Friday, 26 March 2010

[Book] Snake Oil

I’m pretty sure there isn’t a week goes by in which my body doesn’t do something to surprise me. Something unpleasant I mean. More often than not there’s a reason for this. Sometimes there isn’t. At the moment, for example, my left elbow causes me great pain whenever I touch it, and I think there’s something loose moving around under the slack and gnarled skin. Similarly my knee is rather sore and wearing the small hat of a large scab. These pains, however, are quite clearly the result of my spectacular fall last weekend, when I slipped on a rogue CD case whilst sprinting for a bus in Camberwell and bounced along the wet pavement, landing in a heap in a puddle in considerable pain.

Then there’s my anus. At the moment my anus seems constantly angry and when I poop it bleeds. This of course is merely a reflaring of my haemorrhoids, which occurs every few months and which I put down to poor diet. Too many Wispas and pizzas, not enough spinach and bran.

So far, so logical.

Every now and then, however, I get a pain I can’t explain. Like the gut-stab that came a couple of years ago and still occasionally recurs. The doctors I saw couldn’t explain it either and in the end I put it down to stress. I reckon it probably was stress too. I’m a great believer in the power of the mind to make manifest physical unpleasantness. I also believe that the mind can cure things, merely by thinking positively. I also believe in telekinesis and spoon-bending. Fuck it, why not? In for a penny….

So recently, when a reader of this here blog with whom I’d been in email communication offered to send me a copy of a book which, she promised, would be good for everything that ailed me, I said sure. I said of course. I said why the hell not.

Heal Your Body by Louise L Hay arrived in the post last week. In the foreword to the book, Ms Hay writes the following:

‘This little book does not “heal” anyone. It does awaken within you the ability to contribute to your own healing process. For us to become whole and healthy, we must balance the body, mind and spirit. We must take good care of our bodies. We need to have a positive mental attitude about ourselves and our life. And we need to have a strong spiritual connection. When these three things are balanced, we rejoice in living. No doctor, no health practitioner can give us this unless we choose to take part in our healing process.’

Now I don’t know about you, but I like this kind of rot. It appeals to the old hippy in me, to the white witch who wants to strip naked and run through dew-drenched glades scoffing mushrooms and rubbing dock leaves on my farmers.

She continues:

‘I suggest you make a list of every ailment you have ever had and look up the mental causes. You will discover a pattern that will show you a lot about yourself. Select a few of the affirmations and do them for a month. This will help you eliminate old patterns you have been carrying for a long time.’

So, that’s what I did. Affirmations by the way - or 'new thought patterns' - are stock phrases which, through repetition, help to instil positive mental attitude.

When I’d made my list of ailments, I discovered there were quite a lot. Here are a few, together with probable cause and appropriate affirmation, of the most choice:

Now, at this point you’re either nodding to yourself and thinking, ‘Yes. Yes I can see that kidney stones are most probably caused by undissolved anger’, or else you’ve got an IQ of more than four and you’re thinking, ‘This woman is nuts’.

Well, that’s probably your resentment talking.

When I first dipped into this book, I was amused. Then I grew furiously angry. Then I calmed down a bit and just felt bemused.

I don't think she's nuts though.

Louise Hay is actually an enormously successful, enormously wealthy self-help guru and self-publishing sensation. She’s sold tens of millions of books through her own publishing company, Hay House. Her life story has been made into a film. Millions of people love her and credit her with having – through her words and her philosophy – helped them to heal themselves.

To the cynical eye, however, just about everything about Hay smacks of charlatanism. From her unconfirmed claims that she cured herself of ‘cancer of the vagina’ to the free audio download available on her website, which is entitled ‘Receiving Prosperity’. From the life-coaching and spiritual learning centers to the fact that she studied under notorious transcendental fornicator Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Charlatanism, however, is in the mind of the charlatan, and therefore only Hay herself can know if she actually believes that which she preaches. If she believes it, then she’s genuine. If on the other hand, she doesn’t believe it, then of course she’s merely a thoroughly bad egg, lining her pockets with the gold of the gullible and desperate.

Or is she? Even if that were true I mean, even if she were making the whole thing up and laughing all the way to the bank – if people still find comfort in her teachings, does it actually matter? Just like God, you may not approve or believe, but if it works for people, you can’t really deny or begrudge them that, sad simple creatures though they clearly are.

But then there’s this:

This is difficult to come to terms with. Being told that blackheads are ‘small outbursts of anger’ is one thing. Being told that the human immunodeficiency virus is caused by self-denial and sexual guilt is quite another. Because it’s not. It’s a virus. And Hay’s take on it smacks of homophobia. Citing sexual guilt is one step away from claiming AIDS is a punishment from God for a sinful lifestyle.

So it’s tempting to imagine Louise Hay as some puritanical old bigot, surreptitiously campaigning to bring an end to sexual deviance throughout the globe. Well, that would be convenient. However, as it happens, it seems to run contrary to the truth.

The fact is, Hay began holding spiritual counselling groups for gay men with AIDS in the early 1980s. It began with just a few men eating dinner at her apartment and grew to around a thousand a week in huge stadium-type venues. Apparently she helped many of these men a great deal, encouraging them to think themselves into remission, or presiding over the funerals of the ones who weren’t so lucky.

Then came the book, the AIDS book, rather prosaically entitled The AIDS Book: Creating A Positive Approach. Another bestseller.

So it’s unlikely that Hay is a homophobe.

Or is it?

According to a New York Times article from 2008, ‘Without the AIDS epidemic, Hay House wouldn’t exist… AIDS gave Louise Hay a following.’

Could it be that Hay just used AIDS as a hook on which to hang her particular brand of Religious Science bunkum? Could it be that she maliciously squeezed her millions from the terrible despair of the terminally ill?

Or is that taking cynicism too far?

The fact is, we’ll never know. And also, it doesn’t really matter. Motivation and action are worlds apart. And if Louise Hay gets positive results, then who am I to condemn her?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me. It doesn't work for me because, well, for many reasons. Here are a few...

...and my personal favourite...

Also, as if that weren't enough, and it really is, the new thought patterns are horrendous. Just saying them actually makes me physically ill. Which is odd really, because many of them I actually believe. Most of the time. I really am at home in my body. I really do move with ease through time and space. I really do love and approve of myself. Like I say, most of the time. If you felt like that all the time though, you’d just be a dreadful self-satisfied bore.

With this in mind, I’ve made a couple of my own affirmations. Hopefully these will allow me to heal myself when malady strikes, but also allow me to live with myself and not feel compelled to drive rusty nails into my neck.

‘I am a reasonable person, most of the time. I am filled with love and joy, certainly, but let’s be realistic here. I am also filled with despair, hatred and a fair degree of self-loathing, most of which is not warranted. I am decent and honest and kind to animals. Why, only last night a cat came from nowhere and sat in my lap. I enjoy giving oral sex. Life is good. You know? It’s all right. Cheers.’

This affirmation will be equally effective for pretty much any illness, but if you think you might have AIDS, Hodgkin’s disease, cystic fibrosis or cancer, I recommend you go see a doctor.

Have a nice day now. Oh, and do let me know what you think...

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Monday, 15 March 2010

[Self-Promotion] The Qype Interview

A little while ago I received an email from a man called Cedric. Cedric works for Qype and wanted to do some kind of partnership thing wherein I would plug Qype, and Qype would interview me and link to my blog or book or something. As it happens, I'd just started using the Qype Radar app on my phone and had been very impressed by it. Also - fortuitously - I do enjoy talking about myself endlessly, so I thought, why the hell not. So here we are. Here's the interview here...

Can you tell Qypers who you are and what you do?

Certainly. My name is Stan and I'm an ugly man. As for what I do, I've just recently started sub-editing at a magazine in which I have almost less than zero interest. It's my first 9-5 job and if you want to know the truth, it's making me want to rip out my own throat with a bon-bon scoop. The job's all right, don't get me wrong, but the whole work thing just seems so utterly pointless. If I didn’t have jumbo debts and endless capitalist hankerings, there's no way in a gazillion years I'd do it.

Apart from that, I also write a blog which got turned into a book. It's a wonderful book too, and I say that because a) I'm trying to learn how to sell myself, in order that I might one day properly satisfy my capitalist hankerings, and b) it happens to be true. The paperback comes out at the end of May. I've decided to come out myself then too because I'm fed up with being anonymous and I want to have a party. You can come if you like.

Bring a gift.

What prompted you to start your book, and what elements do you think have contributed to it being published and becoming popular?

Well, the book followed on naturally from the blog, but I started the blog because I was hoping it would help me find True Love. And here we are over two years on and my only playmate is a plastic can with a silicone mouth. I'm still hoping though, you know. Keep hope alive.

And I think the reason the book got published and then became so phenomenally popular (ho ho) is that it manages to be both bowel-loosingly funny and bum-clenchingly sad, often at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME.

With all the praise from the critics and readers so far, when can we expect another book?

I don't know. There are a couple of things I'm working on at the moment, but now that I'm gainfully employed, opportunities to actually write are few and far between. Hence the ergophobia. And it's a shame because I think writing is what I do best. When you think about it though, there must be millions and millions of people who are unable to do what they do best because they're obliged to spend most of their waking lives hawking flash watches or stitching pockets on casual slacks. Or whatever. It's kind of insane, I think. But yeah, that's life. Mustn't grumble. (Can't help it.)

What would your tip be for those people who are still thinking, struggling and on the verge of finishing their own books?

Whatever you do, don't get a 9-5. If you've already got one, quit it. More seriously, however, or more practically at least - don't give up. And maybe put some of what you've written online. If you can get readers online - or at least pretend you've got them - publishers are more likely to take a risk on getting you into print. And then if you’re lucky, somebody you really fancy might want to sleep with you.

You are also responsible for a well-known blog. Do you have any tips for balancing your time and staying calm?

Staying calm, you say? I think you've got me confused with somebody else. I'm absolutely furious, more or less constantly these days.

What would your perfect London Sunday consist of? (Let's assume it's a perfect Sunday weather-wise, and the tube is working perfectly, and you have a perfect bank balance.)

Well, if we're fantasising, we really might as well go crazy. So, I am awoken at 7.30 by the delectable sensation of someone's hot wet mouth snuffling round my nethers. Who is it? It's Audrey Tautou! I'm not surprised of course, as we've been living together in my glorious four-bedroom flat overlooking Hampstead Heath for a few months now.

With the morning sun squealing gently through the open windows like a giant nurse, we make sweet love till we're both quite sore, then we shower, dress, spring aboard our titanium tandem and ride into London proper. The whole of the city has been pedestrianised and made cycle-friendly by now of course - this was one of the first of the Great Changes I implemented during my historic first term as London Mayor. For which I was knighted. And then made King.

We cycle down through Belsize Park and into Camden, where we pick up the ingredients for a Bloody Mary-themed picnic. Audrey insists on stocking up on sausages from Camden Market. She loves sausages. She can eat twelve in one sitting. She eats like a stoned horse actually, but she never gets fat.

We enjoy a leisurely picnic in the roasting sunshine in Regent's Park and then cycle into Leicester Square where my favourite cinema - the newly-refurbished Prince Charles - is showing Paul Thomas Anderson's Bête de Jour, the film of my life, with me playing myself and Audrey playing Audrey in the fantasy sequence. Before we go into the cinema, we smoke a giant bifta in front of the Charlie Chaplin statue in the little park in the square. (The public consumption of phytocannabinoids was decriminalised during my second mayoral term.)

I miss much of the film because Audrey is being naughty, but the standing ovation speaks volumes.

After which, we stroll down to the Embankment, hop in a speedboat and shoot over to Tower Bridge and City Hall, the take-off point for our balloon trip.

The dim sum from Dragon Castle is waiting in the hot tray, the champagne is in the ice buckets and before we know it, we're up, up and away. I've had my balloon pilot's licence for a couple of years by this point so it's just myself and Audrey in the basket. In case you're wondering, there is only one thing in the world better than being in a balloon over London on a hot summer's evening, and that's making love to your movie star girlfriend in a balloon over London on a hot summer's evening. From behind. (We later discover that this was when we conceived our first daughter, Giblet.)

We're somewhere over Primrose Hill when I take out the ring I picked up in Hatton Garden a couple of weeks previously. It's got rubies in it.

Audrey says yes.

We soar.

We're back on the ground by 9pm, just in time to take a cab to the Hope & Anchor in Islington where Talking Heads have reformed for one night only. The gig is emotional, venereal, phenomenal. David Byrne insists I get onstage and accompany the band on ukulele for This Must Be the Place.

The after-show party is at The Phoenix Artist Club in Charing Cross. We all get spangled. Mark Owen is there. David Byrne poops in his coat pocket. He's such a one. Scarlett Johannsson is there too. She tries to get off with me. I tell her no. She weeps.

At a quarter past four Audrey and I take a rickshaw back to Hampstead. She is wearing my jacket because she gets a bit chilly. Her head is on my chest. Her ring is shining. (Don't even go there.) She looks up at me smiling. ''Ave you 'ad a nice day, Stanley?' she whispers.

'I've had the best day,' I reply. 'The best.'

And I have.

Give us one place which you think every Londoner should have in their little black book of hidden gems.

One of my favourite places is called ScooterCaffe. It's one of those places that have all kinds of junk everywhere - old signs, coffee machines, motorbikes. It used to be a scooter-fixing place apparently, so there are Vespas scattered about, and much of the stuff hanging from the walls is Italian. Also, there are cats roaming about, and any place with cats roaming about is a wonderful place.

It's also the kind of place where you'll get talking to someone and then you'll find out that they're enormously talented. This woman, for example. Listen to her voice. She works behind the bar there. I know, I know. Work sets you free, my arse.

Anyway, this place already gets too full, so don't go there. Thanks.

Go instead to the Duke Thai restaurant just around the corner, over the top of the Crown and Cushion pub. It's not much to look at, but the food is fantastic and cheap and the family that run it are just lovely. Even though they let their little boy eats Greggs pasties.

Oh, one more thing: just round the corner again is St John's Church, just opposite Waterloo station, where every Thursday evening they give free concerts.

They call them Rush Hour Concerts, offering 'a post-work spectacle infinitely better than a sweaty packed train'. They even give you free wine. Which is pretty damn cool for a church. Or indeed, for any place.

I should probably stop now. And I didn't even get started on Soho, which is probably my favourite bit of London, and where I want to move to somewhere in the next year. If you're reading this, and you can help facilitate that, please do so. I'd be ever so grateful.

God, I love London.

Do you love London? You do?! Wicked. Tell me, what do you like best about it?

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Monday, 8 March 2010

[Film] Bad Lieutenants

Contains mild spoilers...

Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans is a joke. And I don’t mean that necessarily in a bad way. I mean, that’s the only way to explain it. It’s not a comedy – not exactly – but it’s Herzog’s joke at the expense of Hollywood. It must be.

Herzog, of course, is mad. Not mad in the same way that Lars von Trier is mad – not bad mad. He’s just a wild and crazy guy who rails against Bonanza and eats shoes. And now he’s remade one of the most disturbing films of the nineties as a Hollywood pisstake.

Unsurprisingly, Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant has very little to do with Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. It has a corrupt, drug-addled cop at the centre of it, but that aside, it's more like a wildly distorted echo than a direct remake.

Ferrara’s film is genuinely shocking – still shocking, almost 20 years on. In it a nun is raped by two men. They also use a crucifix. Harvey Keitel’s lieutenant meanwhile is genuinely disturbed. Aside from the drugs, the sex and the gambling, the cursing of Christ and the standing around naked whilst whining like a wounded dog, there is also the infamous masturbation scene, which brings a whole new meaning to the term 'carjacking'. The man is a moral train-wreck and the film as a whole is uncomfortable and difficult.

Herzog’s film, by comparison, has more in common with a made-for-TV film, piling cliché upon cliché, plot-hole upon nonsense, and topping it all off with a caricature of a happy ending.

The drugs in Ferrara’s film are grimy and hideous. The script was written by Ferrara and Zoe Lund, who died of an overdose in 1999. The shooting-up scene is as realistic as any you’ll see and lasts forever.

The drugs in Herzog’s film are silly. When Nicholas Cage smokes crack he tends to turn into a buffoon, laughing hysterically, overacting enormously.

Keitel’s lieutenant takes drugs because he is a moral latrine.

Cage’s lieutenant takes drugs because he has a bad back.

Keitel’s lieutenant hallucinates a bloodied, freshly-crucified Christ.

Cage’s lieutenant hallucinates singing iguanas.

The one scene in which Cage’s bad lieutenant gets anywhere close to the badness of Harvey Keitel’s bad lieutenant is when he shoves a gun in a sick old lady’s face, cuts off her oxygen supply and calls her a ‘selfish cunt’. But even that got big laughs at the screening I was at. And rightly so. It was played for laughs. In fact, the tone is set at the beginning of that same scene when Cage picks up a giant teddy bear and throws it on the floor. Yes, sir, that’s how bad he is.

Ferrara’s film ends with Keitel smoking crack with the nun-rapists, giving them a box of money and putting them on the a bus out of town. The nun they raped forgave them and so must he. Then he’s gunned down for his gambling debts.

Herzog’s film ends when each of Cage's three serious problems is resolved in very quick succession, literally one after the other while he sits at his desk. Then the very last scene of the film has Cage looking at the camera and laughing. I imagine Herzog’s direction was: ‘OK, keep staring into the movie camera and then slowly, you realise – as the audience must realise – that the whole film has been an elaborate joke. You start to laugh. That’s it. Keep laughing! It’s ludicrous. Hollywood is ludicrous! With this film I can finally destroy it!’

Unfortunately, no one else seems to have realised it’s a joke and it actually garnered good straight reviews on its US release.

Herzog must be depressed. Hollywood's in worse shape than he thought. He's probably throwing himself into a cactus again as we speak.

There is of course the possibility that I have got entirely the wrong end of the stick and the film is not actually a joke at all. In which case, um... it's bollocks.

The iguanas are fun though.

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Wednesday, 3 March 2010

[Real Life] Snooze

When I was first offered this job I'm now doing, one of my primary concerns was that I wouldn't be able to find the time to write anymore. I had to take the job, and part of me almost even wanted to, but I knew that it would mean big changes. So I immediately decided that what I would do was this...

When the job started, I would wake at 5am every weekday. I would slip into my Slanket and make myself a pot of coffee. Then I would write my diary till 5.30. This would mean starting a diary again. This I would do. Then I would write something else until 8 o'clock when I would turn off my computer and do twenty minutes of vigorous exercise, stretching like Armstrong and saluting the sun like a militant yogi.

When I informed certain friends of my intentions, they were doubtful. Some of them mocked me. I was furious. 'O ye of little faith,' I chided, believing wholeheartedly that they would be laughing on the other side of their filthy faces when I slipped silkily into my new routine.

So. This is my third week and sadly I have not once managed to get out of bed more than ten minutes before I have to leave the house, often ten minutes or so after. It seems in fact that I am incapable of getting out of bed, even at 7 or 8 o'clock, let alone 5. Now I come to think of it, I have always been incapable of getting out of bed. What I'm wondering now is, why did I ever think I'd be able to do it? Am I an idiot?

Idiot or not, the fact is, I still genuinely believe myself when I make myself these promises.

For example, back in May 2008, I decided that I was going to run the London marathon the following year. I believed that too. Someone at work is doing the marathon this year. I was talking to them today and I was thinking, 'I'm going to do that. I'll do it next year.' And I believed myself then too. I believe it now. I really will do the marathon next year. You see if I don't.

You see? I'm incorrigible.

When I finally got an iPhone a couple of weeks ago, I was really pleased that I could download the app that would monitor my sleep patterns and wake me up when I was sleeping lightly, thus enabling me to greet the day feeling refreshed and wide awake. Really pleased.

It doesn't work.


The thing is, when I absolutely have to, I can do it. When I had to write my book in a very short period of time, I got up every day at 6am and I did it. Mind you, I wanted to do that. My heart was in it. My heart isn't in this poxy fucking job, thinking up shitty puns and being treated like a fucking prawn by people who clearly consider themselves vastly superior to me.

Seriously, for 200 days I have to tolerate this? That's over 93,000 minutes essentially wasted. Must I? Really?

Yes. I must.

With that in mind, very genuinely I beseech thee, do you know, is there anything I can do to instill in myself a little self-discipline? Or more simply, how the fuck do I get out of bed in the morning? I would really appreciate your advice if you have any. Please bear in mind, however, that I have already tried the following: hiding alarm clocks; laying out clothes next to alarm clocks; sticking abusive notes to the wall next to alarm clocks; going to bed early; going to bed late; drinking heavily the night before; visualising a successful awakening; bullying myself; loathing myself. And none of it works. Not even close.

So. How do you get up in the morning? What's your secret?

Please help me. You're my only hope.

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