Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Searching for Gogi

Out here in South-East London we don’t have Victoria Wine stores. There are no branches of Threshers. I’m pretty positive that I’ve never seen an Oddbins around anywhere. There’s quite a few Majestics around, Greenwich and the Holloway Road for example, but the warehouse style places are a little different. I’m thinking of places you wander to five minutes from your front door.

In comparison to other cities the only national stores I can think of in the capital are in Highbury and Tufnell Park. In, for example, Sheffield the main off-licence in the student area of Broomhill was a Victoria Wine. There was a real-ale specialist near our house on Crookesmoor Road, but I could only go in a salivate at the bottles of intriguingly named bitter and then walk out with a four pack of Ward’s or Tetley’s or Stone’s.

The dominance of the independent off-licence is a London-wide thing. The willingness to offer knocked off goods at not particularly cheap prices and to stay open far too late than is good for the customer ensures that they push out the national chains.

In particular, what seems to keep the big names out of South-East London is our very own localised chain of booze emporiums: Gogi’s.

There’s are Gogi’s Wine Stores all over SE4 and beyond. Although, what I imagined to be the flagship store, a double unit down on the Lewisham Way, at the bottom of Manor Avenue where we used to live, recently sold up in favour of a Tesco Metro, they can still be found from Brockley Rise to Honor Oak Park, from Forest Hill to Sydenham, from Crystal Palace to Peckham, from Charlton to Wandsworth.

Everywhere you turn there are the familiar text-only signs, the inconsistent branding (white on red, red on white, green on white, blue on brown), the special offers of out of date beer, cans of coke with foreign language ingredients and a specialised line in some of the foulest, nastiest wines to ever be imported.

Your typical Gogi’s doesn’t stock bitter (not even John Smiths and although most carry Caffreys I won’t lower myself to drinking that rubbish) and my little stock-all-corner-shop undercuts them on Becks and Guinness, so I’m not a frequent patron. Especially as I tend to be bothered about the quality of the wine I’m drinking. But I like the fact that they exist. If I ever see one I’ve never spotted before, down in Croydon or somewhere, I’ll often nod and smile knowingly to myself.

It’s a little nugget of home. The more far flung they are the more satisfaction I take from them.

I’ve often wondered ‘who is Gogi’?*

Is Gogi a successful business-man? Does he spend his days down at the distribution warehouse, planning how the Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon he’s got on the cheap is going to become a standard for every home’s dinner table? Does he train up gangs of earnest young men to the high levels of wine retailing and customer service he expects of his over-staffed shops? At the end of a hard day does he head home to his wife and children and a family meal complimented by a relaxing glass of a particularly fine Merlot from Peru?

Perhaps it’s just a surprisingly common name? Perhaps the name ‘Gogi’ traditionally means purveyor of intoxicating beverages?

Perhaps it’s a front? A cover for a international gang of peanut smugglers?

Asking around got me nowhere. Nobody in any of the nearby branches would tell me anything. The only words that would cross their lips, like a mantra, was “ninety-five pence”. He was like a shadow on the edge of reality. A legend. I had to just pay for my can of Carlsberg and go.

Things became interesting the other week when this appeared in the window of the store of Brockley Rise:

(There should be a photo here, but Beck’s managed to give the cable that connects the camera to the computer to somebody else for safe keeping. So instead I’ll describe it: A picture of a man, probably in his mid-thirties speaking passionately with a raised fist. Above it reads ‘Mian M. Shahid (Gogi).’)

Is this, I wondered when I first saw it, the real Gogi? Was Gogi a revolutionary hero on the run? A champion of the down-trodden masses? A human rights activist? Was the naming of so-many off-licences a homage to an idol of millions?

Late at night bathed in the light of the computer screen, a glass of Korean whisky and ice at my side, the room thick with the smoke of discount cigarettes I did a little on-line research. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery I employed all my Marlowe skills.

The only thing I can come up with, though, is that Mian M Shahid is the managing director of Mian Shahid, a Pakistan based manufacturer of surgical and dental equipment.

No, I don’t get it either.

*: That’s not actually true; I do have some more interesting things to do with my life. Like cutting my toe-nails.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Good Times, Bad Times.

After weeks of near comatose inactivity, but for the flick of a wrist holding a pen, everything’s come together for the end of term. And it all seems to have gone rather well, although in true spirit of karma, for everything positive there must be a negative. So, here’s a summary of the week through a simple division of Good and Bad.


Water has been seeping through the bathroom floor and down the kitchen wall. It seems directly linked to the bath as it appears in the mornings and then dries out over the course of the day. However, Trevor The Handy-Man isn’t answering his mobile.

Looking over a piece of my writing my tutor says “you might be drifting into Nick Hornby territory here, but you’re a significantly better writer.”

He then quantifies this by adding “Hornby’s one of the worst writers I’ve ever read.”

My tutor admits to feeling bad about being unable to postpone my tutorial when extension cables and various pieces of equipment needed for the Goldfish Online Journal launch event, that I’m supposed to be helping set up, fall out of my bag.

I arrive late at the Swedenborg Centre in Bloomsbury to help get ready, only to find everything suspiciously well organised and everyone off for a tea-break.

In Sainsbury’s buying twenty-four litres of still mineral water I take a call from the course administrator wondering when we’re going to collect the big stack of programmes we’ve had printed and, clearly, forgotten to pick up from her office.

The Other David heroically collects the programmes and drops them off before the event starts, despite the fact he can’t hang around even for a glass of wine.

Investigating the projector someone stole from their workplace it seems pretty straightforward to use. Things are looking back on track. Yay!

The projector, predictably enough, refuses to talk to the laptop we’re using.

I manage to resist the urge to head butt either the laptop or the projector, remembering just in time that neither are mine.

The projector thief agrees to steal a laptop known to be compatible as well. Jocelyn has had the foresight to put a back-up slide show on a memory stick. Hurrah!

One of the readers disappears for two hours.

Beck manages to find free parking (twice) in Bloomsbury. Nothing short of miraculous. By being an hour late and avoiding the congestion charge too we ease the pressure on the remaining budget.

The launch, eventually, proves to be a huge success. We have more people in attendance than ever before (apparently). Even the Swedenborg Centre, haunted as it is by weird eighteenth century spiritualism and seemingly with only one electric socket, works well. Everyone seems to have fun and there’s a really strong buzz from everyone’s enthusiasm.


Ordering the wine from Majestic’s even though it was slightly more expensive than Sainsbury’s and therefore we had to have less (but did include free glass hire), seems to have worked out okay as several bottles are left-over. Half a dozen or so make their way back to my home.

The 144 glasses we hired need to be cleaned and returned. Do you have any idea how boring washing and drying 144 wine glasses is? You begin to long for a different shape just to bring some excitement into your life.

Discover that the ‘liberated’ wine was also accompanied by five large bottles of mineral water. Moral high ground compromised after vocally supporting Phil Woolas, the Minister for Environment’s, statement that spending millions on bottled water from deprived countries where not everyone has running water is ‘unacceptable’

Looking closer I discover that it’s from Scotland - they have tap water up there, right?

Realise that, despite strange elation-depression hybrid sensation in my brain after Thursday night, this isn’t quite the end of term and I still have a whole week to go and consequently ought to be getting on with writing.

I’m instantly mentally crippled and unable to write anything of worth.

Temporary financial crisis worsens as the donations from the Goldfish sponsors and the College towards the launch have yet to make their way to my bank account and one of Beck’s clients forgets to pay her.

Trevor The Handy-Man finally calls back.

My mobile instantly runs out of battery. As the on/off switch is still broken and no amount of punching it will revive it I am a) unable to speak to Trevor The Handy-Man as the only record of his number is my phone, and b) suddenly aware of how dependant I am on a portable communication device; I really shouldn’t have been using it as a substitute note-book.

Find one of Beck’s business cards and ring her from the landline. Against all the odds she has Trevor The Handy-Man’s number.

Trevor The Handy-Man is back on voicemail.

At half-past nine we realise that we completely forgot to meet up with a friend tonight.

At least we’re not spending any non-existent money.

No, I really can’t put a positive spin on this. We’re still idiots.


Consumption of ‘liberated’ wine is hardly helping my productivity levels.

I finally raise Trevor The Handy-Man and he agrees to come around the following morning at eight and take a look.

Only realise after hanging up that the following day is, of course, Sunday which means my anticipated lie in is delayed yet again.

The rent’s still stupidly cheap.

First weekend in ages where neither of us have a huge stack of work to wade through.

Rain, rain and no money curtail excitement and we end up working anyway as it’s free.

Radio Four journalist from You & Yours comes around to interview Beck about the Livesey’s closure. Fantastic opportunity to observe journalist-recording practice close up.

Am confined to upstairs by mean girlfriend for duration of the interview.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night really is rather good.

Discover that the freezer door no longer shuts properly due to a build-up of excessive ice. We argue over what to do with partially defrosted food.

Decide to eat the meat and put everything else back. Still alive two days later, after eating the sausages. Hacking off the excess ice with a heated knife also proves weirdly satisfying.


Why isn’t Easter at the same time every year?

The picture of Michael Jackson on the cover of the Observer’s Music supplement: Ugh.

All the reviews I’ve read so far suggest the new REM album might actually be rather good for once.

Isn’t that what everyone said about Reveal?

Remember that my two tutors have wildly differing opinions about my work. Trepidation for Tuesday’s tutorial kicks in early.

Beck receives confirmation of interview with Scottish arts space in a small town north of Glasgow.

Going there and back in a day is going to involve one car journey, two taxi rides, two ferry jaunts, three train journeys and two flights. Green credentials somewhat battered.


Receive word that my friend Charlotte has given birth to a healthy daughter. Wonderful news.

Realise that the note ‘ring charlotte’ has been on my to-do list since January. Feel a complete arse.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Goodnight, sleep tight.

You’ve probably seen some of this - over the past week there’s been various surveys published about sleep patterns and bedtime habits:

Apparently we no longer go to bed and read a book, nor say our prayers (HA!). The most common things to do before getting into bed is to plug your mobile phone in to charge and whilst in bed it’s to surf social networking sites (presumably on a laptop, although I suppose you could set up a hard drive, monitor and keyboard on your bedside table) or to listen to your generic mp3 player.

This BBC survey also had the average bedtime as 10.30.

This is, of course, whilst simultaneously being a nation of either a) binge drinkers gurgling mid-week alcho pops at happy hour prices until we’re caught on CCTV either puking, fighting, or hitching our skirt up and squatting down in an alley for a piss. Or b) middle-class folks who chung back a bottle and a half of wine every single night until our livers melt. Both of which take time, unless, of course the wine’s actually ingested by an intravenous drip whilst we sleep.

Factor in that we also, allegedly, have the longest working hours in Europe and spend too much of our time in front of the television and who the hell is able to get to bed consistently at 10.30?

When I worked for my last job I would, typically, go to bed about at about 11.30 and be asleep by midnightish. More or less. If, I was just going into the office and not further afield I would get up at 6.30. Okay, 6.36 to be accurate - I had a very precise, rigid morning routing. No snooze button for me. My commute took me between fifty-five minutes and an hour and five minutes, so I’d arrive sometime between 8.20 and 8.25.

I always thought this was pretty typical - although I’ve just noticed that the front cover of the Observer’s Review section (oddly enough) says that an average London commute is one hour and twenty-four minutes. Hpmh. Thinking about this (and to prove my point) had I tried to arrive for 9.00 then it probably would have take an extra fifteen or twenty minutes because the trains get busier and busier. With a lot of London businesses not starting until 9.30 it was pretty quiet around 8ish.

I dunno.

I could stretch this. I know lots of people who do really stupid commutes. I once met a guy called Barry who lived on Merseyside and worked in Leicester. Mind you, he only went into the office on a Wednesday and presumably spent the rest of week getting there and back, sleeping and working in his car.

In a round about way I’m getting to the point.

At the same time another survey was released saying that the average person gets less that six hours sleep a night. My question is - who are all these poor sods getting up at four in the morning every day?

(My second question is who keeps commissioning these surveys and for what purpose?)

Anyway, the bedtimes habits stuff was quite interesting. I confess I’m pretty average. The last thing I do before getting into bed is put my phone onto to charge, although as the on-off switch is broken it’s essential it doesn’t run out of battery. It did die about a month ago and I had to resort to trying to prise underneath the switch, to trigger it on, with a kitchen knife. When that, unsurprisingly, didn’t work I smacked it hard down on my knee and miraculously it blooped back into life.

My knee hurt, mind.

Once in bed I do often read. Although as I spend a large part of the day reading fiction (my own, other students, extracts given to us by tutors, various other books and short stories) my bedtime reading tends to be lighter. It’s currently 1,001 Films You Must See Before You Die which does have the drawback of weighing about five kilos and being rather uncomfortable to balance on your chest.

I’m not sure what Beck does because, again, it appears that we’re pretty average.

Apparently most couples now go to bed at different times and many actually sleep in different rooms. Presumably the noise of an xbox or those badly insulated earphones on an ipod have now replaced snoring as the leading sleep disruptor.

However, there’s a slightly different reason for our different bedtimes.

Beck, frankly, struggles to get out of bed in the mornings and, anyway, always finds that she does her best work late a night. It’s almost as though it takes several hours for her brain to wind itself up. So often she’ll work to midnight and beyond and then get up at nine, or later.

Meanwhile, my brain’s been battered into submission by eight years of 9 till 5 (oh that would’ve been nice) and so, despite now only have a thirty second commute from the eating table to the writing table I’m still up at seven and often working by eight. I also work, I think, pretty late. Usually till 8 or 9, but I’ve never been able to do what Beck does and just stop dead and go straight to sleep. I need to let my mind calm down. So I have to stop and read for few hours or watch a film or something - often accompanied by an alcoholic beverage.

That’s another thing I can’t do that Beck does. She quite likes a glass of wine or beer whilst working late. Anything I try to write after a drink always seems… too relaxed?

Now this has been going on for years, one way or another, and its by no means every night. Sometimes we go out. Sometimes we even go out together. On the odd occasion we’re just ready for bed at the same time.

There’s always going to be exceptions: this week Beck’s had residency and exhibition applications to do late into the evenings and had to haul herself out of bed earlier than me to get to Essex to run school workshops. About twice a year I have a lie in. But we’re talking averages and typicals here.

We’re out of synch and it’s difficult to get back in without either one of us changing our habits.

Do we need to?

Actually, I suspect we possibly do.

I think going to be bed at the same time and living to a similar pattern’s quite important in a relationship. We’re more likely to be doing things together before going to bed, we’re more likely to get up at the same time, more likely to need to eat at around the same time each day. All these things are important parts of communicating with your partner.

And it also helps with… Well, you know what.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Vladimir and Me

Even someone with only a vague awareness of Russian politics cannot have been be surprised by Monday’s election result.

Now, there’s a sentence I didn’t expect to be writing. “A vague awareness of…” Who, you might be wondering, has anything more? Well, as discussed before, I’m something of a political junkie and I’m always intrigued by any country’s electoral process, but Russia…


Let’s just say Russia is… Different?.

Churchill once described Russian politics as a “riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside an enigma.” It’s a good description and there’s no surprise that most of the election coverage is using some kind of Russian doll image with Putin’s and Medvedev’s faces superimposed over the top. It’s nicely apt. The man within, behind and below. Medvedev won’t know which way to watch out for potential knives if he steps out of line.

I wonder if anyone, anywhere, truly believes that Putin’s not going to be running the show?

EU and UN observers have voiced concerns that the elections weren’t free and fair. You think? What with most opposition candidates in jail? Mind you, at least the Russian authorities are doing a better job at covering it up this time - the 99.6% turn out four years ago was a little unbelievable.

But then again, perhaps not.

So what if Putin controls the media. He may have had a few journalists bumped off. He might even have sanctioned the assassination of a dissident on foreign soil, but, hell, look into Litvinenko and he was deeply involved in all sorts of dodgy mafia activity and, frankly, was only interested in seeing who he screw money out of. Oh, and there’s the possibility that Putin ordered for a block of flats containing civilians to be blown up so it could be blamed on Chechnyan rebels.


It’s undeniable that Russian is in a better state in recent years. The wealth of the oligarchs is diminishing, the growing middle class, education and health care are improving. The economy is on the up and we can see time and time again that all most people really care about is how much is in their pocket.

So, it’s either complete and utter apathy in Russian over rigged elections (hard to believe considering the ongoing troubles in Kenya - people care about voting) or they really are happy with the Putin’s and the United Russia Party’s leadership.

(Okay, so they might be more frightened of disappearing in the middle of the night, but it’s only a hypothesis.)

They might have voted for Medvedev because of the party he represents. Whilst it’s pretty unusual for a former leader to take a more junior role, perhaps Putin really does just want to serve his country.

Yeah, right.

But then, we all do it, don’t we? We all get involved with things, initially with good intentions and at some point we decide that we can do better and stage a coup d’etat.

Within my course the best of the student’s work is published annually on a website. There’s a launch event to which editors and agents are invited. There’s free wine. Great, but it’s up to us to organise it on a tiny budget. Now, I’ve done events - admittedly very different ones, but certain principles still apply - and I really didn’t want to get involved in another one for the time being. But I went along to the early meetings thinking I could do the minimum to help, Lick stamps or something. Somewhere along the line I seem to have picked up more and more jobs. I did a site visit last week to think about venue layout, I’ve been ordering business cards, I’ve got some sponsorship against the project, I’m sorting out the catering, I’ve been involved in marketing discussions. Everyone is involved, working hard and doing a great job, but I can’t seem to help myself.

I have to poke my nose in.

And now if anyone has a question they come to me rather than anyone else and it annoys me, but it’s all my own fault because I can’t not get involved.

I’m the one who spends Saturday afternoon taking screen shots of the website and converting them to jpegs and gets pissed off about it, but then I’m the one who volunteered to do it.

Is it ego? Am I a control freak? Am I just a bit of a moaning git?

People just want to see things done right and once we take a little bit of power we want more and more until we’re so immersed in it that it becomes a definition of who we are. You can no longer distinguish the person from the role.

Perhaps, there’s (horrible idea) a little bit of Putin inside us all?

Just ask Ken Livingstone.