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.