15-18 (Lower That Number)

(Spoiler warning: Some spoilers for the film This is England follow. You may wish to see the film before reading this post.)

The above clip of a young skinhead’s induction into his club of friends is one of the sweetest moments in Shane Meadows’ new film, This is England. It resonated with me partly because I’m biased toward remembering subcultural rites of passage fondly. I wasn’t a skinhead, though, so the hair didn’t come off, it just got dyed fuchsia. While I promise pictures will follow at a later date, this post is about this fine new film, not my hair.

The rituals carried out to welcome a new person into a subcultural group serve a purpose for more than just the inductee. The veterans have their sense of unity reinforced as they remember how they met their friends. Everyone is given a chance to recall what it felt like to be delivered from teenage outsider isolation into a family that cared about you and looked out for you possibly more than your own biological one ever did.

The hair falls to the floor and young Shaun (played by newcomer Thomas Turgoose) gains a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, as with any coming-of-age tale, the innocence is confined to Act One. When an old friend of the gang returns from a recent prison stay, his racism splits the group and he persuades an impressionable Shaun to stay on the wrong side of the divide.

Easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year, This is England sees exceptional performances from each of its actors, a soundtrack full of ska classics (I do love hearing Toots and the Maytals on a cinema sound system) and a superb period recreation of early 1980s England. In some ways it’s a skinhead Quadrophenia, which the film directly references with its shot of the full ensemble cast lined up against a wall on its promotional poster. However where The Who’s film focuses on the internal struggle of a boy finding himself, Meadows’ story is as much about an era’s and a country’s identity crisis as it is about one boy growing up.

Offering a complex depiction of racial violence, it is a story every bit as relevant to 2007 as to 1983. This makes it all the more frustrating that the British Board of Film Classification gave This is England an 18 certificate, citing “realistic violence and racist language” as its reason for keeping any person under 18 from seeing it without parental consent. Meadows sadly notes that “the film is now unavailable to the audience it will benefit the most”.

After seeing this film, I’m completely at a loss as to how this would get an 18 certification when so many more violent films receive 15s and 12s. In the above news segment, the BBFC representative attempts to single This is England out by noting that its violence dwells on the infliction of pain. Somehow this is more harmful than other kinds of non-pain-focused violence?

The most recent James Bond film, Casino Royale, received a 12 certificate from the BBFC. Aside from numerous instances of hand-to-hand and weapons-based combat as well as massive explosions, there was a particularly memorable scene of graphic torture. I’m 32 years old and when the big bad captures Bond, strips him naked and proceeds to penalise his, um, penis, well… I’m still emotionally scarred. But at least it was educational. Kids may not learn about the history of racism and youth culture in their country, but they will know that if they become MI5 spies, they should avoid capture by Le Chiffre, because he is prone to go straight for the penis.

All Meadows has asked for is a 15 certification, which thankfully Bristol’s City Council has had the good sense to grant. Following an appeal by Mark Cosgrove, Head of Watershed Media Centre’s Film Programme, the Bristol City Council’s licensing committee unanimously voted in favour of reclassifying the film. Hopefully other enlightened city councils will do likewise and give more young people access to this great film. If twelve year-olds can go to the cinema on their own to see a baddie bludgeon Bond’s bollocks, certainly young people three years older than them should be able to watch an intelligent movie about growing up dangerously.

Official site for the film
Under My Skin by Shane Meadows
Response by Shane Meadows to 18 certification
Bristol City Council re-classifies This Is England


UPDATE (13 May 2007): Westminster City Council has followed Bristol’s example and lowered the film’s certification to 15.

Manifesting Peace

With a few days’ distance from my first really negative experience in England, I’ve had time to reflect on expatriate life and Google for information on others’ experiences as well. Today I came across the Ex-Pat Manifesto, to which I would like to add the following point:

  • While I am a representative of my country, please consider that perhaps I left it for a reason. The probability that I disapprove just as much as you do of the government that I left behind is high. I’m happy to engage in intelligent discussions of my reasons for leaving it, but as a human being with feelings, it hurts if the first thing you say to me is along the lines of “I hate you people”. That said, I will still respond civilly to these sentiments. I’m a guest in your country and I respect that. I hope that one day we can share a mutual respect and that our learning about each other will give some hope for the world learning to get along peacefully on a global scale.

The weekend really left a poor taste in my mouth. I was hurt, but I’m not going to allow the actions of two people to discolour my impression of an entire country. Doing so would only be hypocritical.

North American Scum

“Oh I don’t know, I don’t know, oh, where to begin. We are North Americans.”

Everyone should live at least part of their lives abroad. Aside from all the obvious horizon-broadening it does by introducing you to new places and people, one of its most educational aspects is its gift of your new identity as the foreigner. Although it’s a negative lesson, good comes from it. You start to have more compassion for outsiders everywhere.

“And for those of you who still think we’re from England, we’re not.”

I was at a friend’s birthday party last night where I met loads of wonderful people with whom I stayed up drinking until nearly dawn. But there was one guy there that, when I met him, I thought he was joking with what he first said to me. Having heard my accent, he asked, “Whereabouts are you from in Canada?” So I said, “Oh, I’m not Canadian, I’m American. I’m from Chicago.” Immediately he plainly stated, “I hate Americans.” It was funny so I wrly replied, “Yeah, me too.”

“I hate the feeling when you’re looking at me that way ‘cos we’re North Americans.”

As the night went on, I started to see that it wasn’t the good-natured joke that I thought it was. Every time I saw him, he shouted “Hey, American Dave” or “Look everybody, it’s American Dave!”

It was actually mildly amusing the first 20 times, but a few “American Daves” later and it was drifting into the arena of the annoying. It was annoying because no one likes being defined by their otherness. It’s insensitive and it’s rude. It stopped being funny when I realised he was laughing at me, fixating on my nationality and judging me for it instead of taking any time to get to truly know another human being.

I’m just Dave. And even that’s just a word my parents decided to apply to me many years ago. I want to know you and part of that is where you were born and the places you’ve lived, but most of it is who you are now. When we meet, just be real and keep it that way and we’re cool.

“So where’s the love, where’s the love, where’s the love, where’s the love tonight? But there’s no love when the kids are uptight.”

His story was mostly just drunken stumbling and a silly nickname. Writing about it makes it sound like he was really malicious. I don’t think he was a bad guy, just ignorant, drunk and obnoxious. Unsurprisingly, he nearly Jimi Hendrixed himself in the middle of the night ‘cos he partied like such a rock star.

“And yeah, I know you wouldn’t touch us with a ten-foot pole ‘cos we’re North Americans.”

The night was still young for me, however, and I was only mildly offended by Mr. Sick. Fortunately, my next random conversation would intensify those feelings so that I could fall asleep feeling like a proper second-class citizen.

I was talking to an English girl during my DJ set and she asked, “Do you know what we call Americans?” Not knowing, and willing to play along with her guessing game, I asked the obligatory, “No, what?” So she happily beamed, “Septics!” I was confused so she explained “like Septic Tank”. And, understanding, I said, “Cockney rhyming slang. It rhymes with ‘yank’ and it’s the tank that holds your shit. That’s funny stuff.” With alcohol impairing her sarcasm detector, she laughed gleefully, “Haha, yeah, you’re a septic!!! You’re a septic!”

I always knew I was full of shit, but damn, “septic”? It’s kind of great because it sounds like something out of a sci-fi film:

It’s the year 2375. It’s been three centuries since the last of the polar ice melted and left the earth a scorched wasteland. There are now enclosed cities that artificially support growing crops and raising wildlife. Each is an oasis encased in glass and only the wealthiest can afford to live in them. But there are still some people on the outside, in the irradiated wilderness. They are diseased and insane. Rumour has it they are cannibals since there isn’t anything else left to eat out there. Inside, they call them “septics”. Occasionally one breaks into one of the cities, but they are caught within moments. All it takes is one good shot to the head: if you kill the brain, you kill the septic.

As previously noted here, learning new slang for the word “toilet” is awesome. New racial slurs to apply to myself… eh, not so much. Viva hate!

Holiday in Avalon

After a refreshing holiday in a particularly magical corner of the English countryside, the return to workaday drudgery in the capital is an uninspiring proposition. Fortunately, the mystical powers of the Chalice (w t f d) and the Tor (w t f d) had already transformed it into a memory museum.

Present Man Dreams of Past Holidays in Future Museum

Flat Cap Fever

According to The Bolton News, flat cap sales are booming in southern England. I cannot help but notice that this trend has curiously coincided with the recent arrival of a certain flat-cap-wearing American on these shores…

Here I can be seen setting my fashion focus on the Vatican. The Pope needs to move past the beanie and get down with the flatness:

Me In Castel Sant'Angelo

In learning of this trend, I finally figured out of all the fuss being made over my cap. Many people I know in London seem to comment about my cap, whereas back in the States it always seemed rather unremarkable. Wikipedia shed some light on the matter for me: “In British popular culture, the flat cap is associated with working class men in northern England.”

Ah, so that’s it. I’m a middle class foreigner in the south. I seem to have crossed a class line. It was bound to happen, eh?

A chain-reaction of class-conscious questions ensued. Am I even middle class? Isn’t that the great myth, that all Americans are middle class? Maybe I’m upper-lower-middle or lower-upper-lower? What other behaviour gets casually and silently scrutinised on a daily basis?

If I go to a an old formica-countered cafe in Soho and call it a “caff” instead of a “cafe”, given that I’m university-educated, what does that communicate? Personally, I just like bacon, I don’t care what you call the place that makes it. If I shop at Somerfield, will that be seen as ironically “slumming it”. Hm, no, actually that would just be a bad idea. Somerfield is shit.

This photo here was taken from my former life as a half northern working class man, half chav:


I can’t recall whether I was watching over my sheep or contemplating dope beats and/or knives.

UPDATE: I just returned from a holiday in the town of Glastonbury. Although in the southern county of Somerset, I saw many old men wearing flat caps on the way. I then remembered that I first wore a flat cap as a young boy. It was given to me by my uncle. He wore flat caps all the time. Granted, he was in his sixties, but this never struck me as a reason not to adopt his keen fashion sense.

I don’t think my present readoption of the flat cap has anything to do with class politics, rather, I think I’m just an old man trapped in a 30-something’s body, much like I used to be a geriatric junior high schooler. And I guess I don’t even really believe that my current donning of the flat cap has anything to do with age. I may be 32-going-on-78, but I’m often simultaneously 57-going-on-12 and 25-approaching-7.

Caught in the age flux, I kinda like it here.

The Felt Fantastic

Now that I’ve finally posted all of the photos from our recent holiday in Rome on Flickr, I can prove to you that Rin makes me go to fabric shops in every country we visit. Here she is, caught felt-handed:

MY fabric.

Secretly, however, I like it. She’s been doing wonderful things with felt lately and I like being involved in the creative process. Besides, if I didn’t, I’d still deserve it as penance for all the non-music-geek friends I’ve made wait with me for endless hours in record shops around the globe. Everyone I know should collectively thank the internet for keeping me out of the shops these days. I was beginning to look pale.

If you’re curious as to why Rin is stockpiling felt, head on over to her portofolio and have a look at a not-so-top-secret project soon to debut at a market near you – if you’re in London, that is. If not, you’ll have to beg for mail order options.

Note to creative/media employers: If you like what you see there, feel free to contact her, as she is currently available for work.

Karzy Little Thing Called Toilet

Since there was an ace gig we were attending near my gaff last night, Martin took the opportunity to continue his ongoing efforts to expand my British slang vocabulary. One can really never have enough ways to say “toilet” so now in addition to referring to it as the bog and the loo, I have come to call it the karzy.

And what an exciting bit of slang it is, with no less than six ways to spell it! From the brilliant slang dictionary at www.peevish.co.uk:

karzy: Noun. A lavatory, toilet. The word lavatory is in itself, a euphemism for a place to wash. From the Italian for house, casa. Numerous alternative spellings include khazi, kharzie, karsey, karzey and kazi.

I, however, have since stopped calling it that and instead am now opting to be Cockney. I’ve decided that “marsy” rhymes nicely, but means nothing, so I’ll shorten it to “mars”. This will confuse the squares into thinking that I’m talking about chocolates or the red planet. Only my plates born within the sound of Bow Bells will know otherwise.

Sample usage:

Dave: Where’s the mars?
Martin: Just round the corner to the left.

Unfortunately, this changes of the meaning of “a Mars bar” quite a bit, I’m afraid…

A Dictionary of UK Slang and Colloquialisms
The English-to-American Dictionary
Cockney Rhyming Slang

Mmmm, Pie

One of my favourite things about London is its fantastic markets. I don’t live far from the Camden Lock Market and I work quite close to Borough Market. Both occupy special stalls in my heart, but when it comes to gastrointestinal real estate, there is one booth that rules over all and it requires a trip out of my way to E1.

I should clarify here that Borough Market’s endless variety of exotic culinary delights is truly a thing of beauty. From the wild board sausage to the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwich, I could live for decades eating only there and never get bored. When I need comfort food, however, SpitalfieldsSquare Pie Company provides the most Itis-inducing treats in the whole of London.

Initially indulging my love of Guinness by going for their steak and Guinness pie, my wife eventually convinced me of the superiority of the Lamb and Rosemary option. If you try to be frugal by only getting the pie, you’re missing out. The only way to experience your Square Pie is to drop £6.50 and get the pie plus two sides, which for me are always mushy peas and mash, with gravy poured over the entire feast.

On a recent Sunday outing to Spitalfields, I captured these unboxing photos. Who cares about opening your new MacBook Pro? This is stomach technology!

Here we see the closed Square Pie box, coyly pretending it doesn’t hold ample treasure inside its plain cardboard walls:

Square Pie - Closed Box

A-HA! We enter the hall of pie!

Square Pie - Open Box

After a brief moment spent appreciating it’s loveliness, it’s time to move in with only two plastic utensils and a solitary serviette by my side:

Square Pie - Time to Eat

Photographing whilst eating may result in gravy on the lens, and the next ten minutes went by in a blur anyway. Suddenly, there was no more pie! I felt not sad, but victorious:

Square Pie - All in My Belly

Time to head home and resist the urge to fall asleep on the Tube. That would only result in me ending up in High Barnet, and since there’s no Square Pie in High Barnet, I have no use for it.

I hope this unboxing has convinced you that your life is incomplete without pie and mash (and mushy peas). Charter a plane if you must, but get to Spitalfields as soon as you can and join me for a pie! JOIN ME!!!


UPDATE (19 April 2007): According to this article, as of yesterday Sainsbury’s has started selling Square Pies, including my beloved Lamb and Rosemary! You just don’t know how many times I’ve looked at the pie section in Sainsie’s and taken a few moments out of my day to simply stare at it, sadly thinking “if only they had Square Pies”. Now they’ve read my thoughts and turned wishes into horses (but thankfully not horses into pies, that would be terrible). I knew they were my favourite supermarket for a reason. Tesco be damned, I’m going shopping for pie!

Social Networking, Minus It Sucking

I register at, and frequently use, a lot of online social networks. The internet’s human element has interested me since the moment I first fired up a Telnet (w t f d) client at university in 1993. I quickly realised that I could use it to chat in real-time with friends around the world, which felt pretty revolutionary at the time. Since then, I met the woman I married on Friendster and moved my life across an ocean to work for a social software company.

While there are myriad ways to engage socially on the web today, few require more dedication than a social networking application. I can start a blog with only a few sentences or maybe just a funny YouTube video, but to really use a social network to any extent that will produce actual fun, you have to put work into it. You have to fill out your profile, get your friends to sign up, add some photos to it and so on. Okay, granted, it’s not a lot of work compared to, say, building a fully-operational space station with planet-disintegrating lasers (w t f d), but once you’ve done it on Friendster, then on Orkut and then again on MySpace, do you really feel like doing all over again anywhere else?

With this reluctance, today I registered with Facebook. Why did I bother? Colleagues whose social software opinions I highly value told me it was super great! Why else? And so far I really like what I see.

MySpace makes me die a little inside each time I have to use it. It’s not the schizophrenic ways in which people customise their pages or too many LOL OMFG comments (I actually like those, yeah, I’m sorry), it’s just the horrible user-interface. It takes me a million clicks to get anywhere and it’s zero fun. Perhaps even negative fun. I put work into setting up my profile and getting all my friends into it, but I never got any fun back out of it. I just click and wait, click and wait and bitch and bitch and moan. I know Facebook won’t be any MySpace-killer, but as long as the initial investment is lower and it is even slightly more enjoyable to use than MySpace, maybe it’ll be fun for a little while until something else shiny distracts me and I sign up for that.

The Facebook feature that became my first favourite is that I can import this blog into Facebook using RSS. This means that I don’t have to start a new blog on their site or go blogless as I do with my MySpace account, rather I can easily establish a self-updating connection from here to there. Ace!

I also quite like the fine-grained definitions you can apply to your friendships. If Rin signs up, I can specify that I’m married to her, and next to “Married” in my profile, it will add “…to Rin” and link to her profile. This may not seem like much but I find it to be little nuances like this which make the whole experience more organic. It’s a social network and this emphasises The Social. Instead of having your primary way of learning about who I know be through browsing my list of friends, the “Married to…” link brings this connection centrally into my own profile. This small action integrates telling you about who I know with the page that tells you about who I am.

The only bit of advice I have for Facebook this early in my evaluation of their site is that they really should consider making some options radio buttons rather than checkboxes. There are some overlapping relationships that I’d just rather not know about…

Hooking Up with Facebook

(Note: Rik’s not my dad, this guy is. And we never hooked up in 1982, I was too busy playing table top Ms. Pac Man at Pizza Hut.)

Suburban Swedish Embassy

So my fucking cat pissed all over my goddamn bed again last Saturday night and while I personally felt that my duvet could survive one good cat pissing, I had to draw the line at two. I can eat a chip that’s fallen on the floor, but once it’s rolled around and gotten hair all over it, you just gotta let it go. And so it was with my duvet. Once yea twice, but alas, ne’er thrice pissed upon ‘twould it be.

It would cost at least a tenner to clean the fucker and it would probably still smell like cat piss to my fucking cat that’s gifted with a superhero-sized sense of smell. Since we bought it at IKEA in the first place and they had one like it in their catalog for £35, Saturday night cat-cursing quickly gave way to Sunday afternoon shopping. Perhaps it was fate’s way of keeping the Swedish motif going for me. Cheers.

IKEA International Airport, Terminal 5

After a Northern Line train from Camden Town to Euston, a transfer at Euston to the Victoria Line and then quite a journey up to Tottenham Hale, we had the pleasure of waiting for about 50 years until the shuttle bus arrived to take us from the suburban tube station car park to the IKEA. In Chicago, you had to have a car or know someone nice with a car if you wanted to shop at IKEA, as there weren’t any trains or shuttle buses to take you there. I really do appreciate that in London one can get to IKEA via public transportation, but I think a part of me misses travelling there by car. Because whilst shopping in IKEA, knowing that a car is at my disposal in the car park gives me comfort. I have an escape route, an exit strategy.

All that standing around waiting for the shuttle made us hungry. The smell of fried chicken wafting over from the nearby KFC didn’t help either. So upon entering IKEA, we made haste to the restaurant, in search of cheap Swedish meatballs and pie.

Once we waited through the long queues and got our food, the desire to hurt small children subsided and we found a place to sit down and eat. It was then that I experienced an IKEA-related emotion that I never thought I’d have: I started to like it there.

The IKEA restaurant was completely anonymous. It was sterile and neutral. It was an in-between place, like an airport. After two free coffee refills and a half plate of meatballs, I started to believe I was in international waters. Whose laws applied here? Maybe we were on the edge of slipping into anarchy and then if we ran out of meatballs, we’d have to eat people.

Rin at IKEA Edmonton

Outside the large wall of windows, suburban sprawl stretched as far as I could see. British suburban sprawl, American suburban sprawl, it’s all the same. Maybe it’s because I so deeply associate suburbs with America that I found this experience especially disorienting. At any rate, I was fastly drifting into the arena of the unwell, so I finished my fucking meatballs and pie and went to replace that pissed on duvet.

Later that night, tucked under the warmth of my dry, unsullied duvet, with my cat locked in the kitchen away from any absorbent fabrics, I found myself closer to resolving the question of what North London football club I should support: Arsenal can go fuck themselves, Tottenham has an IKEA!

IKEA Restaurant and Cafe