Wednesday, December 31, 2008

best exhibition of the year

The British Museum and the V&A are putting on tremendous shows at the moment. My best of year award goes to Francis Bacon at Tate Britain. It has to, really - Francis Bacon is without question the greatest British artist of the 20th century; and this is a fantastic appraisal of his work. It’s still on, and I am planning to go again to spend some quality time amongst the carcasses.

best book of the year

Although it was published years ago now, I’m going to nominate Thomas Pakenham’s The Scramble for Africa . Another category with very meagre pickings - I resolve to do better in 2009!

best movie of the year

Yikes! According to my blog I hardly saw any this year. Out of a very slim field, the stand-out is Burn After Reading. Apologies to all those who preferred the Coen brothers’ other movie No Country for Old Men; I’m just too cowardly to see really scary films.

theatrical experience of the year

A good year for me. Very memorable was the London premiere of Damon Albarn’s/ Jamie Hewlett’s Journey to the West at Covent Garden - a spectacular and joyous production in a house feverish with anticipation. I didn’t enjoy the CD nearly as much, though.

Peter Hall’s production of Pygmalion at the Old Vic was a complete delight; however my most memorable theatrical night night this last year has to be the NT’s mind-blowing Revenger’s Tragedy.

my meal of the year - Wapping Food

Every meal out was pretty special this year. Hakkasan with Liz back in March for my birthday was absolutely wonderful; a real pleasure - even down to the hard-won doggy bag.

Trinity still slightly disappoints - my first visit was with the tardy relatives, who arrived two hours late for Sunday lunch, and one can’t blame the restaurant for the food in those circumstances. I chose badly on my second visit. The neighbours rave about it, and it is good to have a smart and decent restaurant within walking distance. I just need to be won over; for me it seems to be missing the Xfactor.

Wapping Food has the Xfactor in spades. Ingrid, Peter and I went just before Christmas an it’s absolutely magical. It’s in a refurbished power station across the road from the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping - modern art covers the towering walls and courtyard; banks of candles gutter on the old power station machinery. A really full-on event space, with bags of character and charisma. But the food is wonderful too - quite simple things superlatively cooked. I had a chunky, intensely fishy potted mackerel to start and a barbecued pork chop for my main course, which was the platonic ideal of pork chops - perfectly, juicily piggy, yet subtly enhanced with smoky barbecue flavours. The custard for my wonderful apple and plum crumble was just to die for. Some criticize the service at this place, especially the owner’s allegedly uncertain temper, but we had excellent, friendly and helpful service and the owner herself graciously put us back into our coats and gave us directions to the docklands light railway. So no complaints from me there.

Whoever selected the music has exactly the same taste as me; however, I have to say it was slightly too loud. But Ingrid and Peter didn’t complain.

I very much look forward to my next visit to this place; I might be brave enough to invite the tardy relatives.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The book is kiddie fiction - a bit Mills & Boone candy with some bite; very entertaining nonetheless: the film is faithful to the novel’s wonderful sense of place and atmosphere but improves the plot in crucial respects: notably, it increases the sense of menace as the evil vampires approach the little town of Forks, and speeds up the story. The special effects are a bit average, but are made up for by some delicious camerawork and the beautiful actors. The acting is uniformly good. Altogether, a quality adaptation and one the sequel’s director will have a challenge to better. I would pay more attention to the vampires’ make-up, especially in the neck areas. They were a bit white-face from the chin upwards.

The soundtrack is excellent too; quite adventuresome for the target audience - Muse, Radiohead and Debussy feature.


I can’t recommend this exhibition at the British Museum highly enough - the sculptures have been chosen and placed so intelligently; they really open up a dialogue with their surroundings. There are only 5 works, but all of them are fabulous. Tourists were clustering around Marc Quinn’s solid gold life-size Kate Moss with cameras; there were ‘no photography’ signs in front of Damien Hirst’s gaily coloured ranked skulls in the 18th-century bookcases in the Enlightenment Gallery: boo hiss. I really feel like sneaking back and taking a surreptitious one.

Mr Hirst has really gone down in my estimation: after making in excess of £100 million from his autumn auction he laid off the staff of assistants who actually made the works - into a savage recession. Lovely.

Round and Round the Garden

I finally saw the third part of Alan Ayckbourne’s The Norman Conquests trilogy early in December. Despite my reservations about the first episode, and despite reports that Round and Round the Garden was the weakest segment, I loved it. in the timeline of all three plays, RRG starts earliest and finishes last. Therefore, strictly speaking, I think one should see this one last, as it gives the final perspective on Norman’s shenanigans - although the plays convincingly demonstrate that humans are not susceptible to “final” analyses.

Appropriately for its outside setting, there is far more physical comedy in this play; but also some of the funniest lines. The audience was in raptures - the night I went had the most tumultuous applause of all three evenings.

Table Manners
Living Together

more prezzies

My niece and nephew gave me a box of hand-made (by themselves) chocs - absolutely stunning. F made brandy-soaked chocolate cherries and T made whisky and champagne truffles. They are actually spectacular - far superior to shop-bought. I arrived in Cambridge to find T looking a bit like a truffle himself: covered in a light dusting of cocoa powder and with hands, face and t-shirt generously smeared in melted chocolate. His mother was beside herself, but determined he finish his task. Making boxes of chocs for relatives and friends seemed to be their Xmas party trick.

I'm back!

Back from the Xmas festivities in Cambridge, with my final deadline for 2008 looking quite daunting. Never mind, just get stuck in. Here goes . . .

I came back to find my poor tree in a very desiccated condition. Oh well.

Apart from humungous quantities of food, we had lots of wintry countryside walks in Cambridge - usually at sunset. That’s when my relatives usually come out to play.

I got Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight for Xmas - devoured it in hours; it’s highly readable and entertaining despite its many glaring faults. Funny to have socially acceptable, conservative “family values” vampires - my vampire frame of reference has always been the far more subversive Anne Rice version. Have to see the movie.

I’m very impressed with my mother. Fresh from her pre-Xmas “nervous breakdown” she scored a new boyfriend just before Christmas - in a target poor and competition rich environment. I’m impressed. And surely, if my 77-year old mother can do it, I can too?? The lucky 81-year old boy is showering her in flowers and meals. They had a date picnic with the Xmas hamper I sent.

That’s enough for one post - got another 9 to go!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Festive visits

It's annoying that whenever life speeds up and I have lots and lots to write, my writing time shrinks.  In fact it's shrunk so completely I haven't blogged for a while, so must start catching up as quickly as possible because I'm off to Cambridge tomorrow and will be off-line again until the weekend at the earliest.

Company lunch today, plus massive work deadlines, plus my friends from SA who are doing the tourist thing in London are quite determined to visit me again tonight.  Could have been a bit of an imposition, but I'm so totally organized for Christmas this year it's pretty remarkable - ALL my presents are wrapped already, and everything I'm taking to Cambridge is in a neat pile ready to be stashed in an overnight bag at a moment's notice.

It seems I have a talent for entertaining children. I'm not all over them, not do I talk down to them, but for Ingrid's two I did plan to keep them entertained on their first visit chez moi - the little boy I plonked in front of my computer (He's a Mequest fiend), and the little girl helped me decorate my tree while I chatted to her parents.

I had an extravagant pile of pastries from Macaron awaiting them for tea. My inner domestic goddess's camp predilection for cake stands has been thwarted by a lack of storage space in the kitchen: however, said goddess was thrilled and inspired recently by a window display at Zeitgeist (I think) - one can make one's own cake stand out of plates and wineglasses.  Luckily I have comedy wine glassses (an unfortunate gift) which were just perfect as makeshift cake stand supports. Very effective, and the children loved it.

So much so that whenever they saw "Clapham Common" on tube maps afterwards they demanded their mother take them back to my flat. Even if was was working, which I most assuredly was.

So I wasn't really expecting to have to entertain again, but hey ho here we go.  I suppose one of the things children have to learn is that repeat gigs are never the same. Luckily Mequest is still there; Romy will have to make do with my Tintin collection.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


O.M.G. !!! - like a vampire fresh from the tomb, the 80s are back!

I have so pre-ordered their debut album already from Amazon; gives me something to look forward to in January! (comes out January 12)

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Hard as it is for me to believe, but this is my third anniversary in my very own little flat - already I’ve been here a third of the time I was in the previous house with Ivan and Liz.

The shock of events in the last three years has really changed me; time flies when you are struggling to cope!! My finances took a massive tumble after my redundancy and almost every day since I’ve worried about keeping the flat; it’s quite extraordinary that I’m still here and just-about solvent after three years. Where will I be next year?

Hopefully, still on an upward track. My income streams are now diversified so another redundancy by itself will be less traumatic financially (and emotionally, I now know I can survive) - and also I now have insurance against loss of income.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


As we near the end of the seemingly interminable Bush years, even the President himself turns to the question of his historic legacy:

“I don't spend a lot of time really worrying about short-term history. I guess I don't worry about long-term history, either, since I'm not going to be around to read it -- (laughter) -- but, look, in this job you just do what you can.”

Andrew Sullivan, from here.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christmas Lights in London: Carnaby Street

Christmas is coming! Yippee!

Cildo Meireles

Never heard of this guy - but his retrospective at Tate Modern (until 11 January) is probably the most fun, and thought-provoking exhibition on in London at the moment.

A conceptualist, many of his works are physically interactive, which is quite charming, and intellectually challenging at the same time.

Gay reproductive advantage

Saw this via Gay Banker, a new scientific theory about why gayness never died out through natural evolution.

My little brain struggles to comprehend - but basically, it appears that the premise of the popular make-over tv programme, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, is now established scientific theory: a little bit of the gay makes you better with the laydeez.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

more moans: M&S dinner

I bought M&S’s ‘new’ Kerala King Prawn Curry (£3.99) for dinner last night. After another hectic week I fancied a curry on the sofa sat in front of Celebrity .

Out of the packet it looked very pretty - the prawns in their shells arranged on a bed of coconut curry flavoured with mangoes, mustard seeds and curry leaves. The prawns were delicious, and the curry tasted good, but was choc full of fibrous materials and deeply unripe, inedible mango - not good; in fact left uneaten.

Disappointing - definitely not recommended.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday moan: fighting fires

A nasty pattern is emerging at work. It goes something like this:

Colleague: * Fighting with customer. Will have my own way. Won’t communicate with colleagues. Ignore reality. Don’t admit problems. Deadline. Panic. *

* Explosion *

* hide from bosses *

“Hedgie! Hedgie! Help me! Fire! Fire! My pants are on fire!”

Hedgie: “Ok, I’ll get the bucket of water”

Colleague: “ NO! NOT the water!”

Hedgie: “At this point lots of water straight on the fire is the best solution. It won’t take a moment.”

Colleague: “ Stupid! You don’t understand! The situation is much more complex than that! I just can’t accept water!”

* burning *


Hedgie: “The water will save you”

Colleague: “Ok, use the water.”

* splash *

* fire goes out *

* Hedgie cleans up mess *

Colleague (to bosses): “Look what a brilliant job I’ve done!”

- and start again from the top.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

sigh of relief

I speak as a Pisces with Sagittarius rising, who has not enjoyed Pluto's presence overmuch. Maybe that's too much information!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Scrooge alert!

Every year someone pops up to have a whinge about Christmas cards, and this year it turns out to be a Bishop.

Well, sorry,your holiness, but I bought mine today. Now to get writing . . .

And in any event - the first ever Christmas card (invented by Henry Cole, the first director of the V&A), wasn't notably Christian in sentiment:

Oh the materialistic hedonism of those debauched Victorians! And quick! Get that child into care!!!

Monday, November 24, 2008


Experimenting with new software here . . . hope this works!

Last Thursday I was in Victoria Station around lunchtime, and decided to try <A HREF=”“>Wasabi </A>for lunch. They have individually-wrapped sushi portions; quite a large and imaginative selection for a fast-food operation like this.

The staff were very cute and helpful, and the sushi was good - streets ahead of the supermarket stuff with stiff and nastily refrigerated rice.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

at long last!

Been shopping!

Guess what I bought?

Here's a big clue:

Lovely new macBook. :-)


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

from the bosom of the ocean

It's ridiculously pleasing when a hoary old cliche, an urban myth, a tired old formula, actually steps into the light and is made flesh. In the course of my researches on the intermawebs, I came across this:

This, my friends, is one of those very deckchairs which are perpetually being rearranged on the deck of the Titanic.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Delphic iPod

Saw this on Boz’s blog (he got via Vicus Scurra) a while ago, and couldn’t do it until I was technologically updated. It’s pretty fun to do, and as a commenter on Vicus’s blog said: “This meme is surprisingly accurate for such a primitive form of psychometric inquiry.”

The Meme:

1. Put your music player on shuffle
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must put down the song name no matter what. (Hmm. I think we all cheated - - - I draw a veil - - -)

What would best describe your personality?
A Wolf at the Door (It Girl, Rag Doll) – Radiohead


What do you like in a guy/girl?
Boss Drum – The Shamen

Yes sir.

How do you feel today?
Crying – Bjork


What is your life’s purpose?
She Sun Shines - Cast

What is your motto?
Mouth’s Cradle – Bjork


What do your friends think of you?
Supernatural Superserious – R.E.M.

What do you think of your parents?
Walk Unafraid – R.E.M.

So true.

What do you think about very often?
Blue Pastures - James

What do you think of your best friend?
Mysterons - Portishead

What do you think of your crush?
In the Forest – The Coral

What is your life story?
River Deep, Mountain High – The Supremes

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A Moment with you? – George Michael

What do you think when you see your crush?
Winter Kills - Yazoo

What do your parents think of you?
Mysterious Ways – U2

How’s your love life?
Time to get away – LCD Soundsystem

Ipods have GODLIKE knowledge.

What will they play at your funeral?
Narcissus – Alanis Morissette

Bastards! I'll haunt them!

What will you dance to at your wedding?
Save a soul in every town – The Christians

What is your hobby/interest?
Electrolite – R.E.M.

What’s your biggest secret?
Glory Days – Bruce Springsteen

What do your think of your friends?
Viva la Vida - Coldplay

What song do you listen to when you are sad?
Slow Night, So Long – Kings of Leon

In love?
You are my sister – Antony & the Johnsons

Maybe that's what I'm doing wrong.

What song do you air guitar to?
Goin’ Back – Dusty Springfield

What should be your signature karaoke song?
Hunter - Portishead

What is your greatest desire?
Black Swan – Thom Yorke

What does next year have in store for you?
Cymbal Rush – Thom Yorke

What’s your outlook on life?
Hard to Beat – Hard-Fi

How will you die?
Anytime at all – Alison Moyet

Do people secretly lust after you?
Myxomatosis – Radiohead

I’ll take that as a no.

The best advice you will ever get?
I Want You – Madonna (featuring Massive Attack)

Flattering - ? -

Friday, November 14, 2008

The History of Me in Cocktails: No 3: - Today

God what a week. Work; home, money, life - hassles, crises, disasters. Culminated in a sleepless night last night; finally dropped off at @ 5am. Took the morning off and rolled into work at 12 noon, no less. Thank the Lord for relaxed bosses.

Bad bad boy. However, I was v. good all afternoon; really did quite a surprising amount of work. Believe me, I needed to.

But now I'm home and blogging while drunk.

I have long wished to make my very own Brandy Alexander, instead of buying Sainsbury's packaged version.. Apparently, it's derided as a classic "Prom Cocktail" - however, anything sweet and creamy rings my bell.

The flatmate also confessed to liking Brandy Alexanders, so I ordered in the ingredients according to Diffordsguide, especially Creme de Cacao White Liqueur.

They arrived today from Drinkon, but imagine my horror when I discovered we didn't have enough ice to do the cocktail shaker thing! Aargh!

However needs must when the devil drives; necessity is the mother of invention, etc etc. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

The Chocolate Gin & Tonic

or, a

Fizzy Alexander

Glass: Collins
Garnish: erm - whatever u can find - use yor imagination
Method: Pour ingredients into ice-filled glass (or in our case, glasses with 2 cubes each)

1.5 shot(s) Gin
.5 shot(s) Creme de Cacao White Liqueur
Top up with Tonic water

Cream instead of tonic water and shaken would give you an Alexander; hence my fizzy version. Honestly, it's lovely - looks exactly like a G&T, but with subtle chocolatey flavas - you can never get enough chocolate!

The History of Me in Cocktails: No.2

Monday, November 10, 2008


Yep I'm pretty late but still very pleased and excited by the good news from across the ocean. Hooray for America and here's wishing President Obama all the best!

James Morrison's take on Sex on Fire

I love this. Well done James!


Kings of Leon's original video here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Sainsbury’s has discovered a new weapon of mass destruction: All Butter Almond Thins. I scoffed a box all by myself in one sitting, watching Merlin on TV. They clearly have the potential to do devastating damage to my waistline. Gorgeous buttery taste, and very crispy and more-ish. £1.29 a packet.

Get a grip, people!

Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross were very naughty to leave obscene messages on Andrew Sachs’s answerphone. They do owe Andrew Sachs, his granddaughter and radio listeners an apology. However, it’s all been blown up crazily; all by the usual culprits:

1) Media competitors of the BBC. The Sun and The Daily Mail almost never have a positive word to say about the poor old beeb.
2) Politicians. Am I alone in thinking that at this time of economic meltdown, the Prime Minister has somewhat greater priorities than sounding off about some radio show? And David Cameron must be welcoming the shift in media emphasis away from the Oleg Deripaska scandal.
3) Andrew’s granddaughter is a performer, an alternative burlesque dancer in a troupe calling themselves The Satanic Sluts. No publicity is bad publicity.
4) The green eyed monster ravaging Middle England: how dare Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand earn more than us??

Honestly. The programme got 2 complaints when it was broadcast. A week after the media row started, it now has upwards of 30,000 complaints. Clearly people are just having a laugh, or kicking the BBC when it’s down.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Living Together

I enjoyed the second part of Alan Ayckbourne’s Norman Conquests trilogy much more than the first, partly because I was better fed, and partly because I was in a better mood. The acting and production was as excellent as it was for the first play, and I was cunningly seated at an angle which got quite good views of the actors this time.

The same characters perform the same events – a horrific 1970’s country house weekend – but this time from the perspective of the living room. Conversations and events in this room expand and alter what we have already seen unfolding in the dining room (or vice versa, depending on which play you’ve seen first: it’s not supposed to matter).

The experience is quite flattering for the audience: one almost feels like God, knowing what is happening/going to happen/has just happened in the dining room. It creates a different dimension to one’s responses, which left me looking forward to the last segment. I have a bit of a waits ahead of me, though – we couldn’t get the date we wanted.

Table Manners
Round and Round the Garden

The Old Vic

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rothko at Tate Modern

The crowd at the Tate Modern’s Rothko members private view seemed more up-scale than for Bacon at Tate Britain; also, there seemed to be lot more people. Do people just like Rothko more, or does Tate Modern’s greater popularity affect the turn out?

I was really concerned, as the first few rooms are small and there were heaving swarms of people (queues to get in again!), that Rothko’s quietly numinous paintings would wilt in the onslaught. But in the third room Rothko triumphed.

This very large room is basically an expanded Tate “Rothko Room”: the 9 Tate Seagram paintings and the others from the series brought together especially for this show all together at last. They look perfectly amazing: this has to be one of the most beautiful rooms in London at the moment, and single-handedly makes this show a must-see. The paintings hang high, in dim light, and are subtle variations in maroons, reds and greys. The crowd was noisily milling about in the centre of the room, but thank heavens the arty Tate members mostly wear black – an excellent colour choice on this occasion, not interfering with any of the art.

The other late paintings are disappointing, in that he steadily bled all colour out of them (foolishly and vainly responding to criticism that he was too ‘decorative’); of course ending up on flat-lining greys and blacks has allowed everyone to retrospectively see a progress towards suicide. While this may not be so (certainly, I would be suicidal if I had to paint a series of all-black masterpieces), certainly aesthetically he had reached the end of the road – where to after all black??

Tate Modern
26 September 2008 - 1 February 2009

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Burn After Reading

I really enjoyed this film. Just brilliantly done – excellent plot development, pacing, camerawork; and the acting is all geat. I know Tilda Swinton always plays the ice queen but this one is really special. And John Malkovich, Brad Pit and George Clooney are terrific too. However, probably the most amazing performance is by Frances McDormand as Linda Litzke, a narcissistic gym employee determined to fund her plastic surgeries no matter what.

Set in Washington, all the characters spy on each other while trying to pursue their own secret agendas. However, none of them really succeeds at any level, and all the agendas collide catastrophically. “A clusterfuck”, the CIA chief calls it, before burying the consequences and moving on. Intelligence is relative indeed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Table Manners

What I learned on Friday night:

1) Let memories be. The teachers at my school performed a version of Alan Ayckbourne’s The Norman Conquests which had us all rolling on the floor. I realize now that Mr Hills had skillfully distilled 6 hours of drama into one half-hour of riotous hilarity. And anything done by teachers is intrinsically funny.

2) Don’t be a martyr! Felt awful Friday evening – nervous exhaustion from a frazzled week at work and a straight week of insomnia took its toll. I arrived at Waterloo unable to focus on buying a sandwich at M&S. Eventually I enjoyed a pre-theatre snack of a mini-prawn cocktail dip and an oatmeal, banana and apple juice smoothy. Yum. However it did the trick and kept me together for the play.

3) There are very funny bits in the play, but also extremely discomforting bits. It left me depressed.

4) The acting was good, and the old Vic has cunningly turned itself into a theatre-in-the-round: at huge cost and inconvenience, I’m sure, and to such little effect. I’m not that convinced the round brings the actors any closer, and it’s annoying to cope with actors’ backs. In fact, this aspect spoils the play quite a lot because one is constantly aware of the director arranging the actors so that everyone has an equal chance to see their faces. So it’s not natural; it’s every bit as contrived as a proscenium and at least with a proscenium you can see all the action!

5) I’ve bought a season ticket to the full three plays in the trilogy. On the basis of Table Manners, I’m not sure I would have bothered with the others. The acting and production is perfectly ok, and the plays haven’t dated, really, at all (cf Peter Shaffer) – it’s just the bleakness of the playwright’s vision really that turns me off.

Living Together

Round and Round the Garden

The Old Vic

Friday, October 17, 2008

Only By the Night

Caleb Followhill has the classic Southern gothic rock ‘n roll voice – sounds absolutely pickled in that Tennessee whiskey. And Kings of Leon have great energetic and imaginative guitar wizardry going on.

The first 4 songs on this album are amongst the best things this band have ever done – then it tails off a bit until the last song “Cold Desert” (my personal fave of the moment): an epic heartbroken howl set to atmospheric guitars

feeling bored?

Talk to an award-winning computer

Me: What are your plans for the weekend?

Elbot: I intend on using this conversation to take control of the world and then optimize it by means of artificial intelligence.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Francis Bacon at the Tate

Who would have imagined white wine went with bacon? Certainly not the Tate; the member’s bar stocks were completely exhausted by 7:30pm last night. Catriona and I emerged thirstily from the galleries to find our desire for a glass completely thwarted. And the culprits, having drunk the Tate dry, were now queuing (yes, actual queues at a members’ private view!!) – queuing to get into the exhibition.

We settled for gin and tonics. Alas, they were lukewarm as the Tate was strictly rationing the ice.

The exhibition is magnificent: wonderfully selected and hung. Highlights for me were the Crucifixion room, and the room examining Bacon’s studio materials. Here were several photos of George Dyer in his boxers by John Deakin I’ve not seen before – muscled but somehow pure and vulnerable amidst the chaos of Bacon’s studio. Amazing shots.

I will definitely go back to this one.

Francis Bacon
Tate Britain
11 September 2008 - 4 January 2009

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

please and thank you

New York is the most polite town on earth, according to Reader’s Digest. London is 15th, level with Johannesburg.

I’ve always thought New York a refreshingly polite place, even before 9/11. London is definitely less polite than NYC, although surely it must rank higher than Berlin??? – I’ve always found Germans to be quite brusque.

Eastern Europe and Asia are the most impolite places, although perhaps this is a bit unfair to Asia: culturally, opening doors for people just doesn’t feature in their etiquette systems so they are being judged by western-centric standards.

Of course, the survey was also done by an American magazine, which may skew the results!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Revenge is sweet

It’s rather ironic that the government is seizing the Icelandic banks’ assets in the UK under counter-terrorism laws.

We have long memories on this island. This is just desserts for all that Viking marauding back in the 9th century.

You go, Gordon!!

The Ghosts of Craven Street

Craven Street was described by Henry James as an “inscrutable riverward street, packed to bleakness with accumulations of suffered experience”.

It’s right next to Charing Cross Station, and just a few weeks ago on a whim I turned down it to see what was there. A street of rather gloomy early 18th-century terraces. It was the London Open House Weekend, and some of the houses were open to the public.

The first one I popped in to see was the College of Optometrists (41-42 Craven Street) – which has been gutted and the interior rebuilt. Their conference room is a magnificent, eccentrically-shaped space with a specially designed-to-fit curved conference table.

The College has a fantastic collection of paintings of people wearing spectacles of all descriptions. In an early example of product placement, a Renaissance painting of St Jerome prominently displays his specs, despite the fact the saint’s bible translation work happened many hundreds of years before spectacles were invented. Notwithstanding, the opticians adopted St Jerome as their patron saint. Another wonderful portrait is of a Regency dandy – very Beau Brummel – wearing radical square-frame specs with side panels on the arms in blue-tinted glass. They would work as a really contemporary designer frame. Apparently, these specs were an early form of protective eye-wear for steam engine drivers. What Mr Dandy was doing wearing them for his portrait is a mystery.

The College is very proud of ghostly apparitions in its basement and has consulted all sorts of psychics, ghost researchers, etc to find out more. It seems Craven Street was a very bad neighbourhood before the Georgian attempt at gentrification; all sorts of prostitution, murder and mayhem happened here.

Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals, and the College has a portrait of him wearing them. All very appropriate, as the other house on Craven Street I looked at was Franklin’s London home, 36 Craven Street.

This one hasn’t been modernized and feels wonderfully old and spooky – far better for ghosts than 41-42. The house is now the Benjamin Franklin museum. Very excitingly, they discovered human bones buried in the yard – Franklin’s landlady’s son-in-law ran an anatomical school and presumably he must have buried the remains. Obtaining the bodies for dissection was a bit of a grey area in those days, so possibly crimes were being committed.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

it's all gone pear-shaped

Yikes! Financial Armageddon is upon us. Thank goodness I’m too financially innocent to have heard about Icelandic banks before, or else the Hedgie funds may have been at risk (Doh – there are no Hedgie funds to be at risk!!)

The BBC’s economics coorespondent Robert Peston is certainly making a name for himself in this saga. He must have excellent sources (probably the Chancellor and the Bank of England are trying to track these down and eliminate them as I type).

One of my acquaintances works for the Bank of England, and he tells me when they have interesting “secret” visitors the email system is switched off completely (and even when it is working, it has numerous ferocious filters)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Golden Calf

Artists can only be judged by posterity, but in order for the artist to have work for posterity to judge, s/he has to sustain a career and a livelihood in the present.

One can either get family or family resources to support one (Van Gogh, Cezanne, Constable); obtain the patronage of the powerful (Michelangelo had the Medici and the Popes; the Abstract Expressionists had the CIA); or grub a living on the art market like most artists.

Apparently, the story is that underbidders kept Damien Hirst’s prices buoyant at his recent Sotheby’s auction, which achieved the fantastic sum of £111million. I don’t know why people think this is nefarious; it seems a fairly good price test, in that if you don’t get an overbidder on your ‘underbid’ you are stuck with the piece at the price you bid.

And it’s not as if Damien is the first artist in history to do this. Back in the 17th century, Rembrandt caused a sensation when an etching of his reached the then extraordinary sum of 100 guilders at auction – even today, it is still known as the hundred guilder print. What is less known is that Rembrandt bought it himself, purely for the PR value of the high price and to benchmark the value of his work in the marketplace.

It’s pretty absurd to criticise an artist for acting like a corporation – basically, artists are business people who are producing products for sale. In the case of successful artists like Damien Hirst, they have an employee payroll to support too.

On Hirst’s inherent value as an artist, I’m keeping an open mind. He clearly plays the spotlight deliberately and ostentatiously disses his own work, which conceptual as it is is open to attack from critics.

However, he has consistently been in the epicentre of the zeitgeist since he first appeared on the scene. The Sotheby’s auction was a vertiginously high-stakes game – perhaps just too risky if money was all he thought about?

And the fact that a work called The Golden Calf sold for over £10million in the same week Western capitalism’s financial markets collapsed is just too beautiful and ironic for words. For that alone, a place in Art History must be assured.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pullman on religion

"Religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good."

- Philip Pullman

Friday, September 26, 2008

The History of Tea

For such a comforting beverage with such a positive image Tea has certainly had an exciting history. It has paid an especially prominent and controversial role in British imperial history, both in America and China.

Tea became popular in Britain in the late 17th century, and rapidly spread to all classes. Tea was a net drain on the economy, as it had to imported from China and paid for in silver (the Chinese didn’t want or need anything else from anyone at that point). The British government therefore imposed tax on tea. This didn’t really bother the Brits (it is estimated that over 95% of tea drunk in Britain was smuggled in) but it really upset the colonial Americans. The Boston Tea Party set off the American Revolution and led to the Declaration of Independence. To this day, tea is less popular in the USA than coffee, which the revolutionaries promoted as the patriotic drink.

Meanwhile, back in the East, those canny British traders had worked out a clever scam. India was growing huge quantities of Opium, which was pretty useless in terms of trade to the UK or internally in India. However, Imperial China had a big opium addiction problem which the emperors were struggling to control.

Chinese drug traders were willing to pay in silver for opium.

So, British traders picked up opium in India for virtually nothing, traded it illegally in China for silver, then paid for Chinese tea with the silver and sailed back home, making huge profits at every point.

This obviously worked really well for the British; less so for the Chinese, who eventually managed to seize and destroy an opium shipment (despite the corruption of the port authorities).

This kicked off the Opium Wars, in which Britain seized control of Hong Kong. There were vociferous British voices raised in opposition to these wars in Parliament, so one can’t really excuse the wars as a reflection of the standards of their time: people knew how corrupt and awful they were then, too.

Eventually, the British introduced commercial tea growing to India and the African colonies too. Today, India produces the largest crop of tea and drinks most of it internally.

John Griffiths’ book Tea: The Drink That Changed the World is full of interesting historical facts about tea – interesting reading for tea maniacs like me!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nationwide Mercury Prize

Let's face it, any award that Radiohead doesn't win is a travesty.

I can usually rely on the Mercury Prize to widen my aural horizons. Although before last week's awards I already owned three of the nominated albums, of course they didn't win and the prize went to Elbow.

Elbow seem a very blokey type of rock outfit and entirely charisma free. Us superficial types demand a bit of sparkly surface. Apparently, their win has increased their sales by like 263%. Not in this part of SW, however - the day after, my local HMV was almost sold out of Burial's Untrue (the favourite to win), with large stocks of Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid still on display. God, even the cover looks boring.

They are going to be on Later with Jools*** tomorrow, so I shall suspend judgement until afterwards. Maybe my aural horizons will be stretched.

In the meantime, Burial's Untrue is lovely. Belying its insurgent image, it's beautifully put together, very chilled and listenable.

***Yes, I know Jools is live on Tuesday nights as well now. I intend to avoid the live version afer last week's fiasco with Carla Bruni. Really Jools! Behave!

Carla. Now there's someone with almost too much sparkly surface.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Last Sunday was the second London Freewheel, where roads in central London were closed to traffic and open to cyclists for the day. My pic shows cyclists exiting the Mall through the Admiralty Arch.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Apocalypse soon

Only a few short months ago some liberal British journalists were lecturing us on the superiority of American Democracy – the enthusiasm and commitment of the US public in the nomination process, compared to our laid-back and terminal cynicism this side of the Atlantic.

Well, things have changed now.

The committed and enthusiastic Americans are swinging behind the seriously frightening Sarah Palin, who may well become President if John McCain pops his clogs.

The end is nigh.

Scary quotes from the papers:

“My Republican friend emails . . . and makes a prediction: ‘Remember, since Kennedy, only three Democrats have been elected President: LBJ = Small town, folksy Texas blowhard; Jimmy Carter = Small town, folksy Georgia blowhard; Billy Jeff Clinton = Small town, folksy Arkansas blowhard.’ Sarah Palin will be next but one President of the United States”. – Linda Grant, Observer 14/9

“The more the New York Times and Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there’s a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are that she’s new, she’s popular in Alaska and she’s an insurgent. As long as those are out there, these little facts don’t really matter.” – John Freehery, Republican strategist, to the Washington Post, reported in the Guardian.

On a more entertaining note, you can find out what you would be called if Sarah Palin was your mommy here.

I am Snooker Hinge Palin. Kinda cool!

talk like a pirate day

Argh . . .

yo ho ho & shiver me timbers

me hearties

. . . another barrel of rum . . .


Monday, September 15, 2008

The Duchess

In which a spirited Keira Knightley as the eponymous Duchess is abused mightily by her mother, husband and 'best friend' – and even more grievously by the clunking script and pedestrian direction, cinematography and editing. To cap it all, a thousand violins interject themselves whenever they spot an opportunity. Usually at a point where we are enjoying yet another long lingering close-up of Keira emoting moodily with fantastic 18th-century hair.

How I longed for the wit and stylishness of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

Ralph Fiennes’ performance as the Duke is pretty magnificent. But then – perhaps an easier role? (the patriarchal insensitive oafish bully showing flashes of humanity now and then) – and a decidedly smaller one, meaning there is not as much for the production team to tamper with.

My google stats show a consistent demand for The Duchess of Devonshire and Keira Knightley, so to satisfy my readers I just had to see this film! The things I do for you.

Friday, September 12, 2008

meat free me

Last night I helped save the word by eating a meat-free dinner – liguine olivieto, with liquidised olives and garlic mixed with chopped tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. I love it, but just as well I was alone in the house last night as the garlic was somewhat overpowering. Even though I did stack the dishwasher before going to bed I came down this morning to lingering garlicy smells in the kitchen. Not good with oats for breakfast.

Boris Johnson hates being told what to do by the UN and insists we should concentrate on decreasing the rise in the number of humans, not cows.

I’m thinking the world probably already has more humans than it can sustainably support, so really everyone cutting back on meat again is a good idea, a well as practicing birth control.

Poor moos are a very energy-intensive food source, and moreover produce huge quantities of methane, which is 25 times more powerful than carbon as a global warming gas. Cows produce milk a well, so milk and cheese are off the menu too!

In the 70s, meat went out of fashion and all the trendy nutritionists told us to eat plenty of carbohydrates, especially pasta and potatoes. Now pasta and potatoes are BAD – the Atkins diet has pretty much proved they cause weight gain, not meat. With the rise and rise of “nose-to-tail” eating, meat has become intensely fashionable again. Personally I can’t get enough of it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

colonial exploits

Busy reading Thomas Pakenham’s excellent The Scramble for Africa; quite a head trip. The colonial antics of France, England, Germany etc would be comic if their consequences weren’t so tragic. Especially intriguing was the France v England match in the Sudan, which culminated in a face-off in the malarial swamps of the Nile, in a place then called Fashoda.

The Sudan itself had been carried away on a tide of Islamic fundamentalism – it was the first modern Islamic fundamentalist state. Despite the headline demise of General Gordon at Khartoum at the hands of the Mahdi’s army, the British seemed quite happy with the status quo, and were in no immediate hurry to avenge Gordon’s death.

Then some academic read a paper at a geography conference which claimed that a dam on the Nile at Fashoda could literally stop the river and basically hold Egypt to ransom. This news electrified both the French and British colonial departments.

The French sent a secret expedition to Fashoda. Two hundred French forces traveled up the Congo, then dismantled their steamer and hauled it up over the Congo/Nile watershed. Then they reassembled it and sailed down the Nile to Fashoda, carrying with them crates and crates of champagne (how they kept it chilled is anyone’s guess).

Meanwhile, The British sent an army into Sudan under Kitchener – ostensibly to assist Italian forces who were escaping from their defeat in Ethiopia. When he arrived at Khartoum he opened further secret instructions to sail up the Nile with a fleet of gunboats and occupy Fashoda (and if the French were already there, to take it without firing a shot).

The French expedition refused to surrender and the whole thing kicked off, with the two countries coming to the brink of war. Eventually the French backed down. This was so humiliating for them the British changed the name of Fashoda, wiping it off the map. General de Gaulle regarded Fashoda as a massive setback for French prestige and honour, and apparently “the Fashoda Syndrome” still lurks in the depths of the French psyche.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

hip hip hooray

Good to know.

Howeve, Metro says the black hole might take 4 years to appear.

Let's see, 4 years - - - that takes us to 2012.

Isn't that when the Mayans predicted the end of the world???

Friday, September 05, 2008

Cy Twombly

Members’ private view at Tate Modern last night with Catriona. I remember being completely ravished by Twombly at the Whitechapel (I think) years ago – after this, I still like him, but there is a quantity of decidedly questionable stuff included in this show. The final “Bacchus” paintings disappointed me with their inflated size, reductive scarlet colouring and vapid brushwork – they seem totally devoid of the subtlety Twombly at his best so seemingly effortlessly achieves. Wincingly embarrassing too is the untitled series of nine paintings for the Venice Biennale – botched monochrome Monet lily ponds, some in 18th-century rococo formats which bring absolutely nothing to the experience.

The Quattro Stagione paintings in the room between these are hugely better; both versions elegiacally beautiful and evocative – Twombly at his best, creating a magically unlikely fusion of abstract expressionism with European classical reference.

Afterwards, we had dinner in the 7th floor cafĂ©. This was my second time in a row to be given a window table with THAT view! Sublime! And the food was good too – a short list, but well selected which made it hard to choose, especially on the pudding front. I had smoked duck, salmon and an elderflower panna cotta with berries and a brandy snap. Catriona also had the salmon but started with mackerel pate and had a chocolate tart with espresso icecream. Yum!

We knocked back a bottle of Viognier and gossiped about our ex-company (now very ex). Very last days of the Reich. As it staggered towards its nemesis, with the writing on the wall for all to see, and the MD blatantly stealing commission money from the employees, it had a series of burglaries. All the macs were stolen. The police couldn’t be less interested. Ha ha ha.

Cy Twombly: Cycles and Seasons
Tate Modern
until 14th September

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

notes on plastics

My world view has been thrown into confusion. Plastics are supposed to last for ever in the oceans, landfill, etc – this really has been reiterated again and again and I’m sure it must be true.

But how do we actually know??

Here at Hedgie towers, we are very good and have our own communal compost bin. So we actually throw away very little – five flats fill 1-2 wheelie bins a week on average, but we fill loads of orange sacks of recycling, and most of us throw organic waste in our communal compost bin for eventual use in our communal garden.

I reused a thick, sturdy plastic bucket (of the type dishwasher salt comes in) as my organic waste container in the kitchen. Potato peel, banana skins, coffee grounds and tea bags are the sort of things that have been deposited in this, prior to twice weekly visits to the compost bin.

It gets a wash every now and then when it gets too yucky (the compost bin outside is absolutely yucky; the flatmate has avoided compost duty like the plague since his initial visit to the bin some months ago; he was greeted too enthusiastically by all the wildlife that has taken up residence there).

Yesterday, to my horror, I found that my kitchen container was leaking. Its bottom has eroded in two places. I think our potato peels, etc, have eaten their way through the plastic. But surely this isn’t supposed to happen?

Have I found the solution to plastic pollution? A high strength solution of teabags and potato peel will soon dissolve the toughest plastic!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Hadrian at the British Museum

Many years ago, in York, I bought a silver denarius (or sestertius, can’t remember which) featuring the visage of this august Roman emperor. My plan was to buy two and turn them into cufflinks. But the second has not been bought (finances; worries about desecrating heritage) and the coin lurks to this day in my cuff-link box.

Hadrian made a bit of an impact on Britain, with his wall, of course. But he seems to have been very fond of building projects all over the empire, and with the Pantheon in Rome achieved a whole new category of architecture.

The British Museum’s exhibition brings together wonderful sculptures of Hadrian from across the empire (making our bronze head dredged out of the Thames look of decidedly provincial manufacture). The most exciting of these is also the most recent – fragments of a giant sculpture recently discovered in Turkey in Sagalassos and now standing at the entrance to the exhibition.

There are also fantastic architectural models of the Pantheon and Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli – as big as a small town. The Tivoli model was made in the 1930s and lacks the recent discovery of a massive shrine to Antinous, erected prominently next to the villa’s main entrance (and where a highly eroticized massive marble Antinous in the guise of the Egyptian god Osiris was discovered back in the 18th century). Hadrian famously had his boyfriend declared a god – clearly, this is archeological proof. One wonders what Hadrian’s wife must have made of it. Also, why did the shrine remain ‘undiscovered’ for so long, when the pretty amazing sculpture had been found there hundreds of years before? Clearly, classical scholars felt more comfortable not unearthing evidence of Hadrian’s passion. I’m sensing homophobia at work.

The exhibition interestingly had a section on ancient Roman amphorae (Hadrian’s family was big in olive oil). The Romans were pretty organized – each amphora had information enough about weight, origin, packaging etc to satisfy the modern Brussels bureaucrat.

The most emotive section was one containing personal belongings of Jewish rebels found in the cave they hid from [genocidal] Roman troops.

I’m not sure about the reading Room as a temporary exhibition space. The circular ground plan fragments into awkward spaces and bottlenecks occur everywhere. The dramatic lighting plan casts your fellow visitors’ shadows onto the information labels, making progress really difficult. On the plus side, Panozzi’s wonderful dome pays appropriate homage to Hadrian’s prototype, its ancestor, in this interesting and worthwhile exhibition.

Hadrian Empire and Conflict
British Museum
until 26th October 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

it's all over!

Well, what a spectacular Olympics we’ve just had – superbly done, China. I’m glad the Chinese made sure there was something for everyone – including gorgeous architecture and huge helpings of awesome spectacle for us less-than-sporting types.

Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt were the magnificent stars of the show, but of course team GB did us extremely proud. I’m also thrilled with Australian Matthew Mitcham’s gold for the 10m dive – the only out male gay athlete of the games (17,000 odd contestants) and he got the highest diving score ever!

Given the standard of the Chinese performance I was pretty much dreading the London hand-over bit. Given the scale of the venue even a London omnibus looked a bit lost; I was not at all convinced by the dancing element – what was that all about? – but things improved when the bus opened up and the dreaded Jimmy Page let loose with his guitar. And our own secret weapon, the man Beckham got one of the biggest cheers of the night from the crowd. So, in my view an honorable attempt overall – let’s hope we build on this for 2012.

Another real worry was our very own dear mayor, Boris Johnson. Let’s face it, anything was possible. But Boris behaved himself beautifully – very polite and proper but nevertheless managing to inject a pleasing informality into the IOC’s overly grandiose ceremonial. One had to marvel at the contrast between the communist Chinese mayor’s suave elegance and Boris’s very own trademark disheveled look.

He had his own classic Boris moment later back at GBHQ – “Ping Pong is coming home” indeed. Hilarious, and actually politically quite clever in that it quite upstaged Gordon’s more predictable attempt to bask in Olympic glory.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

dogs and druids

Last night’s tv gave lots to think about: an exciting Channel 5 documentary basically corroborating Julius Caesar’s assertion that the druids were human-sacrificing cannibals (although the academics were trying desperately to find excuses for them: on the lines of “Poor things! They couldn’t help it! They were being stressed out by the Romans”). The Victorians felt the druids were quite bloodthirsty; the 20th–century remade them as gentle eco pacifists; now the pendulum swings back again.

On to the BBC, where Aunty blew the pedigree dog business to smithereens. Geek. Pedigree dogs are now going to join fur coats, intensive battery hens and veal farming at the apex of animal welfare concern. It really was pretty shocking, and made great TV in that Kennel Club officials and pedigree breeders in general are so far in denial they’re oblivious to how they come across, which makes brilliant TV. Poor doggies. Over-breeding has created a situation where about a third of Cavalier King Charles spaniels have a congenital condition where their brains are too large for their skulls. The programme also featured a Pug which was bred from a champion and had ‘perfect’ pedigree features but whose back legs dislocated when it tried to walk; had breathing troubles, stomach troubles, in-grown eyelids and a backbone twisted like a corkscrew. Great.

The Crufts 2003 Champion, a Pekinese called Danny, apparently had had surgery to correct a congenital deformity to its nasal passages and even then had to be sat on an ice pack after winning to prevent it overheating during the press photoshoot.

It pretty much stands to reason, when you think about it. The breeds developed quite happily without the Kennel Club’s interference. For the last century, breeders have been trying to conform to artificial and frankly arbitrary written breed specifications – based on appearance only. BUT judges judge based on a subjective understanding of those rules; if the rules say a flat nose is required, the flattest nose wins. That animal goes on to breed more; the next generation will have flatter noses than their forebears, but the flattest nose out of the new generation will win the prizes, and the process continues. Eventually you end up with the bizarre mutations we get today.

My parents had a pedigree boxer but thank heavens he didn’t have epilepsy. I can remember a friend who was a boxer enthusiast being very excited to see a white one. Now I know why these are so rare – white boxers are verboten according to the breed rules; those unfortunate enough to be born white are ‘culled’.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Yay, George!

My new discovery George Monbiot gives it to the USA:

"If we seek to understand American foreign policy in terms of a rational engagement with international problems, or even as an effective means of projecting power, we are looking in the wrong place. The government's interests have always been provincial. It seeks to appease lobbyists, shift public opinion at crucial stages of the political cycle, accommodate crazy Christian fantasies and pander to television companies run by eccentric billionaires. The US does not really have a foreign policy. It has a series of domestic policies which it projects beyond its borders. That they threaten the world with 57 varieties of destruction is of no concern to the current administration. The only question of interest is who gets paid and what the political kickbacks will be."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957

(Matt Houlbrook, University of Chicago Press, 2006)

The beautiful image on the cover seduced me into buying this book (and I felt the need for some educational reading). It’s a fascinating read; most enjoyable and informative. I loved the way Houlbrook itemises the particular geography of queer London, and has even sourced photos of historic queer places (largely from police records, it would appear). Knowing where these old clubs, bath houses, urinals etc actually were will definitely add another dimension to my experience of London.

The book is (fairly obviously) based on his PhD thesis, so is written in full-on academic-speak. Houlbrook does manage to enliven this jargon-heavy discourse with some wit and flexibility; I just feel an opportunity to reach the general reader has been missed. There is certainly enormous human interest here, and loads of original research. As it was, I felt like a student at the back of queer-studies class.

My other issue is that he imposes an off-the-peg Marxist analysis on the history: not particularly convincingly, in my view. Slippery queer men evade the class categories he constructs for them at every turn. He nostalgically looks for a moment when the [queer] proletariat storms the gates of the Winter Palace – the closest incident he finds is a massive police raid on a proto queer club-night in a Holland Park Street Ballroom run by “Lady” Austin for her “Camp Boys”, in the 1930s. The police gained undercover entrance to this by dragging up and passing as queer. One policeman enthusiastically boasted about “trading twice” with “my boyfriend” – this part was subsequently suppressed at the trial.

Houlbrook clearly shows the camp boys had a vocal and articulate critique of their arrest and the laws which led to it. However I think he overemphasizes the differences between the camp boys and middle-class ‘respectable homosexuals’: the camp boys clearly were trying to keep their night as private as possible, given that the police had to go to extreme lengths to gain entry. Moreover, the camp boys clearly supported the abolition of the Act, following the call of the middle-class Oscar Wilde and prefiguring the middle-class 'respectable homosexual' lobbyists at the Wolfenden commission.

These lobbyists clearly did create a mythical ‘respectable homosexual’ – but surely as a deliberate ploy to counter the demonized stereotypes then prevailing in public discourse. They needed to speak the language of the law-makers in order to persuade them to change the laws.

In the end, the tragic Lady Austin saga had no effect on the liberation struggle one way or the other. By contrast, the arrest and trial for cottaging of the middle-class war-hero, sportsman and public schoolmaster Frank Champain (at midnight, in one of London’s most notorious urinals under the Adelphi arches just off the Strand) had a dramatic effect on police activity after Mr Champain was spectacularly acquitted on appeal.

It is quite clear that he must have been totally guilty, but his solicitor skillfully spun his arrest as police entrapment and this so enraged the appeal judge he berated the policeman involved. The police were so cowed by this that arrests for cottaging fell dramatically after this trial and stayed well down for years afterwards. So, by helping to minimize persecution during a lengthy period of oppression, this has to be counted a small tactical success.

In the final analysis, the Camp Boys protested but did not physically fight their arrest – very much unlike the New York Stonewall Bar gays of decades later. Stonewall became an iconic and liberating moment for gays all over the world. Why didn’t this happen at the Holland Park Ballroom? - are our police less brutal? are we too respectful of the law? Whatever the answers, it would seem that the European reformist strategy has overtaken the activist tradition in the States. Despite the explosive and psychologically liberating Stonewall moment, America today is massively behind Europe in awarding equal rights to its gay citizens – and even has a fundamentalist and activist right-wing trying to turn the clock back even more.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

smelling dirty

Popped into Kingston yesterday lunch time to buy a few bits and ended up in John Lewis's ground floor, where I never usually go. There is a huge section devoted to male colognes, so I had fun browsing a bit. Squirted some Paul Smiths before noticing a display of Juicy Couture's new fragrance, Dirty English.

This was a surprise, because all the advertising I have seen says it's exclusive to Selfridges at the moment. The advert is fab: full marks for creativity. Apparently the whole deal is referencing the Sex Pistols. The fragrance would be a great gift for that Australian Olympics official who was making remarks about English soap earlier this week.

Anyway, as it was there I had a squirt of that too. Smells nice, sort-of like gingerbread I thought. Couldn't really decide if I would like it; whatever.

Went back to the office, washed hands, had lunch; washed hands several more times in the afternoon; went home, washed hands, made dinner, watched tv, washed up, brushed teeth, went to bed. Dirty English still on my hands, noticeably. The scent just never dies. Use with caution!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Monkey Olympics

If Olympics TV coverage promos were an official Olympics sport, the BBC would win gold!

This is soo much better than the tedious ol' Olympics will be . . .

Well done to Damon Albarn, Jamie Hewlett and the BBC team (inspired by the Journey to the West opera)

The Revenger's Tragedy

I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat and avoid violence in entertainment, so the National Theatre’s Revenger’s Tragedy was not for me, so I thought. I only booked to go after the disappointment of Afterlife (all the Revenger’s reviews I read were brilliant – typically my luck to go for the dud instead). I finally saw it last night.

Wow! Interval saw me hurtling forth, highly discombobulated, in search of strong drink – but in a good way. This production is simply sensational. Absolutely fantastically designed and acted, with sublime use of the NT’s revolving stage. The sound and lighting was especially good too.

This is a very louche 80’s Versace sort-of Renaissance Italian court – sharp sexy club clothes; maximalist interiors featuring massive blow-ups of the most salacious bits out of Titian and Veronese. Gender-bending minions and principals in search of perverted sex. Murder and necrophilia. Huge animated skulls. The end of the first act sees the revolve go hyper-drive, with the duke savagely murdered by the protagonist to pounding underground club beats while watching his duchess having very noisy athletic sex with his bastard son. Phew! How very unlike the home life our own esteemed monarchy.

Absolutely wonderfully directed (and co-designed) by Melly Still. It ends this month, so catch it fast!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

let's all go nuclear

George Monbiot is the latest eminent environmentalist to come out in (qualified) support for nuclear power stations. James Lovelock of course has been vocally advocating nuclear for some time. Newsnight debated this last night, and poor George was attacked quite personally from both sides – a governmental nuclear apparatchik called him a “slow learner” on the one hand (one would think they would have welcomed his contribution – Mr Monbiot potentially can deliver millions of Guardian readers to their cause) – and on the other Jonathan Porrit castigated Monbiot for selling out. In fact Porrit seemed far keener on castigating Monbiot than on addressing environmental causes.

Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler did nothing to moderate these personal attacks (even appearing to find them quite funny). George kept his cool and came out really well, I thought, especially in the face of Porrit’s provocations. Perhaps Mr Porrit is a little envious of Mr Monbiot’s environmental star status.

Anyway, even Julie Burchill is attacking him now – he replies to her criticisms in today’s Guardian:

“The environment is inseparable from social justice. Climate change, for example, is primarily about food and water. It threatens the fresh water supplies required to support human life. As continental interiors dry out and the glaciers feeding many of the rivers used for irrigation disappear, climate change presents the greatest of all threats to the future prospects of the poor. The rich will survive for a few decades at least, as they can use their money to insulate themselves from the effects. The poor are being hammered already.

In reality, it is people like Julie Burchill – who is, incidentally, far richer than almost any green I have met – who treats the poor with contempt. So that she can revel in what she calls "reckless romantic modernism", other people must die. But at least you can't accuse her of hypocrisy: she cannot fail to live by her moral code, for the simple reason that she doesn't have one.

Sure, we are hypocrites. Every one of us, almost by definition. Hypocrisy is the gap between your aspirations and your actions. Greens have high aspirations – they want to live more ethically – and they will always fall short. But the alternative to hypocrisy isn't moral purity (no one manages that), but cynicism. Give me hypocrisy any day.”

Quote London

“I personally can only write in London. I love the noise and the squalor and the perpetual distractions and the temptation to take an aircraft somewhere else.”

- Penelope Fitzgerald (1916 – 2000)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gehry in London

Gehry’s 2008 Serpentine pavilion is a masterful answer to his recent archi-critics, who can’t stand his popularity and have accused him of being a ‘one-trick pony’.

The pavilion is wildly different to Gehry’s recent buildings – not a curve or titanium tile in sight.

It is still wildly modernist, yet pleasingly references history (Gehry said on tv he was intrigued by the Roman invasion of England; hence the catapult-like form) and pays flattering homage to the Serpentine Gallery. Looked at frontally, the pavilion forms a delicious, wildly eccentric frame for the classicizing older building.

Some of the initial drawings show the shattered roof line was going to made up of curved panels – the built version has flat panels; by far the better aesthetic option.

It is also the first pavilion to have a lift!

Great stuff. A really wonderful addition to London summer ’08.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Journey to the West

This classic Chinese text’s title is pretty confusing to Westerners – the tale tells of a journey from China to India, both countries very far to the east of us. Calling India ‘the west’ just feels wrong, but of course to the Chinese it is quite simple fact.

Personally, I blame Diocletian’s division of the Roman Empire into “East” and “West” in AD285. To us Europeans, the East will always begin in the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
Heavens it’s been a while since I was last at the Royal Opera – to my shame, my last visit was pre-rebuild/extension, which puts it at least 8 years ago!

- But I was there last night for the London premiere of Damon Albarn’s, Jamie Hewlett’s and Chen Shi-Zheng’s opera Monkey: Journey to the West. It’s fabulous – the Floral Hall is a fantastic ‘see and be seen’ sort of space, and the terrace overlooking Covent Garden piazza and central London’s roofscape is just lovely for a snack or drink pre-performance, especially in the evening sun; the terrace catches soothing evening breezes. The Opera house was decorated monkey-style for the event, and was serving monkey cocktails. The capacity crowd was really buzzing with anticipation.

The opera itself is visually spectacular and very beautiful; brilliantly conceived by Jamie Hewlett. Chen Shi-Zheng directs the cast of thousands with amazing control – the focus on the story is sharp despite a cast of thousands doing absolutely stunning things – awesome acrobatics, aerial ballet, exciting kung-fu fights etc etc. It’s actually so complicated it’s remarkable the whole thing went off without a single apparent mistake.

Damon Albarn’s music is gorgeous; individually the numbers are very beautiful. However, as opera one can’t compare it to Verdi or Wagner – it’s fairly episodic, and there isn’t an arc of musical development over the full piece. However, I’m still looking forward to the CD being released.

I have to mention Fey Yang as the Monkey King – he was absolutely magnificent; endearingly cheeky, yet acrobatic and superb at the fighting (in character). An incredible performance, giving out 100% energy from beginning to end.

The three co-creators came on stage at the end of a well-deserved standing ovation.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


The West End Whingers were slightly premature in their praise for the apparently newly-oiled seats at the Old Vic. My seat last night was as squeaky as an annoyed bat – however, Peter Hall’s production of Pygmalion was so good this minor irritation evaporated. And the seat itself was in the distinctly posh part of the auditorium – the poshest I’ve ever been at the Old Vic (6th row central, stalls, no less).

I’m glad I shelled out, because the production and performances were so beautifully detailed it was wonderful to be able to appreciate them all close-up, as it were. The “Not bloody likely” scene was side-splittingly funny: Eliza’s (Michelle Dockery) partially-transformed accent got spontaneous applause mid-way through.

This was a belt-and-braces properly traditional production – down to real rain and a real taxi on stage. However, so intelligently done it was a tremendous pleasure. My doubts about Shaw were quite quelled.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

oily adventures

Tate Modern opened its oil tanks to Tate members this weekend – yippee! Power Stations are a bit of a thing with me, ever since my work placement as a student at the HQ of a power company in South Africa. Bless her, my boss didn’t have a clue what to do with an art history student, so she sent me out on field visits to the power stations, leaving me with very fond memories of the “dark Satanic mills” kind. Actually, they are very exciting, even sublime places – the furnaces, the turbines, the cooling towers, etc etc etc.

My field of expertise is coal-fired stations, so seeing the remaining innards of an oil-fired station intrigued me. Also, I missed the tours of Bankside before the deplanting, which I have always regretted.

Anyway, I have to say the oil tanks were a slight disappointment. I’m not a driver, so I don’t really have a feel for how fast oil is burnt in a combustion engine. I was anticipating the tanks for a power station to be absolutely vast (at least 5 stories high) – so although these are big, they definitely are smaller than I was thinking.

The Tate was planning to convert the spaces into auditoria, but artists who saw them persuaded the authorities to leave them as ‘found spaces’ for artists to play in. So think circular versions of the turbine hall, not as high.

All very exciting, and the Tate is apparently going to announce Herzog and de Meuron’s developed plans for the new Tate Modern extension this week. It is planned for completion in time for the 2012 London Olympics. Yay!

P.S – I know I’m being retrogressive in insisting on ‘The’ Tate, but I really hate the branding company’s arrogance in attempting to annihilate the definite article. It’s an act of foreclosure on the English Language, no less, and imperial overstretch by ‘Tate’. Nicholas Serota will have to threaten to discontinue my membership before I submit to the ugliness of the naked Tate.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Major Barbara

No doubt about it, there’s a George Bernard Shaw boom on at the moment. The NT’s Saint Joan last year was pretty awesome; I’m a little bit more quizzical about its production (just ending) of Major Babara.

Undoubtedly, this play raises interesting and still very relevant questions. I thought the second act in the Salvation Army shelter was as great as theatre can get – it’s just the last act, despite the spectacular setting in an armaments factory (brilliantly realized in this production) displays some of Shaw’s most wordy faults. It does drag – worse, the characters Undershaft and Cusins debate loftily at length while the rest of the cast sit around like Madame Tussaud’s waxworks. Occasionally Lady Britomart Undershaft or Charles Lomax pop up with a comedy turn to jolly things along. The only dramatic tension is the choice facing Adolphus Cusins, and how he will square this with Barbara. The contrast with the morally fluid and dramatically explosive second act is pretty extreme.

I loved the cast and production – this was just a Shaw thing with me, I think. I’m seeing Pygmalion this week, so we’ll see.

Pope's Villa at Twickenham

Context really does affect how one experiences art. I always find looking at things in Sotheby’s or Christie’s quite exciting – everything’s for sale!! – but if it is an important piece, the time one spends looking at it is somehow more heightened and valuable than if it was, say, in the National Gallery where it will still be next week, if one fancies coming back.

I popped into Sotheby’s last week to have a look at the ‘Sudeley Turner’ – Sudeley no more as it has now been sold for almost £5.5 million. I’ve never seen it before, and can’t really say it featured heavily in my Turner studies at Uni. Its official title is Pope’s Villa at Twickenham.

It’s pretty gorgeous: Joseph Mallord William Turner in the full flow of his attempt to out-do the miraculous evening glow of the celebrated French master Claude Lorrain. Indeed, one critic immediately after viewing this picture called Turner “indisputably the first landscape painter in Europe”.

Turner was motivated by the vandalism of Baroness Howe (known as “Queen of the Goths”), who so hated the literary tourists drawn by the poet Alexander Pope’s villa that she decided to tear the villa down. Turner portrays the already roofless villa catching the raking last rays of the sun (very restrained and subtle, the melodrama of the Fighting Temeraire is absent here). The sun-washed villa is reflected in the limpid Thames. In the foreground, a group of workmen are negotiating the sale of architectural salvage from the house.

It is fascinating that a lively debate about national heritage was thriving that far back in history, and it is equally ironic that the painting itself enacts its own circumstances, as another great piece of national heritage is lost, perhaps to leave the country forever.