Cruising by Chad States

Following on from this morning’s journey into the undergrowth, The Dabbler brings you a sample of the work of Philadephia based photographer Chad States.

These pictures form part of the upcoming book Cruising, and show real men prowling for anonymous liasons in the depths of a city park.  States candidly captures these men furtively seeking casual sex with intensely voyeuristic shots and casts them as either sinister lurkers or happy fawns lost in Rousseauian jungles, Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden.


Liminal Cruising in the Hackney Marsh Rave Hole

Gareth Rees lives in Clapton with his wife and two daughters. He spends every day wandering Hackney, Leyton and Walthamstow marshes with his dog Hendrix, avoiding his family and the pressures of life. He records his observations on his blog  The Marshman Chronicles.
In a Hallowe’en special, Gareth takes us on a journey into the dark side of Dabbler Country…

Psychogeographers love to use the word ‘liminal’. The word means: “a subjective state of being on the threshold between two different existential planes.”

But forget about the theory. Come to the area behind Walthamstow marsh and you’ll understand its true meaning.

As you leave the marsh, a 5ft railway bridge forces you into a stoop. Like Alice, you shuffle through a looking glass, ankle-deep in black water. As you bring yourself upright you’re confronted with a country road; car park; train maintenance depot; danger of electrocution sign; wedge of field; gigantic wooden picnic table; and the silhouettes of water towers rising from a reservoir.

These disparate topographical features seem faked. It’s as if you’re standing in a double-exposed photograph – treble-exposed, even. Multiple zones captured on the same inch of camera film.

Follow the parade of pylons that leads from here and you’ll come to Continue reading

Specky four-eyes!

This week Brit peers at some short-sighted pop stars…

Oh blimey, I  hope I haven’t done a Gervais in the title of this post. But I come to praise the visually-challenged, not insult them. Men, it has been inaccurately said, seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses. This is nonsense as we love the librarian look. But what about life as a young, specky four-eyed male? Pretty tough to impress the girls when lumbered with the Eric Morcambe look… Thank God, then, for rock n’ roll, since a Fender Stratocaster can confer instant cool on even the gangliest geek.

Thank God particularly for Buddy Holly. A Greatest Hits LP owned by my father, featuring Rave On and Oh Boy amongst others, was the first record that made me leap around the front room like a loon. I was four years old at the time and I still do it occasionally to this day. But would Buddy have been Buddy without the bins? Here he is rippin’ up the 50s with his “rock and roll specialists”, the Crickets…


The thing to do, if you’re a weedy scouser called Declan who looks like Where’s Wally, is to change your name to Elvis and learn the guitar. Here’s Mr Costello with the brilliant I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down. Observe his super moves, living proof that indeed white men really can’t dance…

Graham Coxon was by far the coolest member of Blur despite being the only one with double-glazing (admittedly not hard when it contained a pair of prize Primrose Hill plonkers like Alex James and Damon Albarn). He’s released a couple of great poppy solo albums. Here’s a taste, sorry about the Ross… Continue reading

Halloween v Guy Fawkes Night

Over the coming week there are two major celebrations, but why has Halloween become so much more popular than Guy Fawkes Night in the UK?

In view of current concerns over the preservation of our nation’s official faith, it seems odd that more is not made of Guy Fawkes Night, as an affirmation of our collective identity. Even in multi-faith, or faithless Britain, the occasion seems as good an excuse as any to enjoy pyrotechnics, conversation and refreshment with friends and neighbours (at a time of year when we’d probably rather be at home in the warm).

Although the celebration of Halloween, as we’ve come to know it, is a US import, the associated paraphernalia comes mainly from China. Halloween has become a bonanza for the high street, for specialist fancy dress retailers and for clubs, bars and restaurants. Go to any supermarket and you’ll see shelves stacked with stickers, food, party packs, clothing and accessories. Meantime, fireworks are kept far away from children’s grubby mitts, locked up in the glass cabinets of quietly decaying corner shops.

Any fule kno that playing with fireworks is potentially more hazardous than cadging sweets from neighbours. However, Halloween is fraught with its own dangers, like accepting gifts from strangers. Fireworks displays have become occasions for the health and safety brigade to go bonkers. Rarely these days will you see a real fire: local authorities have even been known to show film footage of a bonfire to simulate the authentic crackle and glow. Meanwhile, middle class parents play their part in the commercial conspiracy that is Halloween, by chaperoning kids around local streets in search of goodies, which are collected in large carrier bags. Some parents then filter out all the ‘junk’ items (almost certainly 100% of the contents) and restrict their children to what is deemed to be healthy.

You’d think Jamie Oliver would be on the case, promoting Guy Fawkes food – which is dominated by the Great British banger. Sausages with mash, or baked potatoes, are popular fare, often with beans. Otherwise, a hearty winter warming soup or stew. But children (and those who advertise to them) prefer stickier treats. It’s a shame the beta-carotene rich pumpkin is just for show. Halloween offers only toffee apples… and marshmallows, along with every other type of ‘candy’ (think acid drops, toxic waste and gum powder).

Long gone are the days when children trawled the streets, with a homemade Guy in a craftily cobbled together trailer, asking for a ‘penny’ towards fireworks… Pointy hats and noses, Dracula capes and teeth are far more popular with children – though rarely made by hand. Any opportunity to dress up is an excuse to buy a look.  Bat ears, blue lips, golf balls and a curious crow suit all feature amongst the best dressed celebrity Halloween costumes on the Telegraph’s fashion blog – and an Ashish sequin skeleton dress (at £1025) has the most ‘loves’.  Fancy dress parties, enjoyed by people of all ages, are big business. Even the traditional Guy Fawkes mask has been given a V for Vendetta makeover.

Halloween, which has its origins in Celtic tradition (and the commemoration of the eve before All Hallows, or All Saints Day), is also a chance to celebrate all things horrid and evil. The practice of trick or treating can lead to pranks as dangerous as posting fireworks through letterboxes. I’ve heard of garden hedges being set alight, apples being thrown through windows, and have inadvertently been the victim of Halloween pranksters myself. Having spent the best part of the prior evening painstakingly carving out the guts of a pumpkin, I lit the candle inside and put it on display outside the door, as I popped out to buy sweets for the trick and treaters. On my return, I was mortified to find that my pumpkin had been kicked into a lightwell, and smashed to smithereens…

RB Quiz Prize Special – The Wise Owl

Brit the Elder has supplied a fiendish riddle for your puzzlement. Can you crack its secret and find the question to which Alby the owl provides the answer?

To prevent anyone (ie. Adelephant or JL) from giving it away, there’ll be no comments for this one, so email your answer to  by next Thursday. One correct entrant drawn at random will win glory and a book (they’ll be able to choose from a few good ones we have lying around here in the Dabbler garret).

There’ll be a clue next week on The Dabbler. Here goes…


The owls at Blackstone Zoo, on the edge of Exmoor, were famous throughout the world. Indeed, people would come to Blackstone from the furthest corners of the globe to see these amazing birds. One owl in particular had caught the attention of the media. He was a long-eared owl called Albuquerque, and he had featured on the covers of both Time and the National Geographic, where he was hailed as “The wisest bird on the Planet!”

To ensure that Albuquerque’s intelligence was always up to scratch, his keepers, Sid and Wally, would give him a little test each day, before the visitors arrived. Thus, early one morning, the two keepers approached the owl cages, whispering conspiratorially. The cages were numbered, and Albuquerque’s cage was number five, hence he was often referred to by the zoo staff as Fiver, The Fifth, or often just Alby.

“Good morning, Alby,” Wally said cheerfully. “Got a great problem for you! You won’t believe how clever the words are. Bet we end your winning streak today!”

“Tell us Fiver,” Sid enquired, “which is more, a half or half of two halves?”

There was no response from the bird. Wally turned to Sid. “The fifth owl looks a little peaky today, don’t you think?” he asked.

“Hmm, he certainly does,” replied Sid. “You haven’t given him anything unusual to eat, have you?”

“No, not I! But maybe one of the punters has. Why, even his pointy ears look somewhat floppy!”

Sid agreed. “He just doesn’t have the same healthy glow as the others today.”

This exchange had thus far left Albuquerque unmoved. He sat upon his perch with his eyes closed, as if completely indifferent to the banter of the keepers.

“You know,” Wally continued gamely, “I reckon the problem, whatever it is, began nearly two months ago.”

“Perhaps it’s the cage. Maybe we shouldn’t keep Albuquerque enclosed so much.”

Wally nodded. “Perhaps he could go for a flight more often.”

Sid’s brow furrowed, as if he was thinking back to some incident in the past. “Or…maybe he’s just got those swollen glands again.”

The two keepers fell silent, but now they both stared intently at Alby. After a brief but tense pause, the owl slowly opened one eye and fixed it upon the anxious pair. Then, in a dark, strident voice, reminiscent of the great Richard Burton, he growled, “Twelve!”

Both keepers gasped in amazement.

“Dammit, he’s done it again!” cried Sid. “You really are top bird, Fiver!”

With that they turned away, chuckling at the owl’s acumen, and vowing to catch him out next day. Alby closed his eye, but he allowed a little owly smile to touch the corners of his beak.

For twelve was indeed the right answer.

But what was the question?

Yava Hoosita!

This week Frank introduces us to the Diary of a UFO-spotting Nobody…

My communications with extraterrestrials probably began before I realised it, for I have always been attracted to and interested in the idea of space travel.

These are the opening words of Cosmic Friends, an undated twelve-page pamphlet by Jimmy Goddard. I was sent a copy in the latter part of the last century by a correspondent, who described it to me as “a work of comic genius”. As indeed it is, being a masterpiece of that particularly poignant kind where the comedy is unintended. “Mr Pooter Talks To The Space People” could be an apposite subtitle.

At Sunbury Grammar School in 1960 “(at the age of fourteen)”, young Jimmy meets fellow pupil Philip Heselton, who introduces him to the STAR Fellowship, “an organisation devoted to communication with extraterrestrials”, and to its founder, Tony Wedd of Chiddingstone, Kent. In 1961 there are two separate incidents in which Jimmy sees “a tiny object, black against the bright sky moving fast across my line of sight”. It is almost certainly a UFO.

But at this stage, Jimmy is more interested in thought communication.

It must have been in 1962 that, in looking into a mirror, I noticed the scar which I have had on my forehead since an injury at the age of five and suddenly realised it could extend into my brain and be causing the problems that have dogged me throughout my life. I feel this must have been a communication. Much later I was to realise myself to be virtually living on half a brain. Due to non-cooperation of the medical profession I eventually (with advice and encouragement from my communicators) made a rudimentary brain scanner which seemed to confirm this.

We are not given any details of the rudimentary brain scanner, alas, but there is another piece of equipment, equally if not more basic:

there was an interesting communication at, of all places, Salisbury railway station in 1966. I was advised by communications to build a copper cone to help my condition. Having read of the apparent Atlantean cones in “Other Tongues, Other Flesh” by George Hunt Williamson, with their complicated circuits, I felt unqualified to build one. The answer rapped back: “Just build a simple cone of copper – that’s not beyond you is it?” I sat up with a start – surely space people would not talk like that? But it jerked me out of my self-pity and I began a regular daily use of a cone which my father made from a piece of scrap sheet copper.

Jimmy does not say if he is wearing the cone on his head when, again in 1966, there is a dramatic development:

In this year my parents and I had a package holiday in Holland, staying in a hotel in Utrecht. We had guided tours of all the usual things – cheese farms, diamond markets, clog-makers, tulip fields etc. – but most interesting were two people who were in the hotel and travelled with our group. It was a young woman and a somewhat older-looking man. They did not communicate with us much, but on at least one occasion the woman sat next to my mother on the coach. They chatted, but she would not be drawn into revealing much of her own life and did not seem to know much about English towns mentioned. She had an accent my parents could not place, and my father noticed when going through passport control at the end of the holiday that they did not have British passports, but somewhat smaller ones. But it was something that my father mentioned after the holiday that made me sit up with a start. The man (who never approached us) had most unusual eyes, with what appeared to be vertical pupils… I remembered the Scoriton story I had heard in the lecture the year before, in which “Yamski’s” Escorts also had this feature. Were they space people, and what was their purpose? The contact with my mother seems to indicate that they wanted to make themselves known to me, but not actually to contact me.

The following year, Jimmy does make an important contact, though not with a space person:

At the end of 1967 I met my penfriend Doris, who I had been writing to for three years. We fell in love, and were engaged on November 1st. Eight days later, from a bus in her home town of Blackburn, Doris saw a silvery UFO.

As we shall see, Doris is to make further sightings, but is not always sure of their extraterrestrial origin. Now we suddenly skip forward twenty years. It is 1986, and Jimmy, having restarted the STAR Fellowship (“though getting interest aroused was difficult”), is videotaping a report of the Giotto space probe as it passes through Continue reading

Ricky Gervais’ M-Word – No hiding from the hyphens

After being summoned to national radio to adjudicate on the recent Twitter scrap over Ricky Gervais’ use of the word ‘mong’, Jonathon Green considers the nature of ‘offensive’ language…

Were this a more convenient world radio’s breakfast shows would be all-day affairs, as are the breakfasts offered in many caffs. But it is not and if they summon, even if that summons posits a time when even dawn is still in bed, I must attend. Not that they summon that often: publishers demand that you do your own publicity these days and as a friend high in Radio 2 explained to me when I was trying to tout the slang book, ‘The problem is, we only want people who the listeners have heard of already.’ Get back in your argotery, Mr G.: fine, fine, but heaven help young beginners.

So for what reason, you may wonder, are they calling? Let me explain. One of those people the listeners have heard of has made a boo-boo. Often that involves a politician’s utterance of something with four letters, or even a BBC man’s malapropism. And they need an expert. I lack ubiquity but I can be useful. ‘Hello, Jonathon, I think you’re the man who’s good at dirty words.’

This week, well last in fact, Ricky Gervais used what, as I discovered on one show, is now bowdlerized as ‘the M-word’. (Am I alone, by the way, in finding this particular form of self-censorship gratingly infantile? F-word, N-word, S-word… Grow up.) He said mong. It means a fool. Green’s Dictionary of Slang states ‘a general term of opprobrium. The overriding implication is that of stupidity.’ The OED online has ‘an idiot, a fool; a mentally slow or backward person.’ I qualify it no further; the OED says ‘offensive’. We both agree on its roots: mongol, which from the late 19th century till the last 20 years or so was the accepted term for what we now term a person with Down’s syndrome.

Mr Gervais defended himself. Yes, he knew its origins. No, this was not what one of his accusers termed ‘disabilist’ language. The word had changed its meaning. He meant no harm. Twitter tweeted mightily and as Mao’s Red Guards would have put it, ‘bitterness was spoken’. On both sides. And so the phone rings and I take a new role: Solomon.

I do not do heroes. Flannelled fools, muddied oafs, the soon-to-be canonized, if nerds have such a ceremony, Steve Jobs. None appeal. Maybe McNulty from The Wire but he, fittingly, could only be a one-night stand. But there is one. The late and indubitably great Lenny Bruce. Bruce, who flourished in the late Fifties and early Sixties and was triumphantly hounded to his death by a malign American establishment, was, like Mr Gervais, a comedian. He was good on words. Often what are termed bad ones. He found no need to pronounce them with a hyphen. He just pronounced them as written. And more important as spoken by the millions.

This was for two reasons: one was demystification, the idea of repetition working to defuse, to take the sting out of offense by its simple familiarity. The words of contempt used until they excited it in their turn and were discarded through the boredom of surfeit and over-familiarity, or if not discarded, then at least rendered anodyne. Bruce was optimistic – satirists, however bitter, often are. I am not and I think he was deluding himself. The second reason, with which I agree, and which is borne out on every page of my work, was to make it clear that whatever we may be supposed to feel, these offensive terms are not going to go away.

The radio producers put up someone from a Down’s Syndrome organisation alongside me. They want a bit of argy-bargy: evil Mr Slang vs the differently abled. No can do. Why should I? These are good people. What they say is right. Mr Gervais has Continue reading

Book Review: Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds United by Anthony Clavane

You may have thought The Damned United had said everything worth saying about Leeds, but a new book looks at the relationship between England’s most controversial club and its city’s Jewish community…

United’s peaks and troughs over the past fifty years have coincided with the peaks and troughs, not only of the game itself, but also of the city of Leeds and its Jewish community. The Leeds United story is intertwined, in my mind at least, with these other two stories. All three came of age together. All three thought the world was theirs for the taking and the shaping. And all three, in recent times, have turned inwards.

Anthony Clavane’s been writing about Leeds United for the whole of his life – his first piece, about his hopes for the 1975 European Cup Final, was published by a local newspaper when he was 14. They were his team then and his team they’ve stayed, his allegiance even surviving a spell during which, he says, he attempted to recreate himself as a “rootless cosmopolitan.”

Promised Land: The Reinvention of Leeds United is Clavane’s contribution to the fan-author meme kicked off by Nick Hornby. Hitherto, football clubs in this genre were the solid, fatherly background to a fan’s pratfalls and misadventures. But we’re talking about Leeds United now, and it’s the club here, not Clavane, that has the binges, the rehab, the one-night-stands and the near-misses.

There have been a lot of Leeds books in the last few years. Acknowledging his debt to them throughout, Clavane has little to add to what we know about events on and off the pitch. He’s readier than most to discuss the racism and violence that hung around Elland Road, and is a restrained worshipper at the shrine of St. Don. But there’s a flatness to the football. For all Clavane’s protestations of loyalty to the club, the book’s heart is elsewhere.

Most histories of football clubs throw in some snippets to remind the reader of the world outside the touchline. Usually these reflect the writer’s own enthusiasms – pop bands, that kind of thing – and there’ll be some pre-packaged laments about the “decline” of “working class culture” to cover over the writer’s failure to come home from London or the Home Counties. Clavane himself ended up in Brighton. But he’s entirely serious about telling the story of the Jewish community in Leeds, serious about telling the story of the city itself and serious about intertwining it all with the fate of the club: these are the areas which set the book apart and bring it to life.

This is all very different from the recent clutch of top quality football writing, and so is Clavane’s choice of guiding star: Keith Waterhouse, author of Billy Liar:

I’ve always associated Waterhouse’s classic tale of an upwardly mobile, inwardly anxious Northern Man with the story of Leeds… its narrative hinge… is whether our anti-hero would dare to act on his fantasies and actually cross the threshold” into the promised land. “Waterhouse, (Alan) Bennett, (Tony) Harrison and (David) Storey are my literary heroes…They were cultural pathfinders, the Leeds-based wing of the New Wave movement..Their breakthrough into the big time coincided with both the rise of the Revieites and the city of Leeds.

These three arcs – football, culture, and the city itself – parallel the story of the city’s Jewish community, into which Clavane’s great-grandfather, clearly a man of immense courage and fortitude, stepped in the early years of the century, a refugee from Tsarist pogroms. The Jewish community, the city, the club and northern writers alike faced similar challenges. The fight for Continue reading

‘Who knows the fate of his bones?…’

Nige ponders the unusual movements of some writerly remains…

The photograph above depicts Sir Thomas Browne’s tomb in St Peter Mancroft, Norwich – his coffin is in the chancel of the church. It was accidentally opened in 1840, and some bright spark took the skull – theft of skulls was a common weakness of craniologically obsessed Victorians – and presented it to the museum of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where it was on display for 80-odd years before being restored to its proper place (after casts had been taken).

Readers of W.G. Sebald’s The Rings Of Saturn [read Nige's 1p Review here] will recall his meditations on the fate of Browne’s skull, and readers of Sir Thomas himself will recall that he wrote in his Hydriotaphia, or Urne Buriall:

‘Who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracle of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered?… To be gnawed out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking bowls and our bones turned into pipes, to delight and sport our enemies, are tragical abominations.’

Still, the mortal remains of another great English writer – Laurence Sterne – suffered a worse fate than Browne’s. His body was exhumed from its resting place in the graveyard of St George’s, Hanover Square, sold to anatomists, and only rescued (to be reburied against the south wall of his own church, Coxwold in Yorkshire) when someone recognised his face (below). Saved by fame.

Record Rehab: The Stone Roses – Second Coming

As The Stone Roses reform for their Third Coming, Brit books their Second one into Record Rehab…

The world of British rock journalism – as it exists in the music mags, student newspapers and weekend supplements – is inherently absurd. Its principal absurdities include but are not limited to: excessive hype and instant mythologizing of new acts; the desire to fit pop musicians into a grand social narrative beginning either with The Beatles or The Sex Pistols (I once felt moved to parody this business here); and a fashion-conscious herd mentality that virtually eliminates dissent and means that new albums receive largely identical positive or negative reviews across the board (compare with the varying critical notes on, say, new novels).

None of this becomes apparent to the music nut until he or she reaches a certain age – about 25 usually – when the degree to which a new pop release is decreed to represent artistic ‘progress’ (towards what?) or to display ‘relevance’ (to short-lived minority trends in youth culture), begins to matter much less than whether it will be enjoyable to listen to in the car; and reading music reviews becomes largely a question of sifting through the hyperbolic drivel to try to discern whether the reviewer is saying the tunes are any good.

Which brings me to The Stone Roses, a band whose recently-announced reunion made main news headlines and sold record numbers of concert tickets despite their having released a mere two proper studio albums, both in the last century and only one of them enjoying a positive critical reputation. The Stone Roses – the band’s 1989 debut – retains an untarnished status as an all-time British pop great. In fact, it isn’t a flawless record (it’s wonderful fore and aft but sags in the middle) but it is distinctive and powerfully evocative for people of the relevant generation, because the Stone Roses at the time had an intangible rockstar something – swagger? – which inspired such fan devotion that when they eventually got round to a tardy follow-up, they were cocksure enough to call it Second Coming.

Preceded by the terrific single Love Spreads, Second Coming came out in 1994 amidst a heap of hype and t-shirts, it went platinum and then…. well, everyone decided it was rubbish.

I myself bought one of the Second Coming t-shirts and sported it around campus for a few semesters, before gradually relegating it to jogging, then pyjama, then painting-and-decorating status – an apt metaphor for the album’s decline in the critical fashion stakes. But while I outwardly followed the trend, at home I carried on playing the record…

The consensus on the Roses holds that the first album is a work of staggering genius and the second a dismal failure. But no consensus will ever go unchallenged on The Dabbler and this one is clearly too trite.

True, Second Coming is not a great album. It is marred by a long boring intro and by its indulgence in the stupid 90s fad of inserting pointless ‘hidden’ tracks between long silences at the end of the CD. But it has several great songs: Love Spreads, which really is awesome; the riff-heavy tracks Driving South (below) and Begging You; and the lovely up-and-down melodic chimes of Ten Storey Love Song (also below). In addition it has some decent numbers and a few duds – a broadly similar good/bad ratio to nearly all premier league rock albums.

The opprobrium still heaped on Second Coming then, is attributable not to the objective quality of its songs but to: the excessive hype and mythologizing of its predecessor; the grand narrative which grants the first but not second incarnation of the Stone Roses an ‘iconic’ place in culture; and to the herd mentality of music journos. But as I noted in the first paragraph above, these things matter less as you get older, and, as many former rock pseuds of my generation secretly agree, in terms of the ‘how enjoyable is it in the car?’ test, Second Coming deserves record rehab.

Indeed, this insight formed the basis of a fine generational injoke in Shaun of the Dead, when the hapless heroes flick through Shaun’s LP collection to decide which records they can spare as anti-zombie ammunition (above). Second Coming? As Simon Pegg says, I like it…