New column

Will Self writes about the drowned world of JG Ballard’s Shepperton in the first column of his new psychogeography series, On location, in the New Statesman, available online soon. This replaces his Real Meals column.

Real meals: Urban Eat

I hope some of you, after you finish reading this column, will go straight to urbaneat.co.uk, where you can find out all about such “real food” as the “hand-crafted” red Thai chicken wrap I saw advertised in my local Costa clone yesterday. (Costa clones are coffee shops so lacking in self-esteem that they’re “proud to serve Costa coffee”.) This particular wrap was pictured apparently lying in the roadway of Benefits Street – or at any rate, somewhere gritty and urban – with a disproportionately small sign by it that had been amended to read “a tasty DIVERSION”. The wrap got me to wondering: is it only me who’s noticed the way that wraps have stealthily and relentlessly infiltrated our fast-food culture? I asked my wife when she was first aware of wraps and she said, “Oh, the early 1990s, I suppose – I mean, they came in with Pret a Manger, didn’t they?”

The madness of crowds: Clapham High Street

It must have been in the late spring of 1982. I went down to London from Oxford, where I was at university, to buy a bag of marijuana from a friend of a friend who had a room in a squat immediately behind Brixton police station. “It’s a great gaff to deal out of,” the bespectacled little fellow said. “I mean, this is the last place they’d come looking – right by their back door.” Maybe he was right; after all, it was only a year since Brixton had been up in flames, the railway bridge was still black with soot and the premises to either side of the squat were boarded up. It seemed reasonable to think that the police might have had more serious things on their mind.

Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products – review

“Quoting his subject’s words at the head of the chapter on the design and development of Apple’s iPhone, Leander Kahney makes Jony Ive sound oracular: “When we are at these early stages in design … often we’ll talk about the story for the product — we’re talking about perception. We’re talking about how you feel about the product, not in a physical sense, but in a perceptual sense.” Throughout his biography of Apple’s design magus for nigh on the past two decades, Kahney comes at Ive’s notion of the “narrative” of a product time and again, but it’s this formulation that most closely approaches the metaphysical, seemingly suggesting that all those iMacs, PowerBooks, iPods and iPads that Ive has been responsible for mind-birthing should be considered not as mere phenomena, but actual noumena; for, what else can he mean by “perceptual” — as  distinct from “physical” — if not some apprehension of how the iPhone is in itself, freed from the capacitive touch of our fingers?

‘A crowd of one nutter: Prince Harry’

Someone asked me to go to Antarctica in November – it was a press junket, an 11-day cruise leaving from southern Argentina. I don’t normally go a-junketing; to my way of thinking, it takes being a hack – which is bad enough – dangerously close to the icy and treacherous waters of marketing and public relations. I don’t have any objection to joining the 35,000 or so tourists who head for the Antarctic each year; it’s hardly that big a crowd and there’s nothing delusional about wanting to see for yourself one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, and it beats sitting in your cold, leaky gaff waiting for a private contractor to cut off your state benefits.

No, I only put on my judgemental hat for a crowd of one nutter: Prince Harry. He set off for the South Pole in early December, accompanied by the obligatory entourage of limbless ex-servicemen (and women), the aim being to show that limbless ex-servicemen (and women), and lame unemployed princes, are all capable of inspirational levels of achievement. It’s difficult to know where to begin when it comes to unpicking this giant bezoar – or should I say pseudo-bezoar – that’s stuck in the British gastrointestinal tract.