Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mum, Heroin and Me, Thursday 9pm, Channel

It's Hannah's 21st birthday and her mum Kate, a 49-year-old interior designer from Brighton, is taking her to have her hair done for a birthday treat. Unfortunately, Kate tells the camera, there's a problem.

"She informed me that she needs some more gear between now and having her hair done," she says. "And the dealers don't start, um, work till 11.30am. So, it's just after 11 and we have to try and get some gear between, well, 11.30 and the appointment at 12. Otherwise she's got a fair amount of time in the hairdressers and she'll start to rattle."

As you probably guessed from the title, there's an intrusive third party in the pair's relationship: heroin, which Hannah has been using for three years. Jane Treays's heartbreaking documentary follows the two of them over the course of a year (Hannah's father Robert and younger sister Lucy chose not to take part), peeking in on Kate's struggle and Hannah's more muted world, which she inhabits like a ghost, mumbling half-heartedly in that groaning junkie voice.

Although Kate hasn't given up on her daughter by any means, what's remarkable is how understanding she is about the grip the drug has on its abusers. For example, although Hannah's devoted boyfriend Ricky – an addict for eight years – once burgled their house, Kate sympathises, saying she knows he did it as a last resort.

"If she had to be with another heroin addict, I'm very glad she's with Ricky," she says, adding that at least he's there to protect her daughter when she goes to buy drugs. But she knows there's very little chance of recovery if the couple stay together.

That's just one of any number of awful conundrums in what is an intimate, sympathetic portrait of a relationship in which the rules have been turned upside down.

by Will Parkhouse, Wednesday 22 October 2008 

Originally published on

The Prisoner: Will Mellor, Thursday 10pm, Virgin

Celebrity Big Brother? That's for wimps. Each week, new series The Prisoner: X, sees a different celebrity being sent to one the world's toughest prisons, aiming in the process to make CBB cabin fever look like a walk in a very large park.

As a lifelong enemy of both Hollyoaks and Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, I was quite looking forward to seeing actor Will Mellor being sent to jail and bullied by bigger boys. But his trip to Dodds Prison in Barbados, where you get sent to solitary just for asking the guard a cheeky question, and an in-house gallows sits just round the corner (Barbados still has the death penalty), is actually a rather moving journey with some memorable moments.

Mellor tries to do things properly, getting handcuffed, undergoing a strip search, showering naked in front of the guards, receiving his toilet paper ration (one roll to last three weeks), being hauled off for the prison haircut and so on.

Of course, the hardship isn't real – there's an instance, for example, when it all gets too much and the actor's teary request to be let outside is promptly granted, a luxury your average convict would never be given. Whether he is actually living the prison life, or just dropping by for a cup of tea is all a bit unclear.

However, it's the interviews, including one with a man with despairing eyes sentenced to death for murder and down to his last appeal, which fascinate. And the sight of Mellor having his world view challenged right there is particularly compelling. By the end, you want to give him a slap on the back for having the balls to go through with it.

by Will Parkhouse, Wednesday 22 October 2008 

Originally published on

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Playlist #6: October 2008

Didn't get round to doing you a playlist last month, so here's an extra special one for you, which features some almost offensively tuneful efforts. Ooh, I've seen five of the bands on it play live in the past month. HIPSTER.

SeeqPod - Playable Search

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cuba: part 6

Oh, that's it for Cuba really. After Maria La Gorda, we travelled back to Havana and had one last weekend, imbibing a number of mojitos and daiquiris and enjoying the hospitality of Mr Chris. He introduced us to the British Ambassador did I mention? She lives in an extraordinary house, where waiters bring you lobster canapés and it's hard to maintain an empty glass. There were no Ferrero Rochier, of course.

Necropolis de Colon sign

Cristal clear

Romeo y Julieta cigar


The man who took us to the top of the Edificio Bacardi to show us the view pointed out to me some feature of the British invasion from the 18th century. "Ah, sorry about that," I said, laughing, "Disculpe." He laughed: "We have forgiven." Oh well, we were only there a year, it wasn't that long. And two weeks - well, that's even less.

The rest of the pictures are here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cuba: part 5

Post-Trinidad, we embarked on a mini road trip, taking in a visit to the Bay of Pigs and its stuffy old museum, a lunchtime pizza in Cienfuegos, and some inventive driving from Chris - we dodged numerous potholes, swerved round crabs straying into our path, almost slowed to a halt in the middle of the road when the rain got too heavy to drive through and gaped at the Cubans at the roadside trying to sell cheese at oncoming cars. The journey started with a look out over the Lost World lusciousness of the Valle de los Ingenios.

Valle de los Ingenios

A night back in Havana, then off to relax, dive and relax again on the West coast, the beachy beauty of Maria La Gorda.

Maria La Gorda

Bird, Maria La Gorda

Maria La Gorda sunset

The water was so clear. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tonight on ITV1: Greatest Cities of The World with Griff Rhys Jones

After last week’s paean to New York City, this second installment of Greatest Cities… sees Griff Rhys Jones returning to home territory to go on all sorts of adventures in London, whether it’s flying with the capital’s helicopter cops or abseiling down a sewer’s ventilation shaft, like some kind of slow-motion Jack Osbourne. Read more...

Cuba: sentence of the holiday

"This pantagruelian pongid then paced around the block, kicking up cars like metallic divots, eating double-deckers as if they were Double Deckers, and then finally squatting in the very centre of the Circus itself to strain, push and deliver a turd the size of a newspaper kiosk, which wavered, lengthened from stub to cigar, before plummeting fifty feet from Kong's arsehole on to the shaven heads of a posse of style-victim cycle couriers, who, like cattle in a thunderstorm, had taken shelter in the open."
Great Apes, Will Self

Cuba: part 4

Did I mention the cars? I did not.

Car in Cienfuegos

The road to Santa Clara

Ker-lassic car

A ride in a Plymouth


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Know your Onion

This is brilliant.

Cuba: part 3


Oh. My. God.

Aside from the enormous moth landing on Chris's beer, Trinidad (no relation to Trinidad and Tobago, as it always has to explain when it meets people at parties) was really very lovely: cobbled streets, lazy atmosphere, colourful houses. Although when you go off the beaten track, the place is a bit less fairytale, the houses more run down and the tracks more beaten.

The Classic Trinidad Photo

Trinidad's EVIL UNDERBELLY (or overbelly, as it's at the top of a hill):

Top of the hill, Trinidad

Okay, it's not really evil. Although if you carry on in this direction (actually the camera is looking back towards the town, so if you're continuing down the path in your head, make sure you're walking backwards) and it's a weekend, you can go to a club inside a real cave. It's pretty exciting, although you have to put up with some awful music. Here we tried to come up with acronyms for each others' names. I dispatched Sarah with "She Attracts Really Annoying Habaneros" and Chris with "Cuba Has Redhead Idiot Staying". Sarah came back with "Will Is Lucifer's Lover".

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cuba: I love you, Rough Guide

"Within view of Casa de las Américas on the Malecón is the aristocratic Monumento General Calixto García. Set in a walled podium, it's an elaborate tribute to the War of Independence general who led the campaign in Oriente, and shows him dynamincally reining in his horse surrounded by friezes depicting his greatest escapades, and would warrant closer inspection were it not widely used as a public toilet."

Cuba: part 2

Chris, our man in Havana, works for the Foreign Office, and his employer has thoughtfully given him a four-bedroom mansion to inhabit during his three-year stay in the country. As any fule kno, an exiled man with a big house has needs. I think you know what I'm talking about, but this may clarify things.

Who has this many remotes?

His house had a nail sticking out of the outside wall. I documented this important development with my camera.


Chris seemed fairly sure his house was bugged - one of the downsides of the job, perhaps - and, when, sitting in the living room, we continued a conversation we'd been having in the car about the theoretical assassination of Fidel, he began elaborating to the walls, so the listeners didn't misconstrue our chatter.*

Viva Fidel

After nosing round Havana for a few days, Sarah and I left our host and headed for Santa Clara on the bus. Just one night there, but enough time to check out Che's monument (described by the Rough Guide as "in classic Cuban revolutionary style: simple, bold and made of concrete") and his mausoleum, where I got told off for having my hands in my pockets. I wouldn't be surprised if Che's body had been perfectly preserved, so icy was the air conditioning.

Che memorial, Santa Clara

Chesney, as the man's friends used to call him, even gets a plug at the bus station. The Bicycle Diaries, more like.

Che and some bikes

* From the foreword of Stephen Smith's highly recommended Cuba: The Land of Miracles: "Like his wife, Ulises was working as a tour guide... He told me, 'I stopped being paranoid a long time ago.' He said that he answered the questions of holidaymakers as candidly as he could and Americans often wondered if he wasn't afraid that their tour bus was bugged. 'I say, "Yes, of course it is bugged, there are microphones all over the place. The thing is, the batteries don't work."' A typical Cuban sally (and not so far from the truth, one supposes)."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cuba: part 1

So, there's a photo everyone who goes to Cuba takes, but it's still good, so here it is.

Che, Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana

The mural's in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion, which was baking hot, particularly on the huge mass of flat concrete which lies at its heart. You can walk into the middle of it and no one will follow you, and suddenly you're free from the jockeying of the jineteros. The guy on the mural is called Ernesto, who's a national hero because he smoked cigars, despite being asthamatic.

As a fellow sufferer, I tried to follow his lead. A few days earlier we got a guided tour of one of the city's biggest tobacco factories, in concurrent - actually, almost simultaneous - Spanish and English.

Tobacco factory, Havana

They make these rather unappetizing looking items -


- which, of course, look way better once you've stuck the label on and sparked one up.

A Cohiba

Back to the Plaza, though. Facing the Che mural is an enormous statue of poet, writer and campaigner for national independence José Martí, who was far uglier than Mr Guevara, but was at least Cuban. Sarah and I wanted to go to the top of his tower, but the lift was broken, or closed, or something. So it goes.

José Martí and his tower

Our host in Havana was Chris, and towards the end of the trip, wandering round the Necropolis Colón, the pair of us imagined a TV series involving the Cuban hero travelling through time, with Christopher Lloyd shouting, "Martíííííííí" a lot. But the project stalled when we realised not many Cubans will have seen the Back to the Future films, and not many Back to the Future fans will know who José Martí is. And then this rather unnerving sight made me think of other, darker film franchises.

Grave at the Necropolis de Colon, Havana

Friday, October 10, 2008

Monster raving

They're back! Yes, like the Wispa, Roast Beef flavour Monster Munch have returned to the shop shelves, and not even Iceland's theft of my savings is enough to stop me getting my hands on a packet.*

To my mother, who once famously denounced this particular flavour as "tasting like cardboard", I would say this: never has cardboard tasted so good!

They're back!

* Say what you like, but The Electric Goose can never be accused of ignoring the big issues.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Form an orderly Cuba

Oh, yeah, so I guess I didn't mention I was going away to Cuba. Sorry, but I didn't want you to discover my flat was going to be empty for two weeks then break in and steal my stuff. Anyway, I'm back in place, having had a most excellent time. An indecent number of photographs will follow. I'm not sure a detailed write-up is on the cards; I ended up forgoing cultural notetaking in favour of blitzing that big pile of lit and drinking mojitos.

Cuban flag