Thursday, August 21, 2008

Watchmen, We Love You All

Being a bit of a nerd, I've never really grown out of comics. From the the age of 8 until I went off to art college I was an avid reader of 2000AD - and It was very influential in my choice of career. As a kid I would copy the comics' illustrators like Brian Bolland, Mike McMahon and Carlos Ezquerra (along with McMahon was famous for drawing the iconic Judge Dredd, below, with enormous feet - "They are not big feet - he just wears big boots"). I was always drawing, so it was natural that I would follow an 'arty' career. I knew early on that I'd never make it as an illustrator, and I ended up designing books and magazines.

One of the early writers for 2000AD was Alan Moore, for which he wrote (amongst many other wonderful things) The Ballad Of Halo Jones. He's written some the the best stories there have ever been - It's an overused phrase, but Moore really is an eccentric, beardy genius (he worships a Roman snake deity called Glycon). Arguably, his best work has been outside of 2000AD - including From Hell, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta and of course The Watchmen. Originally published as a comic in 12 parts, The Watchmen is set in 1985, in an alternate United States with the world on the brink of nuclear war. The main characters are costumed adventurers. They are all very human (except for one). It's like nothing I've read before or since. Time magazine has named it as one of the best 100 novels of all time. Next year it's going to be made into a film. The movie adaptions of Moore's work ranges from the mediocre (From Hell) to the downright embarassing (The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen - which made me want to cry, it was so bad). However, this trailer for Watchmen looks really promising. It's going to be directed by Zack Snyder who made 300. Surely it must be impossible to make a bad film out of Moore's masterpiece, which is like 'reading' a film anyway.

I'd like to point out that the bloke on the end of the trailer isn't me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

China In Your Hands

It's the Olympic games, and the whole world is pointing their cameras at China. I've been lucky enough to visit the country twice. The first time was a brief skip over the border to Guangzhou while visiting pre-handover Hong Kong. The second time was a much bigger trip - four weeks. We kicked off in Beijing and ended up Hong Kong. We got to know China's trains* pretty well, travelling by hard sleeper. Each carriage had its own attendant who diligently arranged the curtains and pushed loose luggage straps back into the overhead racks. We found the Chinese to be shy but curious. We weren't exactly pioneers but it's clear many people there haven't met Westerners. Hard sleepers are split into bays, open to the corridor with six bunks in each bay, and we got a constant stream of visitors, mostly who just came to look. In cities we got used to 'staring squads' - one bloke even going into a cafe to bring out his mates to see. Many times I was asked to join a family photograph - as I type this there's probably a chap at Long March People's Tractor Facility chuckling over the picture he took of me in Beijing on his pilgrimage to Mao's tomb. We saw medieval poverty and expanding modern cities that we'd never even heard of. Hangzhou has a population of almost 2 million, and (I was told) about 150 motorcycle factories. It was like being in Britain at the height of our industrial power. Make no mistake, the future belongs to China. I lost count of the miles we travelled on the Chinese rail network - thousands. We weren't delayed for a minute. When we got back to Heathrow, the tubes were knackered, the Heathrow Express was down and we couldn't get a bus. We ended up spending 70 quid in a taxi home. Maybe we should get the Chinese to organise London 2012.

* From Shanghai to Guillin we flew. Air China's inflight meal was bread and water.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Safe Hands

Sitting in Holborn like a spinster aunt's display cabinet is the Princess Louise, every visitor's idea of what a London pub should look like. The interior dates from 1891, and It's magnificent - a riot of etched glass, mahogany, mirrors, mouldings, tiles and brass. Some of the fittings are rumoured to be by Morris and Co. It's a bit like having a pint in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Even the gent's facilities are original and seperately listed. The pub is part of the Samuel Smith brewery's London estate. This mysterious company is Yorkshire's oldest brewer, never gives interviews and doesn't even have a website. They have a track record of looking after their properties - last year I was walking past another of their Holborn pubs, the Cittie Of Yorke, and two old chaps were applying gold leaf to the hanging sign. Everything they sell is own-brand, even the spirits. Their prices are laughably low - two pints of Old Brewery Bitter for less than four quid. It is believed there's no piped music so that the money saved from broadcast licenses is passed on to the customer. Last year, with no fanfare or even a press release Smith's decided to close the Louise for a six-month restoration - and what a great job they've done. The most obvious change is that partitions have been replaced - they were ripped out in the seventies as part of the mania for one-room pubs. Not everyone likes Sam Smith's beer, but I do. It tastes all the better knowing that the company is run by people who actually seem to give a damn about pub heritage.

*EDIT*: I was in the Cittie Of Yorke on Sunday - and their hanging sign is polished (burnished?) copper. So whatever those two old chaps were applying to it, it certainly wasn't gold leaf. But whatever they were doing was certainly very intricate, labour intensive and probably only learnt from a 15-year apprenticeship. It would surely given a bean-counter from a macrobrewery heartburn.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Yorkshire Welcome

I pulled a 13-hour shift yesterday, scooting home at 11.30pm amongst Britain's worst drivers. When I got in, Mrs TIW (herself born in that London) surprised me with this arrangement of Yorkshire produce. Just brilliant.

Friday, August 1, 2008

It's a Yorkshire Thing

Today is the 1st of August - Yorkshire Day. It was first celebrated in 1975 when the Yorkshire Ridings Society adopted the day to protest about the historic borders of the county being faffed about with. The significance of the date has its roots in 1759, when after the battle of Minden, Yorkshire troops wore white roses as a tribute to fallen comrades. It's also the anniversary of the Slave Abolition Act of 1834, which Yorkshireman William Wilberforce helped come to pass. Tykes don't need an excuse to celebrate where they are from, so It's only in the last ten years that the day has really entered the consciousness of the county's 5 million inhabitants. There seem to be more events every year - quite a lot of them involving pork pies (bought from a butcher, not a baker), beer and the Mayor of Wetwang. The border changes still rankle - Saddleworth, for example, now sits just inside Lancashire but always has a defiant white rose sticker on the town's sign. When Oldham council remove it, it's back again the next day. In the old East Riding things were worse - the Humberside signs were regularly uprooted by JCBs or even blown up with explosives - events celebrated by local poets and folk singers.

I'm Yorkshire to my marrow, and proud of it. Today I stuck a small flag on the back of my Vespa for the ride in. I'm working tonight so I'll postpone my celebrations until sunday when I'll be supping Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Bitter with my Spanish mate Gonzalo - so, happy 'Jorkshire' day.