Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Opinion: on explanatory journalism

I've written a piece for Imperica about the new wave of journalism startups, and how they might not be peddling something as new as they or you might think.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Reportage: The teacher

Dateline: 18.02, 28.03.14, Piccadilly line, Westbound, last carriage

She is by the door, staring determinedly into the other carriage, having commandeered the cushion she is meant to be leaning on; instead it has become an impromptu occasional table. The occasion, it appears, is getting ready for her Friday night out. iPhone is fished out of capacious bag, pink headphones plugged in, and then maquillage deployment can begin.

She sways as the tube sways, or it could be the rhythm of what she’s listening too – everything is a syncopated whole – and this remains true as lipstick follows mascara follows foundation: efficiency is winning in her impromptu mirror.

But it is when she starts singing, that is when my attention is caught properly, and also that of the woman standing next to me, who got on at Earls Court. As ‘Guantanamera’ floats between us, she smirks an uncontainable silent smirk and proceeds to type a note no doubt recording this particular Tube etiquette foible on her mobile.

A scrum of gallery goers at South Kensington deposit me closer to the occasional table; and acknowledging this, she unplugs and begins to talk.

She tells me, yes, I am one of those awful passengers – I even have a KFC in my bag. But I’m getting ready for a reason. My singing has a purpose. I’m learning the songs for my set later tonight. No, not karaoke, but cabaret. It’s what I live for. Teacher Monday to Friday, musical performer on the weekend. My biggest gig? I was in a T-Mobile advert once, singing round Heathrow; we were in the terminal after midnight, wandering round, emoting.

Leicester Square. I wish her luck for the night and forget to tell her she has lipstick on her teeth.


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Story 2014

A bit slack in posting this, but a write up of this year's The Story that I did for Firefly Comms can be found here.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Listorama: Facebook status updates vol 33

What's on your mind, BetaRish?

Boxing Day hovering. Good for thinking

Am wearing my hoodie, innit?

Annual watching of ‘Conspiracy’ has begun

will be wrestling with words, mostly

Just written an 1,800 word sentence

New year with a crossbow bolt

My new year’s dreams were presented to me last night in The New Yorker’s typeface

has misplaced a story

The magic of the cup (of tea, third round)

Clapham, so much to answer for

School bag packed for tomorrow. New pen too

has started as he means to go on

January 7. First illness of the year

Flaws with the modern world: I’ve been asked by the HR system to request time off for being sick. 

Language in IT systems still not all it could be

Blink blink

has joined the Pilates classes

Knackered. Again

Status: virally infected

Porridge and ibuprofen are my weapons

is listening to all the songs beginning with ‘A'

is demanding an audience with the Pope

The Utah Sinners must have been really hacked off when the Utah Saints achieved chart success

is thinking and writing about whisky, and finding it hard to resist the urge to pour a dram now

is a local incident, with no national ramifications

will be dancing alone, you know it baby

Six word stories have drained me

is a long-time advocate of something or other

Two coffees = feeling human

is a Xerox of himself

is expensive, and worth it

is hoping to catch a break

London Gin Club. Status Juniper

is the Legion of Snooze

Can’t sleep. Falling apart. Send help

is a fool on a heath

is a maverick, box-office smash

is taking a bow

would like to dry the rain

is a gap in the 20th century

A change is gonna come

Operation Find Me A New Thing To Do begins!

is ill. Again

Hello cold, my old friend

is sniffling, shuffling, shambling

is rushing along, racing ahead

is checking out of the unhotel today

has been prescribed steak

is back at the desk


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Commercial: A poem for Talisker

Well, seeing as it's Burn's Night tonight, a good chance to share this with you. Talisker asked me to write a poem, in the style of Rabbie, praising the whisky. You can read it below, or indeed on Facebook, where other poetic quills have been brandished too.

Made by the sea
(after Robert Burns)

Praise in rhyme, praise this symbol,
A braw, braw drink for the lyrical.
It’s tasty joys, always convivial,
             Smoothly flow;
Leave you with, this not trivial,
             A sympathetic glow.

Perfume of the waves adored!
Thy taste always warms the bluid;
Charming the heart is also guid.
            Rest thy mind,
Watch as cogs are poured
           And tongues unbind.

Surrounded by friends and family,
The gentle shimmers of memory,
Let time slip away placidly.
           Pleasure giving,
Fuelling many happy reveries,
           The oil of living.

From a beauteous, epic isle,
A whisky that is worth a while;
A promise of warming smiles,
           Full of gallantry.
An inspiration that beguiles,
           Made by the sea.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fiction: #sixwordstory

Lots of them. Too many perhaps.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Reportage: At HMV, 150 Oxford Street

It is what the beginning of the end of civilization will look like, no doubt: bewildered tourists mutating into fluorescent locusts, as around them flap gaudy signs filled with idiotic type blaring that everything must go!

And it appeared that, at HMV, 150 Oxford Street, the cliché was desperately, desperately true. We – those of us who toil in the more nebulous bits of capitalism, the bits that make it look prettier than it is, basically – spend so much of our time extolling you to buy, to try, to satisfy, all for a better life, that we rarely give a thought to what happens when our exhortations, the entreaties, the pleas to step across the threshold to pick up the object, to click the button fail and all that is left to do is to empty out the ark as quickly as possible.

The prevailing attitude in the air on Sunday morning was: cash would be preferable, but if you have a skip outside that’ll do quite nicely too. Not that everything was priced to go, mind, not yet, not yet, there’s still some time left according to the shop assistant who was to be made redundant next week, “and then I’ll spend all my time haunting independent record stores.”

Also on view: the ennui that comes when you know the end is in sight. The two copies of Saint Etienne’s Sound of Water, one priced at £9.99, the other £7.99; the sticker on the empty rack of shelves saying it was on sale for £25, other fixtures and fittings available but no discounts would be applied; the banners that helped you calculate your additional 10% off today, just in case you were a culture vulture on a budget and couldn’t run wild yet.

Which isn’t to say that there wasn’t pride in place too. How could there not be when The Beach Boys’ Smile box set was still retailing for £129.99. But this pride was leaking away, the pride that people once had in selling these physical artefacts of an entertainment culture that they’d convinced themselves was in some way important to their lives, and those of their customers. A Rasta Ted doll might do that to you.

I felt that pride once. I never kept count of the thousands of pounds I spent in the shop since I was 13. I felt in a small way guilty that my frivolous consumption habits couldn’t prop the edifice up. All the time, all the flicking through the racks, clack clack clack as I searched for the next 12 songs that meant more than the last 12… didn’t that investment – that commitment – mean something to the great gods of capitalism?

Apparently not. It’s the saddest I’ve ever felt in a shop. I thought for a moment about making one final purchase – a token, a votive for a way of life that we thought was permanent but in the end turned out to be as ephemeral and disposable as wiser heads said it was. But I couldn’t. I’ve never been good at navigating crumbling retail stock systems. 

The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ was playing during this final browse. And then the CD started skipping. Metaphor found, I left, for the final time.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Listorama: Facebook status updates vol 32

What's on your mind?...

is an exemplar of the TOWIE aesthetic

Is the phrase is empty or is it me?

Just had that nice Mr Daljit Nagra round for lunch

is all the talk

has been manipulated

Chapeau or titfer?

is a guestlist blagger

Dough is proving

was barely touched by the #ukstorm

Words are failing me today



There is nothing on my mind

Look at the time!

Whither Gripper Stebson?

is waiting for his plan

is taking words for Newcastle

Step and repeat, step and repeat

would like to spend a week in a dusty library

Ow! Back! Etc

Everybody loves a 404

might be wrong

Hold the line

is a system that optimizes zonal efficiency

It’s oh so quiet

is a victim of red wine sleep

is a diptych

is a five string serenade

Turkey Thursday, Black Friday

is a couplet

is this town’s religion

To Marseille

is all the secrets

is a twinge in the lumbar region

is a refraction of a refraction

is slightly baffled

We need a verb for when we idle on Facebook and go on a ‘Like’ spree. Maybe ‘likespree’ does it; sounds suitably Germanic

That Ben Wishaw – quite good at that acting

Joseph Roth + Pynchon = no writing today

is a raindrop on the window of time

is a sureshot

is an A/B test

is wrestling with networking technologies

The burrito after giving blood. Totally justifiable

Chocolate, whisky and ibuprofen. My three favourite food groups

Traditional Christmas Eve Pizza Express dinner. Done

Christmas vibes etc

Six hours in the car + four hours eating = Christmas


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ian Walker and Berlin

I am a great believer in serendipity in second-hand bookshops, and this definitely proved to be the case earlier this year in Brixton, when I stumbled across a very tattered (the right hand corner of the cover is flaking away in an attractive zig zag pattern) copy of a book called Zoo Station by a writer I'd never heard of, Ian Walker.

A little Googling, doesn't reveal much more, alas; it appears the bulk of his career happened in pre-digital days, and he died quite young, in 1990. You can find an image of him dancing, on an assignment about the New Romantics, here.

Zoo Station is sub-titled 'Adventures in East and West Berlin', and published in 1987, it in part functions as the last significant book about the divided city, as well as a series of dispatches from the alternative subcultures that had sprung up in the shadow of the wall. At one level it must have been a useful travel guide, explicitly detailing how it was possible to shuttle between the two halves of the city via U-Bahn, chancing it on the last train on a Saturday night.

The closest parallel I can think of for him is, journalistically, James Cameron, both being politically committed and seemingly much more worried about the ethics of what they did, how they reported the stories they brought back. He was unashamedly left wing, and one of the shocks upon reading Zoo Station is how red in tooth and claw it is - he has a point of view, a belief, and one that acts like an arctic blast, the shock that people actually wrote that - believed that - in the 1980s; and had jobs on The Observer!

Of course, none of this would matter if he couldn't write, but boy can he: a tone at once clear-sighted and expansive yet intimately confessional, sharp observations made fuzzy with booze, and a strong sense that something - the revels, him, maybe- is on the edge of ending.

Take this piece of description:

The bluish smoke swirled like storm clouds through Leydicke, staining ceilings and walls the colour of the autumn leaf. Tobaccanalians coughed their messages in the dark to others who drank and joked and felt sick after all that wine. One more Saturday night.
Or indeed, this deft character sketch:

Al was straight, but he celebrated dancing as an end in itself. He hated those for whom dancing was a form of foreplay. He identified himself with the outsiders. He was a genuine hipster.

(See, there were hipsters in Berlin long before now.)

There's also a playful, restless interrogation of who and why he is doing this too:

When the bus finally arrived, after a thirty-minute wait, it was bound for Wannsee. Wannsee? What the hell. I liked travelling around. I sat on the top deck by the front window, kerbside, green boughs slapping against that window as the bus negotiated the narrow country lanes. I remembered boughs slapping against windows when my grandmother took me to the seaside in a bus one time. I wondered again how I was going to organise all this material. An odyssey through the two Berlins and the fractured state of my own consciousness? Berlin has meant a great deal to you, Johnny once said. You must explain why. How am I doing, Johnny?
And of course, an acute awareness of class is present too:

Personally, I preferred sulky waiters to sycophantic waiters. I preferred the honest rudeness of Aeroflot air hostesses to the phony bonhomie of American Airlines. Rich people should be grateful enough they can eat in restaurants and travel in aeroplanes. Insisting on good service was to want the bread buttered on both sides.

Zoo Station is a book well worth seeking out, being both time capsule and memoir. And you can read some more of Walker's work here.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

On sand and indignation marks

So following Tim's reminder of his post about Josepth Roth's What I Saw, I finally bought it. And my, if it wasn't the promised box of glittering delights within. Here are just two of the bits that jumped out at me:

From 'Schiller Park':

Sand is something that God invented specially for small children, so that in their wise innocence of what it is to play, they may have a sense of the purposes and objectives of earthly activity. They shovel the sand into a tin pail, then carry it to a different place, and pour it out. And then some other children come along and reverse the process, taking the sand back whence it came. 
And that's all life is.

From 'An Apolitical Observer Goes to The Reichstag':

The seventy-nine-year-old veteran president, who has a weak voice, receives a call from the right to "Speak up!" That boorish intervention - doesn't it have a familiar ring to it? Wasn't it at a cabaret, where a gentleman, remembering what he'd paid for admission and having ordered up a bottle of wine, called out to the emcee, "Speak up!!!" in such a way that the three exclamation marks, or better - indignation marks - were clearly visible? Oh - and where have I heard that whistling coming from the communist benches? It was in high school, wasn't it, in my junior year! Is it that I've outgrown it because I'm apolitical?

'Indignation marks' is just brilliant, isn't it?