Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Trick or Treat?

From Hell

London today – a loud, proud, boastful city high on energy and rolling
in cash. The financial power of the City is flooding like a tsunami
over the old East End – Spitalfields is poised in a fragile and no
doubt brief balance between bland, concretized and glazed, assimilating
corporate glamour and the creative anarchy of bohemia and
multi-cultural Britain.

But duck down any of the side streets leading off Bishopsgate and in
two minutes you end up in an alleyway like this. An alley not much
changed from the days when Jack the Ripper stalked his victims in these
very streets. An alley where over a hundred years on, his presence and
the evil he did is still palpable. Sound drains into the dark. You’re
on your own here. Or are you?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Damien Rice's new fan

One tastes do change - I've noticed mine are moving on. Don't quite know what to ascribe the process to: partly of course I now maintain a single household and can do exactly as I choose, without anyone to influence me or to consider; also, the very many life-altering events of the past twelve months must affect me too.

The iPod on shuffle mode threw up "The Blower's Daughter" by Damien Rice from his CD "o". I bought this back in 2003 when it came out. I hadn't heard of Mr Rice at the time but I acted under the influence of ecstatic reviews.

I played a song or two. I hated it. Felt the first songs monotonous and dull and Mr Rice's delivery mannered and irritating.

Ivan laughed because he considered my musical enthusiasms strictly fashion-victim. Anyway, the CD was kept and eventually must have been dowloaded onto the iPod.

I didn't even recognise the artist when it played, but it totally swept me away. I listened to the album for the first time properly and adored it; not a weak moment on it. I've played it all day today; been in a lovely mellow mood.

He's got a new album out on the 6th November - have pre-ordered it from Amazon already.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Happy Ending for Battersea?

Parkview International deserves thanks for opening Battersea Power Station to the public (for the first time ever).

It is currently hosting the “China Power Station: Part 1”(until 5 November).

Go see it at all costs. It may be a last chance.

The artworks are completely overshadowed by the grandeur and pathos of the building itself. A vast and austere Art Deco concoction, it is clearly in very bad shape indeed, far far worse than one would anticipate from the usual long-distance views. Being inside is like being inside some fabulous wreck (the Titanic springs to mind): rusting riveted girders dimly emerge through the dripping gloom; imaginations can run riot on the crackled antique paint textures and ancient, cryptic signs in ancient fonts. This whole place is on the cusp of history: an anachronistic, discredited technology housed in a huge, stricken and seemingly hopeless brick and steel temple. Can one imagine Angkor Wat being redeveloped for contemporary use? Pompeii?

The very beauty of the building, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in 1929, was inspired by public concern the new station would be an eyesore. Now that its function is lost, the beauty remains as a poison chalice. So seductive and demanding, yet it has already finished one developer. And now Parkview International is drinking – or appears to be drinking – deep.

Battersea Power Station is as important to London as the Chrysler Building or Brooklyn Bridge is to New York, the Colisseum to Rome or the Eiffel tower to Paris. And yet Battersea is more vulnerable than all of these, as apart from vacant urban symbolism its fabric is compromised and it has yet to find a new reason to be.

It is shocking indeed that given this vulnerability, Wandsworth Council and English Heritage have foolishly, rashly given Parkview permission to demolish and rebuild the four chimneys, despite an engineering report saying they are repairable. Parkview is headquartered in Hong Kong and registered in the British Virgin Islands – pretty much impossible legally to make them rebuild four useless chimneys if they decide they can’t afford it. And without the chimneys the station is one step closer to total demolition. The empty site would be worth many, many, many millions.

Go see it before 5th November.

For more, check out the Wikipedia article.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Do I know you?

To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the
artist now.
- Samuel Beckett

We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom, our ideals.
- Samuel Beckett

Detail of a street mural in Notting Hill celebrating the centenerary of Samuel Beckett's birth this year.

The artist's name is Alex Martinez.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Swings and Roundabouts

Strange how things work out. In the 80s, the most famous ex-power station in London was the Battersea Power Station. An architectural icon visible across swathes of south west London, situated on the approaches to Victoria Station, and featured on the cover of a famous rock album, it was a building greatly loved by Londoners.

In the late 80s an attempt was made to transform it into a theme park. This failed - Battersea is the largest brick building in Europe, and the property crash destroyed the developer.

I’m sure I was not the only Londoner disappointed the Tate chose another, little-known power station off to the east to transform into Tate Modern. But in retrospect Nicholas Serota’s instincts were spot on: his station was a workable size in an area on the brink of massive revival and with good transport links.

The funny thing about Battersea is despite its central location it's actually quite tricky to get to.

Now another developer is having a go at Battersea. Everyone wishes him well; noone wants to see Battersea be demolished and it has been standing as a partial ruin for 20 years now.

But it is amusing how these things pan out. Tate Modern is a victim of its own success – a prisoner of its footfall and the massive and very difficult turbine hall. Each exhibit there has to surpass the last in spectacle and popularity – an increasingly difficult trick to pull off.

One can view Carsten Höller’s slides installation as a final capitulation : come on, Art? – or Theme Park? You decide.

And just at this juncture, the gods of irony have disposed the Battersea Power Station to open to the public briefly with a high-minded exhibition organized by the Serpentine Art Gallery of contemporary Chinese Art.

It seems most visitors are attracted by the building itself (never before opened to the public). But still – Battersea finally does “Art” while Tate Modern becomes the “theme park”. Too amusing.

I have not yet been to Battersea, but hope to this week. Also, building up courage for those slides at the Tate. Will report on any aesthetic experience.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I have been following the doctor's advice regards my insomnia problem, so far with success. He says to avoid caffeine from midday onwards - a bit of a challenge for me, as I enjoy a cuppa tea. I have compromised by slowing down after lunch, and stopping completely at 6pm. Thereafter, it's camomile all the way.

Still, I have developed a taste for camomile, so that's good!

Have managed to avoid hitting the sleeping pills too hard - they still work when I take just a quarter - and no more mood issues to report.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Very British Coup

Around the world this autumn, the military seems to be rocking the boat. First of all, we had the traditional military coup in Thailand - which seems to have had some popular support - and now we are having a very British version here.

It's mind-blowing - completely unprecedented in the modern history of Britain - for the army to disparage so publicly and so fundamentally the foreign policy set by the elected government. And superbly done, say I - General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, has publicly called for the removal of British troops from Iraq 'soon', and has stated we are doing harm to the country by being there. In my view, he is acting in the best British traditions of speaking truth to power and with luck he will get away with it.

Hopefully this will be the catalyst which will bring the Labour Party to the boil and finally goad them into doing what they should have done years ago.

I have some sympathy with Tony Blair. He is possibly the best politician around in the UK, and has taken a fair few good and hard decisions. However, his decision to take the country to war in Iraq - and it seems to have been virtually decided by him single-handedly under the influence of George Bush - was catastrophically misjudged; so serious he can't recover from it.

The fall-out has been so bad. The endless cycle of the milirary quagmire in Iraq; the destabilisation of the Middle East; the increased rush to go nuclear by Iran; the increased risk of terrorism at home; the growing social isolationism of Muslims in the UK (and the rise of violent Islamophobia): all are pretty depressing developments. And then we've had the alleged suicide of a government scientist for trying to tell the truth; the BBC trashed by a judicial whitewash for telling the truth; cabinet miniters' careers ruined for telling the truth. And now we have the army being bolshy - great and amusing in context, but still, a step out of their necessary constitutional role and in some small way another destabilisation of the fragile and unwritten British Constitution. But initiated by Thatcher and developed by Blair, the office of the PM has been ever-increasingly Imperial, in itself causing stress to the healthy functioning of democracy.

The Downing Street memos demostrate that T. Blair had excellent FO advice before the war that the Americans had neglected to plan for the occupation of Iraq. And there were many warnings of the obvious dangers of invading at the time - all of which have proved accurate, so it's really impossible for Tony to say he could not have foreseen the disaster.

And yet, he clings desperately to power. We are sacrificing young soldiers' lives, the good name of our country, and the possibility of peacefully ending the clash of civilisations, on the altar of one man's ego and vanity. Tony, in this case History has spoken already. Another six months won't really change anything.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

The title is stupendous, and of course the story’s provenance is intriguing (based on Lauren Weisberger’s lightly fictionalised experience as Anna Wintour’s assistant). I have been looking forward to this film all year, and it did not disappoint – superbly crafted entertainment and one of the sharpest films about fashion ever, because it focuses so intently on the financial power of the industry, and understands the mechanics and the redundancy of consumer desire. Unlike Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter, for example, The Devil Wears Prada ignores designer eccentricities in favour of cold, hard brutal economics and its effects on the characters.

Meryl Streep’s performance as Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway magazine, completely makes the film and I reckon will become legendary. On one level just a ‘character’ role – she’s the devil boss – Streep’s subtlety and laser sharp comic timing, allied with a brilliant script by Aline Brosh McKenna, transcends genre. Streep channels both the evil and the insidious seductiveness of the devil (say, Milton’s devil), conjuring up our admiration and even our sympathy. Priestly understands power inside-out: barely raising her voice above a whisper, she instils complete terror in her staff of glossy lovelies. And the film ruthlessly shows how they have to be lovely, just as a basic requirement of survival in this jungle.

Anne Hathaway plays Andy, the high-minded journalism graduate who lands the job millions would kill for and decides she wants to stick out a year for her CV’s sake. In this urban fairy tale, she’s a Cinderella who learns the fashion game: we watch her progress from goof to glamazon, but slowly and unwittingly become corrupted by her ambition. Her performance is a great foil for Streep's: a wide-eyed ingenue, and yet clever, committed, and emotionally true.

As with Sex and the City, part of the joy of this film is the level of intelligence and skill which have been invested in something so basically entertaining. Director David Frankel has worked excellently on both; costume designer Patricia Field has as well. Her work in this movie is very notable – gone are the endearing quirk and fashion-forwardness of Sex in the City; here all is high-taste, high-glamour, high-powered.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My Drugs Hell

Hedgie is an exceptionally clean-living boy. No, really. I’m Saffie from Absolutely Fabulous (except for the gay part), which is not to say my parents were interesting 60’s bohemians, more like uptight 50’s soaks, single-handedly puffing their way through the output of a medium-sized cigarette factory every year. The end result is that my siblings and I avoid tobacco entirely and are very moderate drinkers.

My only real vices are sugar and caffeine.

I do enjoy the occasional drink. I am allergic to beer. Truth be told, I enjoy the mythology, ritual and snobbery of wine more than the actual stuff. I do like vodka and gin – especially in fruity cocktails. I once had a martini – in New York (I decided it was a good place to start). I was late at the bar, and my order came long after the others’. Seconds after I absorbed the shock of the goldfish bowl sized glass containing at least a pint of martini placed before me by the waiter my boss told me to ‘drink up’. A pint+ of martini chugged down on top of jetlag and an empty stomach and before a night out in New York with a party-animal boss is not a good idea.

But I digress. My mother unfortunately was a child of the 50s also in her battle with prescription drugs. This has left me wary of chemicals.

I occasionally (2-3 times a year) may take an aspirin or a paracetemol – that’s it. Ivan’s Catholic mother says that ‘pain is good for the soul’ and I generally go along with that.

But I have not been sleeping for months now: my first ever bout of sustained insomnia. I eventually went to the doctor last week and he prescribed sleeping pills.

I sliced the tablets in two and decided to take only one half each night. I’ve finished two pills so far: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. Apart from Tuesday I’ve tried not to take them and have only done so after the church bell struck 2am.

They work like a charm. The trouble is my mood has been wildly affected during the day - I feel really strangely down. Today I was irrationally tearful and found myself contemplating a midnight stroll on Hungerford Bridge. This mood did clear up after I had a ham and tomato sandwich. But it doesn’t make sense as my career situation has improved – I’m starting next week on a freelance project which will net me a fist full of grands for 8 day’s work, so not bad. So why so depressed? I blame the pills. Looks like my choice is no sleep, exhaustion but a relatively clear head or sleep and feel like topping myself the next day.

Maybe I should chop the pills into quarters.

I won’t throw them away, but clearly they can’t be used every night. I’ll avoid them for the weekend, even if I don’t sleep, and see how things pan out.

[Update] – managed without last night; passed a restless night but at least chemical-free.