Thursday, March 27, 2008

R.E.M. @ The Apple Store, Regent's Street

I’ve seem R.E.M. before, at Milton Keynes, Madison Square Gardens, Jules Holland’s Later studio and a studio concert for BBC radio – last night was really special as the band was on great form in a very intimate space and Michael Stipe was notably relaxed, even quite chatty. He practically invited the crowd (of about 500) for an aftershow curry.

He shared with us his love for all things Apple (although he conceded PCs are ok for offices – “My office is my mind” claims Stipe) and informed us the Regent’s Street store is the largest Apple Store in the world.

They played a mix of classic hits and new songs – the new songs came over really well; I’m looking forward to the new album released next week.

While waiting for me to arrive Liz tried out a display model iPhone – they really work. “I’m calling you from an iPhone in the store” she announced excitedly. I was excited to get a call from an iPhone, less happy that my number is now on an instore display model! Might get lots of calls from prospective iPhone purchasers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I was so looking forward to eating at Hakkasan – Liz took me as a delayed birthday treat last week.

The restaurant is tucked away in an alley just off the Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Street junction. One’s name is checked off on a list by a doorman; a back slate-lined stairway leads down to an incensed-perfumed reception hall and the restaurant. The decor is mostly black with backlit blue walls. Laser-beam spots punctuate the gloom, and geometric Chinese screens divide the tables. It manages to reference an art-deco Shanghai opium den while being very modern, luxurious and comfortable.

Waiting for Liz at the bar, I had something called a “Purple Emperor”: a wonderfully smooth, but actually yellow mix (a base of rum and sake). The purple was supplied by a massive orchid the bartender popped on top for decoration

My preconception was that a Michelin-starred trendy restaurant would offer small portions: however the opposite was very much the case, with every dish seemingly sized for two hungry eaters. A starter of Sechuan chili crab was enormous and completely fabulous; my dimsum selection was pretty good too and contained 8 large dimsum. My main of jasmine tea smoked chicken was amazing (but must have contained at least half a chicken). Liz had another massive pile – of ribs this time. Side orders were a very generous plate of pak choi and and a canister of steamed rice. Neither of us actually fancied the rice but our waiter insisted.

He was a funny one – all the staff were charming and friendly except our waiter, who was quite aloof and dismissive and really couldn’t be bothered to answer questions (all the staff are very beautiful – the restaurant could double as a modeling agency).
We got complete fireworks when we asked for a doggy bag for the large quantities of leftovers. “We don’t do takeaway! We don’t do takeaway!” our waiter insisted emotionally, as if the very suggestion was mortally insulting. OK, this is a very smart restaurant and obviously they want to distance themselves from fast-food joints: point taken (and obviously, Hakkasan is a world away from a takeaway). But there were HUGE amounts of leftovers of very delicious food I was loath to leave behind. However, I am completely averse to making a fuss in restaurants. Not so Liz, who made them very aware that on this occasion they would be doing a doggy bag! So, eventually, I climbed the stairs out clutching my precious hamper of leftovers (much admired by an American tourist). Even our waiter seemed to find the funny side at last.

Worth it in the end – I reheated the food for a sofa dinner the next night, snuggled up under a blanket watching Rageh Omar’s absorbing Turin Shroud documentary on TV. I even got out my chopsticks.

Quote London

“As Samuel Johnson once said, when a man is tired of London, he slopes off to Henley”
~ Ken Livingstone scoring a direct hit on Boris Johnson. Hooray! Hopefully I was wrong in fearing this would be a boring election. Now Boris just has to release his funny streak.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The History of Me in Cocktails: No. 2 – The Buck's Fizz

I think this is the first true cocktail I ever had: concentrate orange juice and South African sparkling wine, to celebrate something at work.

While drinkable enough, these days there are other mixers I prefer with champagne. But then, it was the height of sophistication for a spotty teenager.

I had a part-time job in the very lush HQ of a multi-national cement company, doing the weekly filing for their accounts department. My supervisor Antoinette taught me my first lesson in business: when your boss takes you to lunch, always order the lobster.

Buck's Fizz

Freshly squeezed orange juice

Really, mix to individual taste. OJ in first, then champagne, to minimise a potentially explosive bubble situation.

The History of Me in Cocktails: No.1

The History of Me in Cocktails: No 3

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

This Election is No Joke

The Evening Standard reports that Boris is ahead in the opinion polls. The Standard is pretty desperate to get rid of Mayor Ken Livingstone – I think it goes beyond ideology; it’s deeply personal too. Ken has said some nasty things about the Evening Standard himself. Hard to believe he was once a (presumably paid) columnist for the paper.

I think Ken has actually been pretty good for London on the whole; however his response to the recent corruption scandal has been less than inspiring. One also must ask just how long he can stick around being mayor.

He is such an oversized personality the two other parties have been forced to put up ‘personality’ candidates to run against him. However, Boris Johnson has been terribly careful so far to reign in his jovial personality for fear Ken will succeed in labeling him a clown. Ken’s own dry humour also seems to be taking a holiday, so what at first promised to be a scintillating campaign season is turning out to be boring. I’m constantly wondering when the fun will begin.

Brian Paddick is no slouch at attracting publicity either; and he is definitely the candidate easiest on the eyes. I think his strategy of presenting himself as the sensible one is quite clever.

I really haven’t decided yet who to vote for; and to make matters worse, we have two votes each! Too many decisions.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Orangery @ Kensington Palace

"Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea."

With these lines Alexander Pope forever linked in my mind Queen Anne and tea. So it is only appropriate that Queen Anne’s little palace conservatory extension at Kensington Palace (1704, Sir John Vanburgh designed, no less, and three times over budget) now houses one of London’s great places to take afternoon tea.

The Queen’s orange trees were housed in a sumptuous baroque space – soaring ceilings, windows and Corinthian columns; classical statuary and Grinling Gibbons carving. Apparently, she hosted al fresco summer supper parties here as well, hence the decoration. The all-white space works well for the modern café, with its rows of decorative metalwork furniture and dainty miniature orange trees on the tables. It seems to aim for the luxe tourist and/or well-heeled local; it is so nice to see this sort of thing being done well in this sort of location. The café certainly lives up to its elevated architectural surrounds. Service was very friendly and obliging but perhaps a little off-focus: but the place was hopping all afternoon (Anne and I settled in for a lengthy gossip over pots of tea and cakes; there was no pressure on us to move out)

We ordered the exclusive Tregothnan tea – the first tea to be actually grown in England (in Falmouth). One has to applaud the ambition – at 50º N it is the most northerly latitude at which a tea garden has been planted. However, great flavour requires high altitudes and – even as someone who prefers weak tea – I found this one slightly underpowered. Our cakes included lemon meringue (a generous slice with a tart lemon curd filling and just right crisp and chewy meringue topping), chocolate fudge cake, and an apricot and almond slice. A plate of prettily arranged dainty finger sandwiches included cucumber, smoked salmon and ham.

A very successful afternoon, and I am sure Queen Anne would approve of her Orangery’s modern incarnation. I’d definitely go again.

The Orangery @ Kensington Palace
(High Street Kensington tube)

Friday, March 14, 2008


Credit crunch, what credit crunch? The Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park goes from strength to strength – I have never seen it so heaving. This year showed strong evidence of infiltration by a hard-core Art Crowd, almost overwhelming the always strong contingent of South Chelsea yummy mummies with baby buggies and soy lattes. They all seemed to be buying like there was no end to the boom.

An international flavour to the galleries as well – great to see galleries from the USA, France and Germany in attendance. And the art? – a really invigorating mix of approachable contemporary art; something for everyone to hang on their loft wall.

The Affordable Art Fair
Battersea Park
13th-16th March 2008


Channel a 60’s vibe – listen to this album. A turbo-charged retread of classic divas from the Swinging London decade. Duffy’s voice is too extraordinary to miss, and the album is beautiful and comfortable listening. Looking forward to her developing her sound.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quote London

“I slowly limp back toward Chelsea. I wander about in the semi-darkness once again filled with a kind of indescribable love for this gorgeous, rotting, progressive, sprawling, crazy, wonderful city. And love, my friends, does not suck. I promise you that.”
~ Neil LaBute

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia

I don’t get Surrealism. I was persuaded by the Marxists at University that Paris in the 1920s and 30s saw the final decadence and collapse of the French avant-garde; the Bauhaus (German) was the real deal. Surrealism was just so much bourgeois wank.

Unfortunately, this thesis is undermined somewhat by Surrealism’s continuing critical and popular success. In recent years one can’t move in London without bumping into a Surrealism exhibition: Surrealism at the V&A, Dali at the Tate last year, and now the current troika at the Tate. And whereas the acknowledged ‘greats’ of the twentieth century, Picasso and Matisse, are still admired today, the artists whose influence is current are all the Surreal – as Andrew Graham-Dixon points out in his review in The Telegraph, “the work of almost every British artist of note to have emerged in the past 20 years – from Damien Hirst to Sarah Lucas, from Gary Hume to Tracey Emin - is visibly anticipated here.” (No link – can’t find it on their site)

Catriona and I went off to the Tate members’ private view last night. My scores are as follows:



Considering his influence, I think he’s massively underrated. He’s an extremely intellectual artist, yet very capable of arresting visuals – all his greatest hits are in the show, which is wonderful. The Philadelphia Museum of Art especially has been a very generous lender. Nude Descending a Staircase is a fabulous early work influenced by stop-frame photography; wildly controversial at the time but rapidly surpassed in notoriety by Fountain (1917), the ceramic urinal which launched the ready-made’s career in art history. It’s actually quite thrilling that two groundbreaking iconoclastic modernist icons are both currently on display in London – Duchamp’s Fountain at the Tate and Malevitch’s Black Square in the Royal Academy’s Russian show.

Man Ray


No matter what the ideological underpinnings, as long as the visuals are great an artist will always have admirers – Man Ray was incapable of producing boring work. Even his solarised photographs of nuts and bolts are formally gorgeous pieces. The entire exhibition kicks off with a ravishingly beautiful profile portrait of Duchamp I’ve not seen before, and also contains his wonderful portraits of lovers and my favourite, the soft-focus porrtait of Marchesa Casatti with four eyes. The Marchesa felt he had captured her soul.



In comparison, Picabia comes off badly. His work reminds me strongly of Pulp’s song “Common People” – he’s the original rich-kid wannabe. He was the son of an extremely wealthy Cuban-born Spanish aristocrat, and liked to collect racing cars (especially Hispano-Suizas) – apparently he had over 100 cars. That says pretty much everything you need to know about him. He was clearly very lucky to link up with serious artists; he’s benefited greatly from their reflected glory. It is quite comic how in every room in this exhibition, with every development of style (and Picabia dabbles in many styles), his work is by far the weakest.

If you have by any chance any random Picabias in your collection, my advice after this show is: Run, don’t walk to Christies or Sotheby’s and Sell! Sell! Sell! Sell! Sell!

After the show Catriona and I repaired for a restorative glass of wine and some nibbles to the Tate café on level 7. The view at night-time is utterly fabulous – London glittering magnificently over a dark river; St Paul’s spotlit sublimely on the skyline. Sad this wonder is busy killing the planet – turn off those lights!!

Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia: The Moment Art Changed Forever
Tate Modern

21 February – 26 May 2008

Monday, March 03, 2008

The End is nigh, continued

James Lovelock, maverick independent scientist, predictor of our current eco-crisis 40 years ago, and author of the Gaia theory (earth is a self-regulating super organism), tells Decca Aitkenhead in the Guardian that global environmental catastrophe is inevitable, carbon offsetting is a joke, and ethical living is a scam. Recycling is almost certainly a waste of time and energy.

“Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan”.

Happy Monday.