Core Values

Saturday 8th August 2015

Tired of my increasing sagginess, I start to make a concerted effort to live more healthily. Without resorting to the gym, that is. One measure is to clock up 10,000 steps worth of walking in the city every day. I record them by using the pedometer function on my pleasingly out-of-date iPod Nano (2011 vintage). I wince when I do so, however, as it means tapping a little red Nike symbol, presumably because of some Satanic corporate deal with Apple. It remains the only part of my life ever to have been invaded by the omnipresent multinational tick. ‘Just do it’, their adverts insist. I want to reply, ‘Just leave it with me and I’ll consider it.’

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Sunday 9th August 2015.

I’m also trying the NHS diet plan: cutting calories to the recommended men’s limit of 1900 a day, until good habits kick in. I find that I can easily achieve this if I cut out two things: bread, and utter filth. By which I mean the sadly delicious oat cookies that Sainsbury’s do in £1 paper bags. Up till now, I’d been hoovering them up like Elvis, wondering why my suits were getting tighter. By the end of this week, though, I walk past the cookies in the supermarket with the brisk confidence of a divorcee, shunning their raisin stares.

My new love: low calorie popcorn.

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Monday 10th August 2015.

On a walk around the Barbican, I discover that the Moorgate branch of HMV has quietly shut down. The only London branches left now are Oxford Street, Fopp in Cambridge Circus, and Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush. Mooching around Covent Garden later, I note how one entertainment store that seems to be thriving is Forbidden Planet, with its endless shelves of Doctor Who toys and Marvel comic spin-offs. Sci-fi and comic conventions seem bigger than ever. I wonder if it’s to do with the way cult entertainment plays upon the need to belong, in an era where identity can be up for grabs. At Forbidden Planet, you are not just buying something, you are buying into something. It’s there, too, in the explosion of literary festivals. Congregations of belonging, of praise (‘acclaimed’ ‘award-winning’), of sacred texts, of finding one’s tribe. ‘I am here because I am the sort of person that comes here’.

And yet some ages still take more traditional pleasures. In Forbidden Planet, a couple of small children seem to be ignoring all the superhero toys and dolls, and instead are gleefully chasing each other in and out of the silver bannisters, again and again.

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Tuesday 11th August 2015.

My first High First Class mark at Birkbeck was for an essay in December 2013, written on ‘Touch Sensitive’, an iPad-only comic by Chris Ware, published in 2011. I’ve still never owned an iPad: Senate House Library rents them out to students for free.

One quote I used in my essay was from a 2012 New Statesman interview with Mr Ware, in which he glumly pronounced his comic to be a one-off venture into the digital world. One reason, he said, was that he felt uneasy about charging people for something that had no physical presence (a rather alarming view now). Another was that he regarded his printed works as still readable in years to come, whereas a piece of bespoke iPad software is at the mercy of its compatible devices and host apps, which tend to be upgraded and replaced. He gave ‘Touch Sensitive’ a five year lifespan, maximum.

Today I discover that the McSweeney’s publishing house has withdrawn its iPad app, which exclusively hosted Ware’s comic. He was right after all.

More lessons versus digital versus paper. I find out that Amazon won’t let me read my purchased Kindle ebooks on more than five devices or reading programs (this has come from upgrading to Windows 10). I have to uninstall one device first. Kindle books ultimately remain Amazon property, even when paid for. So digital book buying is more a form of renting.

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Wednesday 12th August 2015.

I leave the house to buy milk, not wearing a tie. Later, I feel very ashamed about this omission, and resolve to never let it happen again. I think I blame the ubiquity of Jeremy Corbyn. (It’s since been pointed out to me that Mr Corbyn does wear a tie. Sometimes)

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To the East Finchley Phoenix for Diary of A Teenage Girl. An acutely personal coming-of-age drama, set in 1970s California, and starring Bel Powley, the young English actress who played the teenage Princess Margaret so well in A Royal Night Out. More teenage recklessness here, this time with an impeccable American accent. Lots of 70s beiges and browns. The story focusses on the protagonist’s on-off affair with her mother’s boyfriend, amid the messiness of her wider sexual curiosity. It peters out narratively towards the end, but that may just be part of its honesty. Nice use of animations in a Robert Crumb ‘comix’ style, based on the character’s notebook drawings.

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Thursday 13th August 2015.

Many corporate job descriptions aimed at English graduates appear to be steeped in exactly the kind of mangled language that students of prose are taught to avoid. Today I come across the following sentence in a recruitment newsletter:

You will show a commitment to the team, protecting the company’s brand and market reputation through demonstrating the following core values; Trust, Smart, Fresh, Diverse, Energy, Value, Green and Results.”

If I know anything at all, it is this: I could never work for a company that mistakes adjectives for nouns.

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Friday 14th August 2015.

To the Curzon Bloomsbury for Mistress America, the new film by Noah Baumbach. More middle class New Yorkers exchanging quips about life, love, angst, age and culture.  This one is co-written with its star,  Greta Gerwig, so it’s closer to Frances Ha than While We’re Young. I loved Frances Ha enough to watch it twice at the cinema. I revelled in Ms G’s charming character, and her realisation that – as in Withnail & I – a refusal to grow up is unfair on those around you who do want to grow up. Plus I liked its use of an early 80s British pop song for no reason other than it worked – in this case, Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’.

In Mistress America, the inexplicable 80s pop song is OMD’s ‘Souvenir’. And just as OMD may not be as artistically interesting as Mr Bowie, but are still pleasant enough, the new film pales in comparison to Frances Ha, but still has much to applaud. The dialogue is written so densely that it often feels more like a recital of a script than the spontaneous product of characters’ thoughts. But whereas Whit Stillman’s Damsels In Distress (also starring Ms Gerwig) took this idea to an extreme, Mistress America allows moments of realism and humanity to break through. Ms G’s character here is much more self-aware than Frances Ha, and I like how the narrative shifts between two main characters: the thirty-year-old girl about town Gerwig, and the 18-year-old nervous college student Tracy, whose tale begins the film.

At times, it’s hard to actually keep up as a viewer, such is the rapid fire of the well-crafted retorts. I especially like the response when Tracy is accused of putting Gerwig’s character into a short story:

‘But you did the same. You used a joke of mine in one of your tweets!’

And it was my least favourited tweet ever!’

Modern love indeed.

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