspended somewhere between edgy urbanity and rural, meadowy idyll. It's a London you hardly ever see, where fishermen sit stoutly with their maggots and copies of the Sun, where barge-owners tend to their frilly pots, where abandoned warehouses face-off ridiculous palaces. We passed rusting bleak factories near King's Cross, posho writers' townhouses in Camden Lock, pretty-yet-grimey Hackney, with crumbling estates vying for space alongside angular new builds, and slightly unhinged long-billed birds at London Zoo before ending up exhausted and mad, cramming cake into our slack-jawed mouths by Little Venice's serene and moneyed waters. But best of all, there was high riversports-meets-avian drama in Islington: a crowd had gathered around a tall birch tree surrounded by nettles as high as your head, looking up at a thrush which dangled upside down, tweeting weakly. The now-aghast fishermen had clearly flung their rod back and snared the unsuspecting bird, whose foot was wound in the thin wire which then coiled tightly round the tree; it was a horribly bizarre sight, and everyone looked a bit helpless until one man decided to do something: clearing the nettle-army, he was given a record-breaking leg-up by another chap, and very riskily shinned up the slim, bending tree, which had no helpful branches to cling onto. Finally making it up 5 metres, he lent over towards the bird, who promptly went bonkers with terror and wound itself further round the branch. Undeterred, cooing softly, the man carefully cut the bird loose with scissors that appeared from nowhere, and the bird plopped to the ground, cushioned (erm, hopefully, anyway) by nettles. The man unglamorously shimmied his way down the tree and we all clapped in astonishment. I couldn't have done that. We walked on, gasping at the audacity and braveness, knowing we had witnessed the True Greatness of a Bird-Rescuing Superhero. In next week's blog: a young woman is witnessed hopping off her bicycle and using her lighter to free a lion glued by its feet to a crane on the site of the new East London line!

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