COPYWRITING TRAINING: Men frozen in steel sperm tanks, two dollar dinners, and stains that we just can’t find

Or how Henry finally discovered that he didn’t need to learn how to write (by reading Strunk & White’s, The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition)

As part of my ongoing struggle to become the greatest copywriter EVER, today I picked up a copy of William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White’s, The Elements of Style from Homerton library.

Why?

The reasons were twofold:

  1. There isn’t a great selection of instructional books about writing in Hackney, and
  2. My sister, an English grad, keeps telling me that my blog posts are complete hokum (she uses big words because she’s super smart).

At 85 pages, the book’s small, but appearances are deceiving as it’s jammed with loads of life lessons that are meant to make you better at writing.

The edition I borrowed was really old, published in 1979, but the English language is ancient and definitely hasn’t changed since then, so it probably didn’t matter.

Having now finished the book, I can confirm six things:

  • My writing will forever be hokum (whatever that means).
  • I was always right to tell everyone that they should never use exclamation marks!!!! (thanks Fitzgerald).
  • Business words are been purposefully designed to help people feel better about their life choices.
  • Some of the most common words in advertising are portentous and should never be used.
  • SEO, search engine optimisation, is ruining the written word for everyone.
  • Copywriters are the lowest, seediest, and most despicable people in the world.

All six of those lessons came as a bit of shock.

I’ll explain exactly why they are definitely true below.

Epiphanies happen in the garden. Especially when you’re a twat with an instagram account.

1. Why my writing will always suck

The book’s first four chapters are dedicated to lessons about proper grammar and punctuation.

After reading them, I decided to ignore them. That’s because:

  • I didn’t really understand any of concepts (what the hell is present participle?)
  • None of the lessons seem to apply to writing on the internet.

The book also emphasised that Copywriting, apparently, is about writing improperly; aka, in a way that the plebs understand, which I understood as an instruction to ignore everything it said.

If you, the reader, don’t think I made the right decision, get ready to be surprised.

You’d think I was an idiot if I started doing anything of these things (adhering to proper grammar):

  • Omit the s after apostrophes that follow conscience. The correct vernacular being, “for conscience’ sake
  • You can’t use a colon to sunder a sentence in two like a garden worm, instead that a full sentence must proceed it, for instance “A shrink needs: a degree, psychotic patients and a lot of patience.” is incorrect. It should instead be, “A shrink needs three things: a degree, psychotic patients and parents to blame.

2. No one should ever use exclamation marks, ever! (except sometimes)

The book agreed with me and said no one should ever use exclamation marks.

Between the lines it also said we should murder anyone who does, unless they’re being dramatic!

I’ve adapted this lesson for 2019 and now confirm that you can also use them when you’re being ironic too.

But that’s it.

You can only ever use an exclamation mark if you’re being dramatic or ironic!

Have you guessed what I’m being?

3. Corporate language is designed to make business sound like it’s about slaying dragons rather than counting paper clips

Here’s what the book said about business chat:

Portentous nouns and verbs [like deprioritise, action those reports, relations with the secretary] invest ordinary events with high adventure; executives walk among toner cartridges, caparisoned like knights.”

p.82, The Elements of Style

The book goes to length about how these words are about expressing the user’s dreams, rather than the explicit meaning of what they’re doing.

So, I learned that when writing for business people, you need to make the banality of their lives seem more like jumping the shark; full of exciting cliches that they think are new, definitely not overused, and completely non-applicable to their lives.

4. Words that I now know you should never use

There are a load of words you should never use. Here’s a few of them and why:

  • Meaningful is a bankrupt adjective. In place of meaningful you should shoot yourself.
  • Chaired is not a verb (or even a word). You should instead write, “the iguana acted as chair of the meeting.”
  • Personalise,“A pretentious word, often carrying bad advice.” Which means it’s still applicable for your mobile data plan.
  • Pistons thrust, restructuring programmes do not. (You’re not allowed to use the word thrust in business, even when you’re, you know, talking about sex)
  • Unique means ‘without like or equal’, so you can’t have a unique coffee machine. Looks like William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White’s were the forerunners of introducing the modern term, snowflake generation. So, um, Chuck Palahniuk, maybe you should publicly admit that coining the term wasn’t that special an achievement?

5. SEO is ruining writing for everyone

Ok, so the book didn’t come up with this one, I figured it out by reading it instead.

We all know what SEO is, right?

It means optimising your written, online content so that search engine algorithms will list it higher on their results pages.

It’s pretty simple. Here’s how to do it:

  • Consider what you’re writing about and how you can make it relevant to what people search for on the internet.
  • While thinking, write down a list of keywords (both long and short) that are related to your content and people are likely to type into google (sexy, porn, why my mother won’t stop crying every time I call her).
  • Delete your previous article or other written content and write some monstrosity indiscriminately littered with your new keywords.

In doing this, I’m confident that everyone is probably just inserting phrases that do not belong in the articles they’re writing. Which, I learned from The Elements of Style, is how you write badly.

Great one Google. You made writing shit for everyone.

6. Copywriters are soulless

Deep down, I knew this one already.

I can’t express why Copywriters are the scum of the earth without it sounding really pretentious though, so I just copied the quote below:

“Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself. The true writer always plays to an audience of one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.” (p. 84)

p. 84, The Elements of Style

Evidently, proper writers hate copywriters.

Damn.

Conclusion

So, now I’d finally read something about writing, I’d learned that what I was trying to do by becoming the greatest copywriter EVER, was completely selling myself out.

I also noticed that nice living was pretty much guaranteed.

Well, at least it was a better choice than working in a corporate environment.

If you think I’ve completely misinterpreted the lessons of the book, please let me know.

Then I can tell you exactly why you’re wrong (now I know that I don’t need to write adequately to communicate).

Yeah, paid work’s definitely for losers

or how Henry got a job in a burger joint

Hey, I wanna ask you a question.

Imagine I’m pointing my finger at you (the right one).

Yeah, you.

Now you’re looking back at me.

Savings are great, aren’t they?

Now, imagine you’re looking perplexed.

Seriously, are they?

Wait, don’t say anything, I’ve already had this conversation with you in my head. It went like this:

You: “Why are you asking?

Me: “Oh, I don’t know. Do they make you feel warm at night? Could you paint me a picture with a background of green and blue, just like that of the glorious five pound note? Something to help me relax before exiting the cornershop with cans of special hidden under my hoodie?

Me: “Why are you looking at me so strangely?

Me: “Ok, fine. I admit it. I just wanted to talk about money. Or lack of it.

I don’t know why it took so long to get here, but it’s finally happened. The ATM will no longer give me money.

On a positive note, my bank balance now has two letters after it, DR. I’m not entirely sure what it means though. Maybe damn radical? Sure.

At least there’s some solace in Lloyds, Barclays, or whoever, finally realising it’s cool that I can’t pay my overdraft fees. After all that pain in 2008, the banking sector must no longer be full of losers (I’m joking, of course it still is).

I don’t really want to link the two (and I’m not sure if I should), but I keep feeling like I should.

I have no money and I quit my job a month ago. Surely there’s no correlation?

I mean, work just brings pain right?

Let’s move to a commune and reek of patchouli

Initially, no money wasn’t an issue.

It was like I was living in a commune with my flatmates. I, the entertainer, was rewarded with stolen tobacco, half finished beers, and tea spoons of hummus clinging to the pot’s lid.

But then they noticed I was licking the lids of their pots of hummus and stopped letting me use their washing liquid.

Not washing was fine though.

I mean, bin liners are perfect for hiding guts developed in servitude.

What fits better than a bin liner when pretending you can play electric piano?

However, some people didn’t get it, and despite being breezy, it wasn’t helping me find a way to get money.

Finally though, they got sick of the bin liner and the landlord started asking for the rent.

No longer young enough to attract richer older women, I had to find myself a job.

Who’d have thought it? I mean, it was going to totally ruin my quest to become the greatest copywriter ever.

It also seemed ridiculous.

What was the point of quitting my previous job if I had to getting another fucking one?!

Turns out I’ll never know.

A month of failure

I wasn’t worried. Henry’s are grafting men; take Henry the Hoover, and um, King Henry VIII. The latter was so busy he only managed to have one son!

No one else seemed to realise this though.

Despite spending the end of May applying for the lowest paid, hardest, least office type jobs I could find (within walking distance), I didn’t get a single call back.

No, not from Oslo, a bar in Hackney, where I applied to assist k-holing patrons from south London home, or even at Hackney Council as a groundsman, despite how I had two arms and wore a bin bag (so like, my clothes wouldn’t get dirty when I was digging stuff).

It was a real shame. A real shame indeed.

The biggest shame of all though was that as an aspiring and talented writer (yeah, I’ve been unemployed for a month so I can now legitimately call myself a writer), people were definitely not set alight by my CV.

And I didn’t immediately understand why.

It was full of great short and long keywords, like:

‘the hunkiest bar man you’ll ever need’

‘bricks and mortar baby – aka, I’ll stand the test of time’, and

‘I definitely didn’t just walk out of my previous job without giving any notice and they definitely didn’t fire me. It was a mutual thing. They knew that I was definitely not the right fit. The right fit? Oh, you know, I just liked working too hard and taking orders so much and excelling at my work so much. Oh yeah, I mean we agreed I’d leave because I was making everyone else look so bad.’

Henry’s CV, May 2019

And I’d even lied about last job, stating that I was definitely less important than I actually was so people wouldn’t be as intimidated by me.

Clerk of the Stationary Cupboard formerly known as King. The Department for Digital, Media, Culture & Sport (haha, get it?!)
June 2017 – May 2019

Henry

So what the hell was going wrong?

How to get a job that pays £8.21 an hour

Then I realised, I was being way too smart for my own good. The people reading my CV didn’t know anything about long keywords. They probably weren’t very good at reading either! (actually. they were, they just didn’t spend all day sitting around reading things and talking to other people about them at the tea point, so had less opportunity to scrutinise)

The best action I could possibly take was to copy and paste all of the key phrases from the job description onto my CV and title them as previous roles responsibilities.

It was so simple!

Clerk of the Stationary Cupboard formerly known as King
June 2017 to May 2019
Responsibilities: To be proud of Bromley Court Hotel’s rich 200 year history and years of experience offering comfortable surroundings, superb food and personal service to all of their guests.

Henry’s CV, June 2019

So I did. I also moved down all of my recent experience and listed some bars that I definitely used to work at.

It was funny because it actually worked.

And now I have a job, waiting tables for 40 hours a week at a burger joint.

And it’s great.

Where else is a successful Hollywood director going to meet a dashing and incredibly handsome waiter that looks like he should definitely be the next Spider Man (four’s the charm, isn’t it?)

And when he does, I’ll make sure I get his order wrong so he has a reason to give me his business card.

Paid work’s for losers

Or how Henry started volunteering, again.

Three weeks ago, I decided to become the greatest copywriter EVER.

To realise my dreams of getting paid £700 a day to write nonsense, I needed to complete my seven point plan.

I’d already ticked off #7: become the coolest kid in Hackney.

How? By going to eight free gigs and writing awful reviews about them. It was irrefutably confirmed when L.A. Peach responded to me positively on Twitter, just after I’d demolished his band.

Clearly I was very, very cool. But that was only one-seventh of the plan.

Two kisses. Seems like L.A. Peach might want to cut me a slice!

Then I remembered that I’d done some research (went to the library and borrowed some books that I definitely didn’t read – reading isn’t cool).

So there were only five points left to complete!

Where next? #2 and #3 of course: develop a kickass portfolio and get some experience.

Surely that’d be achievable in a week.

But who could I trick into letting me work for them when I had absolutely no experience?

I settled on asking my sister’s fiancé if he’d pretend that he was the author of a pre-written reference in exchange for a hand in not failing his medical degree. It was genius, I’d get a reference to put in my portfolio that he could also send to prospective employers! (Like they were going to read a portfolio and a reference)

To minimise the prospect of him saying no, I cooked up an offer that no medical student could refuse.

It was easy. Everyone knows it but, the hardest thing about med school is remembering all the body parts. So to help him not fail his degree, I was prepared to revolutionise his studies with a new take on Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

And it wasn’t even very much work! I was just going to replace some of the classic body parts with more complicated ones, like femur and collar bone!

Femur, collar bone, knees and toes, knees and toes.

Those body parts were SO complicated, the idiot would probably never realise that the song wasn’t that different.

Then I went over and saw that he was already watching this video of the exact same song. Damn, I couldn’t compete with something that good. (The link’s a really shoddy YouTube video. It’s got over 400 million views, but it looks like it was made by a predator. Maybe success in the future is going to be all about making creepy videos for neglectful parents).

Unable to think of anything else that I could help him with, I returned to the drawing board.

The Hackney Gazette Fiasco

Like all those who run out of ideas, I started thinking about how I could reuse my existing content.

It wasn’t long before a great rehashing project came to mind.

Last week I’d written a review about a local eatery, Homerton’s Kingfisher. Maybe to build up a portfolio I could get my review into one of the local papers. It’d be just like getting published (kind of)!

So I rewrote my review for the local press.

If you want to give it a go, the process is simple:

  • Add a dash of amateurism (make it less professional)
  • A touch of character (make it more effusive)
  • A sprinkle of authenticity (added some typos), and
  • Make sure it’s totally PG (remove the expletives)

However, despite sending my revised copy to Time Out, the Londonist, Hackney Citizen, Hackney Today and Hackney Gazette with one extremely persuasive email about how they would be totally unauthentic if they didn’t carry it, only Hackney Gazette got back to me:

Hackney Gazette clearly not stating that they were about to misrepresent me in print (the bastards)

Still, one out of five wasn’t bad.

I was pleased. In the email Hackney Gazette all but confirmed that they were going to publish my review. I couldn’t wait to find out how much money they were going to pay me.

But then they just went silent.

A couple of days later, the paper published an interview with the owner of the Kingfisher.

Upon reading it, I was shocked.

The Hackney Gazette were running a quote from me?! They hadn’t even got in touch to ask me for one. Instead, they had the nerve to make one up out of my revised article, as if I was some sort of dick.

The worst thing was that the quote was completely unrepresentative (I’d rewritten these lines for Hackney Gazette because it was in line with their style guide):

Delighted customer Henry told the Gazette: “While there are already a great range of vegan eateries in Hackney, from the Black Cat Cafe to the Temple of Seitan, what’s different about the Kingfisher is that it’s somewhere you wouldn’t expect to find a vegan menu.

“As an independent, family-owned business, it’s exciting to see them trying out new things.”

Hackney Gazette, I didn’t realise there were so many vegans, says Homerton chip shop owner

Damn. When everyone saw the article they were going to think I was a lot less cool.

By trying to complete #2 and #3 of my plan, I’d jeopardised becoming the coolest kid in Hackney.

I’m never delighted. Fuck being delighted.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

The article didn’t carry my name as author, I received no cheque, and pretty much all of the story (except the interview with the owner) was word-for-word what I’d written in my write-up.

I’d learned the hard way that you can’t trust a journo, even if they only work for Archant.

I also learned that if someone sends you an email, you’re definitely okay to use bits of it as a quote that you can publish online.

But I wasn’t that bitter. At least I’d got the Fish & Chip shop in the paper – they’d probably now give me free fries.

I also had a second reason to live. In addition to becoming the greatest copywriter EVER, I was also now going to have to destroy the Hackney Gazette.

Realistically, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to burn the Hackney Gazette down until I had the resources of a world-class copywriter available to me.

Volunteering means working for free

Great.

Having exhausted all other options, I had to do something that I really didn’t want to.

I needed to start volunteering again.

So I made an account on do-it.org, the peer-to-peer volunteering website and started searching for the perfect opportunity.

While looking it appeared that a lot of old people are lonely. It made me wonder why they don’t make them make friends with each other, or are old people too good for that?

Finally, I found an opportunity for a lead copywriter at a local, Hackney based plc. The organisation will remain anonymous (in case they read my blog), but it was perfect, as it said no experience necessary.

Surprisingly, the offer of a native-English speaking copywriter really interested them. And I was definitely English.

I just hoped that this wasn’t going to turn out like the last time I volunteered:

  • Branded as unemployed in the local press (despite the fact that I had an enviable post in Jobcentre Plus)
  • Aligned with the Conservative Party (shock horror)
  • Having to hang out with other unemployed people (gross), and
  • Eventually securing a job that I, oh so adored in central Government.

I mean, that definitely couldn’t happen again, right?

GIG REVIEW: L.A. Peach and Lacuna Common – Three Free Gigs #8

There are a bunch of free gigs in London. Each week I go to three and review them.

The rating system’s simple: how many beers did I buy (drink)? The more, the better.

8. L.A. Peach and Lacuna Common @ Blondies, London

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Henry learns that exceptionally good punk comes from Oxford and L.A. Peach is totally besotted.

Blondies - Inside
Apparently heaven and hell are both teal. Neon lights @ Blondies.

This was my first visit to Lower Clapton’s Blondies.

It’s dark, the space is tight and it’s drenched in neon. The stage is situated right next to the entrance, so beware, once the curtain’s drawn and the band have started, you’re stuck – unless you want to join the performance and navigate whoever’s playing.  

It’s the only hole in Hackney where the stuff on tap is almost exclusive Vice’s beer– bit of a shame because it’s not very good. There’s also a terrace hidden at the back, so there’s at least one reason to go for an actual drink – just remember, the terrace closes at 21:00 (it’s actually quite cool).

Last night, Blondies were hosting Oxford indie / punk trio Lacuna Common and London-based five-piece L.A. Peach (I think they’re a five-piece, but maybe it’s just a singer with a guitar and some friends).

The crowd was made up of animated mannequins from Beyond Retro. I was wearing a white button-up shirt, carrying a laptop and felt like a total prick.

First up, Lacuna Common seriously impressed. They’re really fucking good.

Lacuna Common at Blondies
Not quite a glimpse from the bathroom. Lacuna Common @ Blondies

The band play that ‘blood-in-your-teeth’ kind of punk (defiantly British), the type that somehow makes stories about the banality of life seem interesting (like an imagined pint of vodka). Punchy and almost immediately captivating, their songs were simple, catchy, held the right amount of suspense, while consistently delivering a certain despondency.

The frontman spat out tales of having no money, people not caring enough about him, skinny jeans and twats from Oxford, while the bassist occasionally chimed in with his own wheys and woes. Instrumentally, it’s basic and the lyrics aren’t anything new, but it really worked. Like, really worked. 

(I REALLY LIKED LACUNA COMMON)

Lacuna Common T-Shirt
Do you reckon dad’ll look good in this? Lacuna Common merch @ Blondies

Their dad was at the back selling t-shirts and white vinyl pressings of their latest single, Not the Same. Going on the performance, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone actually bought one.

L.A. Beach didn’t have Lacuna Common’s energy, but I think that’s the point.

The band’s vibe is dreamy and they deliver subdued, low-tempo numbers that build into strangely gritty and unnerving sonnets. All quite melodic.

LA Peach at Blonies
I couldn’t see L.A. Peach, so I just watched the bartender twist out orange juice with a magic orange squeezing robot @ Blondies

Between songs they were kind enough to add liner notes through a lot of one-sided dialogue with the crowd (how post-modern).

Transcribed below, I hope they’ll help you understand a little bit more about the band:

L.A. Peach is the best thing you’ve seen all night,” – they’re not too cocky.

What do you call a chicken with a piece of lettuce in its eye? Sees-a-salad” (Caesar salad, get it?) – they’re masters of comedy.

When I was in year three, I had to run the relay race at sports day. Stick [baton] in hand, I tripped and fell into this girl’s crotch.” – they’ve all had a really traumatic upbringing.

Have you seen my girlfriend? Doesn’t she look like Trent Reznor?” – they’ve got a lot of respect for women.

All of this context helped me fully appreciate their songs. Particularly why they tricked you into a false sense of security by sounding sweet and ethereal (the type of thing you put on when your mother’s round) then suddenly got really psychotic.

It was kind of like this: bright guitar and a slow groove overlaid with tales of loving someone so much you want to flay their skin and wear it when meeting their parents.

One thing that was clear throughout was that L.A. Peach’s singer / guitarist (maybe L.A. Peach himself) was completely besotted with his new lover (the keyboardist). (Check out this feature in Clash if you don’t believe me).

I hope it works out.

Four_Beers

4 BEERS

How the Barbican’s still trying to be the future

Henry learns that Artificial Intelligence is about Golems. Yeah, it’s all definitely about Golems.

This Friday I was dragged to the Barbican’s AI: More Than Human exhibit. It’s about our relationship with artificial intelligence, focusing on the evolution of AI as a concept and its current implications. It’s running until 26 August 2019.

Entry’s steep at £15 and it was totally packed.

I however, didn’t pay (my girlfriend did), so I was able to enjoy a guilt-free evening in what I’ve always thought is the real life set of JG Ballard’s dystopian thriller, High Rise.

For an exhibition about the destruction of social norms through technology, there probably couldn’t have been a better venue. Poor phone reception’s our best defence against the singularity spreading.

But remarkably, the most interesting thing about the exhibition was not the technology, instead it was the narrative.

But I thought Artificial Intelligence meant no more tears (reading)?

From the get go, the exhibition goes hard on the establishing where AI came from. It implies that today’s examples of artificial intelligence (chatbots smart enough to ignore attempts at tomfoolery) are the embryonic realisation of humanity’s long-standing desire to imbue the inanimate with life.

You know, so we don’t have to do stuff that we don’t want to do, or demean ourselves by paying people to do stuff we don’t want to do.

It argues that the first dreams of electric sheep were our own fantasies of mysticism – the Judaic legend of the Golem (a lot of the exhibit’s devoted to golems, I really don’t know why) and the Shinto belief that inanimate objects have souls (otherwise known as the historical obsession of giving objects faces – plush chocolate ice cream emoticons – how far we’ve come).

Throughout, it’s easy to get the impression that the curators were trying to inspire fear, disgust and mild panic. If they were, it definitely worked.

Next to the entrance you’re subjected to looped reels of familiar sci-fi scenes, all depicting the dire consequences of non-human intelligence, from the astronaut murdering AI in 2001: A Space Odyssey, to scenes from Dr Who (what happens when you let robots write shit for tv), and a clearly-phoned-in-to-fit-the-narrative scene from that Simpsons episode with the Golem (do you even remember that one?).

After passing a table of more Golems and a projection of a video game that utilises AI to procedurally generate greenery (as if Speed Tree hasn’t existed for years), it moves from of the concept of the mystical into practical science; specifically alchemy, mathematics and psychology – as if those things weren’t just made up.

You get to jump from the the philosopher’s stone, to how people in China and Japan actually had their own numeric systems (who knew that maths wasn’t invented in England?), and finally to a really big wall chart explaining the concept of the uncanny valley.

There’s a lot of emphasis on the uncanny valley. You know, the psychological concept coined by Jasia Reichardt about how humans are pre-programmed to experience emotions of disgust when faced with androids that look almost human. It’s made all the more relatable (and less serious) with deliberate linkages to fictional horror, with displays devoted to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Hoffman’s Sandman nearby.

This all gets the point across well, but it can feel like you’re being led.

Scaling the uncanny valley

I’d like to do a really scientific survey to prove whether the uncanny valley’s real.

It’s genius. I’m going to ask a group of teenagers how attracted they are to Lara Croft character models from 1996 to now.

There’s also this low, pulsating track playing throughout, which adds to the feeling of unsettlement and to my argument that throughout the whole exhibit’s trying to manipulate your emotions.

If you manage to get this far (and have a soul), you’ll probably feel like you hate AI.

Getting serious about computer science

As soon as your emotions have been are appropriately toyed with, the exhibit gets all serious about computer science.

I like how it’s made of circles and rectangles! Turing machines are SO fascinating. AI: More than Human @ the Barbican

There’s a sonnet penned by the grandmother of computing, Ada Lovelace (a sonnet?) and a replica Turing Machine. There’s also a bunch of wall monitors that explain the history of computer science and provide a timeline of the long and interesting past of AI grant funding (BORING).

It’s strange though, I don’t recall the exhibition offering a clear definition of what artificial intelligence actually is.

Maybe that’s because there isn’t a very good definition, at least for Luddites like you and me.

But it’s ok, I think I managed to cook one up myself. It’s pretty simple:

  • Computers that don’t have the gift of artificial intelligence are like those people that you manage at work who require step-by-step lists to prevent the unintentional loss of fingers.
  • Computers that have artificial intelligence are the ones who you can give high-level objectives to, and are creative enough to have ideas worth stealing.

Make sense?

Anyway, it then moves onto a lot of examples about the great achievements of AI today:

  • From the Sony robot dog (why would anyone want a dog that’s not fluffy? – Sony, do you want to hire me? I think I just fixed your robot dog)
  • Some chips from Deep Blue, and
  • A mechanical arm that likes to play Go. (I mean, if it was truly intelligent, would that arm really be playing Go? I think it’d be more into Shake Weight.)
I’m sorry lover, but I never bring flowers. Why? Because they’re not thoughtful, machines can think up millions an hour. Computer generated flowers. AI: More than Human @ the Barbican

Towards the end, you’re presented with both positive and negative applications of AI, as if you’re meant to decide whether you want AI to come to your party or whatever.

Good applications included hypothetical robotic bees (because nothing says good better than letting all the bees die?)

Bad applications included Chinese government’s planned use of artificial intelligence to deliver a social credit rating system, which unfortunately wasn’t explained as well as it could have been (there’s a decent Wired article on it here – turns out it’s just the communist version of Experian).

So, if the good things are bad and the bad things are just really boring, is the answer that we shouldn’t really be worrying about artificial intelligence and instead about how awful humanity is?

Artificial Intelligence is more about humans than machines

While the imagined consequences of artificial intelligence can be frightening (aka – the neo-stasi or actual automatic weapon systems), it’s still just computer programs doing things that humans want to do.

I guess that would change when machines have the capacity to set their own objectives, but if we don’t have the imagination to do anything better than reenact the plot of WarGames how likely is it that we’ll get there?

Instead, it made me think that the scariest thing about artificial intelligence is how it has the potential to make administration really efficient and the potential to rob a lot of fun from the world (inspire social homogenisation).

And that made me think that one of the main things that the exhibition did wrong was that it applied human characteristics to machines, rather than the characteristics of machines to humans.

If it had been inverted, I believe that the exhibition would have forced more people there to reflect on their own humanity.

Like, isn’t it funny how we don’t actually know what our hands look or feel like, we just have some weird image in our brain, inspired by a solution of chemicals and electrical pulses.

Vicious, you hit me with a flower. You do it every hour. Machines trying to understand the motivation behind our favourite words. AI: More than Human @ the Barbican

So yeah, the exhibition was alright. But delivered the message the wrong way round and had way, way, way too many Golems.

GIG REVIEW: False Advertising – Three Free Gigs #7

There are a bunch of free gigs in London. Each week I go to three and review them.

The rating system’s simple: how many beers did I buy (drink)? The more, the better.

7. False Advertising @ Old Blue Last, London

Monday, 3 June 2019

Is it False Advertising if they were definitely playing alternative rock?

False Advertising at the Old Blue Last
False Advertising pretending not to play alternative rock @ the Old Blue Last

Today, I saw False Advertising, a half female / male fronted alternative rock trio at the Old Blue Last. They were there to launch their latest single, You Won’t Feel Love. It’s pretty cool. Listen to it.

As the night’s only band, False Advertising didn’t need to do much to hold the crowd’s attention. Despite this (maybe they didn’t realise), they still delivered a solid performance that didn’t seem to lose momentum despite two drummer / guitarist switches. (I have no base comparison, but their parents seemed delighted, so I’m going to stand by that statement)

The songs were the standard alternative rock stop / start affair, mixed with some jarring hardcore rhythms and the usual discordant guitar. The lead single inspired memories of Veruca Salt’s second effort, Eight Arms to Hold You. That’s meant to be a positive. Also, it was definitely better live. They’re actually pretty decent live.

To mark the single’s launch, the band bribed the audience with a mason jar filled with swirly-pops. I didn’t take one because my reviews are totally impartial, but apparently the track’s lyrics were singed into the stopper. Sweets are obviously the natural extension of the concept art that’s accompanied a few of their singles (You Won’t Feel Love, You Said and Give It Your Worst) – yeah, actual examples of false advertising.

The rest of the performance sounded a bit more like Shudder to Think mixed with a bit of Jawbox– but less hardcore and alternative now it’s 2019.

Good gig for a Monday.

NB: If False Advertising find themselves stuck for inspiration for the next single, I’d recommend Head & Shoulders (visibly reduced flakes at a distance of 2-feet – yep, the claim was investigated in 2006 but it’s still on the bottle).

Four_Beers

FOUR BEERS

I went to the future – even the local chippy was vegan. Oh wait.

How Homerton’s Kingfisher somehow made vegan food authentically British

Today was the launch of the vegan menu at the Kingfisher, a traditional (not fancy) fish & chip shop in Homerton, east London.

I dragged my girlfriend along expecting a hilarious excursion; the only thing hilarious was how wrong I’d been.

I can honestly say that I think this is the first time I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating authentic British vegan cuisine. You know, not a tofu salad, nut roast or beetroot burger, but something that felt (and tasted) British.

And who pulled off this great feat? A little independent fish & chip shop in Homerton, which is pretty damn remarkable.

How I ended up going to the Kingfisher’s vegan menu launch

How did I get there? It began at a barbecue last night.

I sat in someone’s garden with a bunch of people I didn’t know. To make friends I started showboating.

To do it, I strung them along with a captivating story about the plight of a local fish & chip shop, and its misguided attempt to get with the times by launching a vegan menu. Then (and this is how you make friends) I got everyone involved.

Passing around a picture of a poster I’d spotted in window of the Kingfisher earlier, I asked everyone what they thought:

Invitation to the Party
Why didn’t you RSVP to the party?! Vegan menu launch @ the Kingfisher

For those who can’t see past the permanent marker, it’s an invitation to the launch of the Kingfisher’s vegan menu on Sunday, 2 June 2019: a bring-your-own-booze spectacular and the first ever VEGAN ONLY day in the establishment’s 47 years of business.

Then I said, “for a fish and chip shop that still doesn’t accept cards, that’s one hell of a statement. Why don’t we go?

Everyone was hooked (or at least pretended they were). So, much to their amusement, I called and booked a table for four.

Surprise-surprise. When I got up the next day everyone had forgotten about the plan.

So that table for four became a table for two (my girlfriend’s long suffering).

And hell was I surprised.

Much to my disbelief, the Kingfisher’s vegan menu launch featured decent vegan food. For the first time, I was sharing my culture with my girlfriend (who’s not from round here) and I wasn’t embarrassed about it.

Leaving, I couldn’t help but root for them. Businesses like this should be succeeding.

Authentic British vegan food? How can you make a claim so bold? (THE REVIEW)

The Kingfisher doesn’t boast. It’s a modest, traditional fish & chip shop situated along Homerton High Street. It’s pretty accessible at five minutes walk from Homerton overground and fifteen from Hackney Central.

Profile of the Kingfisher
A modest profile. Vegan menu launch @ the Kingfisher.

Compared to its neighbours (the Adam & Eve and the Spread Eagle): it’s not flashy.

But that doesn’t matter: it’s the real deal: no need for sequin dresses, an imported Club Mexicana menu or DJ sets that no one listens to.

Inside, it’s what you’d expect – the deep fat fryer bubbles, there’s the occasional spray of salt and vinegar and the placemats are kinda sticky. 

Interior of the Kingfisher
Why can’t I have a saveloy?! Vegan menu launch @ the Kingfisher

What makes the Kingfisher different is the menu.

This Sunday, it was totally vegan:

Kingfisher Vegan Menu
Beyond the permanent marker, it’s a pretty bold vegan offering. Vegan menu launch @ the Kingfisher.

When I first saw it, I didn’t really read it properly and instead just laughed. I was fully expecting deep-fried Linda McCartney sausages and slices of lukewarm tofu.

I was really wrong.

For their vegan menu, the Kingfisher had gone the whole tempeh (get it? Tempeh’s a pork substitute). It was wide-ranging and from what I tasted, very well executed.

Talking to the owner, it was clear that it was founded on a lot of research, experimentation and definitely was not half-arsed (yeah, I’m looking at you the Diner).

We saw them prepare the Classic (standard vegan beef burger), the Chickadee (their own attempt to rival Hackney’s vegan burger emporium, Temple of Seitan), their namesake ‘the Kingfisher’ (a mock fish-fillet burger) as well as their own vegan take on chip-shop classics including the doner kebab (every fish & chip shop in London is a glorified Super Kebab – it’s what the people want) and pie & chips. There were also a bunch of vegan desserts and smoothies.

Also, like me you probably associate traditional British cafes with Nescafe Gold. But look, the coffee actually wasn’t granulated:

Coffee at the Kingfisher
Actual coffee. Vegan menu launch @ the Kingfisher

As a party of two we had: 

  • the ‘Kingfisher’ (vegan breaded fish-fillet burger)
  • A Vegan Pie (vegan take on a steak and onion pie)
  • Some chips
  • And a Super Green smoothie

Look, it’s almost like someone might have posted that picture on Instagram:

Food at the Kingfisher
The ‘Kingfisher’ (a vegan fish fillet burger) and vegan pie. The mayonnaise is actually vegan. Vegan menu launch @ the Kingfisher.

It was surprisingly good.

I’ll start with the Kingfisher. For context, I’ve been to the vegan Sutton & Sons in Hackney central (the fancy-ish fish & chip restaurant chain) and I’ve had the fried banana-blossom mock-cod. I can confidently write that the Kingfisher’s breaded vegan fish-fillet tasted more like fish, had texture more like fish and was actually pretty nice to eat, like fish. I’d recommend it over almost any other battered vegan fish I can recall (and I’ve made vegan fish fingers with tofu and seaweed – so I’m pretty much the authority).

The chips were chip-shop chips (better than Chinese takeaway chips, kebab-shop chips and the pub-enamel-mug chips – irrespective of what this survey says). There was also complimentary vegan mayonnaise and a whole range of other free condiments that Mildreds would definitely charge you for.

The vegan pie, normally only offered takeaway, tasted like a meat pie and it came with vegan gravy (a real boon). It was good (in the sense that pie and chips are good). The offering at Camden’s Young Vegans (a dedicated vegan pie shop) isn’t any better.

And the smoothie? The Super Green was made out of avocado, banana and added pea protein (and some seeds. Apparently people who drink smoothies like seeds). It was thick (the right sort of thick), very green and pretty fresh. After a conversation with the owner, I learned that she’d worked a lot on getting the consistency right and even consulted her son, a sports nutritionist, on how to boost its nutritional value.

Smoothies at the Kingfisher
Can you see the pea protein? Can you?! Vegan menu launch @ the Kingfisher.

The food was well executed, well researched and the owners put in a lot of effort to deliver it. Even though it was 100% vegan, it really didn’t seem out of place or phoned in. It wasn’t up itself (pretentious) and most importantly, it tasted good and is actually something I’d eat again.

The whole menu’s also reasonably priced – it cost about as much as a standard meal at a London chippy (just over £20 for two – not including the smoothie).

Why weren’t more people at the launch?

When I arrived, there weren’t that many people there.

When I left, there weren’t many people there either.

It’s not my business, but it got me down.

The food was good, the invitation was charming, it was all well priced and you could bring your own booze. It also had something that you don’t find at chains – charm. I don’t want to be sentimentalist here, but it really felt like you were part of a community.

And if the food satisfied, going there this weekend was certainly a better story than a nutroast at an anonymous east London pub.

For the Kingfisher to deliver a wholly vegan menu was incredibly bold. Maybe it’s a sign of how tastes are changing – adapt or die – but honestly, how often do you see relics of the British High Street trying to innovate and reinvent themselves for 2019? And actually accomplishing it?

The owners were incredibly sweet too. You could tell they’d put one hell of a lot of work into delivering this and cared a lot about their business.

I really don’t want to rant, but if people like you and me don’t go out and support risk takers like this, then we’ll end up with exactly what we deserve – a London with way too many Pret a Mangers. Who honestly wants that?

I cannot implore you enough, vegan or not, to try the new menu at the Kingfisher.

I guarantee that you’ll be just as surprise as I was.