Thursday, May 31, 2007

Elegant Decrepitude

Pants is a trifle maudlin today. Work doesn’t suit me. I don’t do suits, well not anymore. I would like to dress like George Melly, sans patch l’oeil, naturelment, and with a purple rather than red hat - am so over red. Finding enough sombre clothes of the old professional variety that still fit is a daily battle. In the last year the pant arse has flattened out considerably. It was lovely to see George Melly on the tele last night introducing the current Surrealists exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum as well has having a bigger arse than one’s own. Nice one George.

It’s not that the work is bad, judged by its own standards. It’s good and the ‘colleagues’ are nice and I have a lovely big office all to myself where people knock on the door before they come in, even my boss – that’s kind of spooky actually. I have no interest in it beyond doing it properly. I’m still quite into maintaining a certain standard of personal excellence. Increasingly, I’m uninterested in the business of the world. I think of the Surrealists, whom I love, and I think, why don't policemen turn their faces into apples ? Surely anti-social behaviour would plummet and the world would be a better place.

I could, honestly, spend a month thinking of nothing but The Elephant of Celebes by Max Ernst. It’s always been one of my favourite paintings and the thought that it and I live in the same city has often been of great comfort. Did I mention that I went to Spain for Dalí’s funeral in 1989? I don’t get to go to many funerals – fortunately. Dalí wasn’t actually a close friend, although after watching Russell Harty’s memorable interview with him where he told the world that his favourite animals were the rhinoceros (‘because he is cosmic’ and fillet of sole), over and over on video, I felt I knew him as well as I know most people - Dalí rather than the rhinoceros or fillet of sole, you understand.

My daily journey to Ilford takes me past Manor Park Cemetery where rest the ashes of one of my closest friends who died of breast cancer five years ago. She is the only person that I have so far been with at the moment of death, and I was alone with her. Her dear mother, who had been sitting vigil in the hospital for about seventy-two hours, was finally persuaded to go home for a couple of hours kip. Yvonne breathed her heavily-laden last very shortly afterwards. Being there was not an entirely unpleasant experience. It is true that you sense the 'soul' depart and feel ridiculously elated. That's partly because you are still alive and are not only proud that you can feel at all, but know that it's very important to do so, to the point of celebrating. It's odd and I remember that very clearly.

When I go past Manor Park Cemetery in the morning and see the freshly laid wreaths spelling out GRAN, GRANDAD, MUM, DAD, ALBERT, ETHEL, in tightly knit white flowers, I think of Yvonne and how we chose a proper East End funeral for her with the man in the morning suit walking in front of the hearse and everyone coming out of their houses to watch. I remember having the ‘burial or cremation’ discussion with her when she knew she was terminal and she wanted to be cremated because she was always claustrophobic, whereas I’ve always been afraid of fire and want to be buried. Please excuse the bad taste, but we pissed ourselves.

Please further excuse the crude segue, but I would now like to take the opportunity to mourn the passing of some of my favourite blogs. Yes, it is time to update the blogroll and take down the ones that are no longer active. I can’t bear to eliminate entirely those with a catalogue of previous posts that other people might like to read and I might want to access in the future without having to palaver myself stupid with Google requests, so I will create a new category on the blogroll called Not Forgotten.

This special roll will include the adored Periodic Englishman, who is almost entirely periodic and not the least bit English but is as interesting a mind as one's own will ever meet. Regrettably, also there is Monkey with typewjkl; who bid us a happy New Year, went off to play with the USB turntable he'd got for Christmas, and never came back. It will also include Penless Artist who was one of the first bloggers who ever linked to me. Penless found me quite early in my blogging career because I wrote a post about a woman who had accidentally booked a ticket to Sydney, Canada rather than Sydney, Australia and hadn’t noticed that part of the journey was by husky-driven sleigh. Penless is a Canadian who’s moved to Belgium and I followed with immense interest her wrangles with her cranky accommodation, the Belgian bureaucracy and the serene interludes of the visits from divine, if occasionally and unintentionally bilious boyfriend Andre. In fact it was during Andre’s last visit that it all went very quiet. I hope that’s a good sign.

Sadder is the demise of the blogs of Exonome, including the one formally on my blogroll, Go Away Please. I won’t even provide the link because I know that she’s taken the content down. Rest assured ‘Gappie’ as I call her, is alive and well and has her reasons for closing down her blogs. I do feel a loss. You read blog posts and enjoy them and you think that you know you can always go back to them, and then they disappear, along with all their links and pictures. I’m wondering what it sounds like when blogs die and whether the Surrealists have an answer – probably not because, actually, they mostly made work that will probably make a reasonable stab at lasting for ever. Are we bloggers the true Surrealists? Answers on e-Bay, of you please – my opening bid for 1p is a J-cloth dressed as a Toco Toucan. You too can do better than that, right?

Picture of George Melly from

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On Nothing and Beingness

You know me - I have no ideas currently, or at least none that I’m prepared to share with the whole world (wishing on a star, la, la). Trawling the vaults at House of Pants – or put another way – going through the treasure trove of unpublished Thoughts of Pants in order to decide which will survive the journey to the far side of the world, I came across a piece of frivolity that I would like to present for your (light) entertainment. Some years ago, a male actor friend challenged me to write an original monologue. I therefore present (drum roll optional);

Monologue for Charles

Charles: (Reading) ‘Whatever is for being and thinking must be, for it cannot be, and nothing cannot’. (Takes a long toke of a joint). I can’t get my head around this shit. They told me to do Philosophy 101 if you want easy credits. Sounds like a fucking loan shark. Philosophy, they said or Sociology, are best for padding out your degree. Sociology would have to suck. Pygmies and pineapples don’t interest me. Philosophy sounds like it could get you a fuck.

But this? (reading) ‘Whatever is being and thinking must be, it cannot be, and nothing cannot’. What is the difference between a bison and a bin liner, Aristotle? Anyone? Is the imagination bound by the limits of its own experience. Well you may ask. Thinking, the act of, can only be drawn from what is known. As Greek as Retsina, moussaka and anal sex.

So, we can only know the elements that are there to know? These elements can be altered, combined or destroyed to create something, although not within one’s (get that one’s) own experience, still within the bounds of one’s imagination, based on knowledge of the properties of known elements. Fuck me. Sounds like the kind of atrocity you’d get if you put Heston Blumenthal*, a pan of chick peas and a Hibachi barbeque in the same room.

It’s true that you can’t think about nothing. You can think about a lot of things that amount to nothing and you, yourself, can amount to nothing. But you can’t actually think about nothing, I think. There. Proof, if it were ever needed. Nothing becomes something as soon as you think about it. Western philosophy, as I understand – Philosophy 101 doesn’t go into huge detail – doesn’t have an adequate definition for that which does not exist. There is no such thing as the non-existentialists. There is not a never-Sartre or an un-Camus or a de-De Beauvoir.

My thoughts are the sum total of whatever my conscious and subconscious can concoct. That altered mind states can be achieved through the use of substances, suggests the possibility of other possibilities. That much I’ve verified with extensive personal experiment. Such is my commitment. Since we don’t know what we are looking for exactly, we can’t know how to find it. It wouldn’t matter how many different ways we could find of thinking, we would never know about the ones we didn’t know about or whether they existed at all. We can have fun trying to imagine them though. (Lights another joint.)

If the basis of our philosophy is a binary one – that is – every question can be satisfied with a yes or no answer, we can’t account for nothingness. It implies there was something there to start with. Something has been subtracted. When exactly did zero become a number? Come on, you know this. Was it the Romans or the Indians, long before the Romans. The problem is it wasn’t ever a real number, more of a border between positive and negative numbers. A line separating yes from no, up from down, plus from minus. So, how can zero be the standard bearer for nothingness? For the Greeks, zero was the horizon, the boundary between mortal and immortal. Everything above the line was a god, everything below it, human. Where the underworld fits in is any fucker’s guess.

The only people who ever gave nothingness its due were the Zen Buddhists. They’ve got mu - which is not, as you might imagine, to do with cow worship – that would be the Hindus. I know a little something after a whole semester on this shit. Mu, let me say it again, it sounds so barking, and there’s a full moon, Mu…. It’s an answer to the question ‘unask the question’. Can you get your fucking head around that? Buggered if I can. Here’s the theory – emptiness can exist in isolation, but owes its definition to the relationship between the two. If you can work that out, you’re probably less stoned than me, I, me, whatever. I’m not that far gone that I can’t see it’s still subtraction. Non-existence is not the same as death. Death is the state of ceasing to exist. Death doesn’t invalidate existence, although, if you’ve ever had anyone you liked a lot peg on you, you might wonder.

When someone dies, it can seem like they never existed, but it’s not the same as them never existing. It’s a nothingness, because there was someone there and now there is a nothing where they once were, if that makes sense. If it’s someone you were particularly close to, you’re going to have an experience of numbness, like your whole emotional system shuts down and you feel numb, like there’s nothing to feel. But the feelings will trickle down, when they’re ready. That’s how it was with my Gran, anyway. Death makes existence no longer true, and bereavement counsellors very busy.

I seem to remember that absolute zero is the theoretical temperature at which all molecular motion is suspended. It’s surprising what you can draw from weed and a good memory. Minus two hundred and seventy-three point one six degrees Celsius. Fuck me for a boy scout for remembering that. Old Donald Hesketh, our tosser of a Science teacher, literal bastard. He’d say things like, ‘My barber said to me, “not too short sir?” Not too short? Why would I ask for hair too short? Ridiculous.’ He loved that word, ridiculous.

Minus two hundred and seventy-three point six one degrees Celsius. Celsius, not Fahrenheit, Celsius. Anyway, absolute zero has never…. Never been reached in laboratory conditions so who gives a fuck whether it’s Fahrenheit or centigrade? Just give me fever all through the night… Sorry, thinking of something altogether different. From memory, absolute zero can never be reached because the night belongs to lovers. No… think, concentrate. Absolute zero can never be reached because, whatever system you use to measure a temperature that low, changes the temperature of whatever system you use to measure it. So, even if some dick was smart enough to actually find absolute zero which means they’d halted molecular motion, who’d know, and, who’d be left to discuss it. Just a thought… (He lights another joint.)

* In the original I’d put Gary Rhodes. And, ps, I made it a bit better...

Picture from the cover of The Age of Reason by Jean-Paul Sartre

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Elegantly Dressed Wednesdaisy

I know, I know. Don’t even think about tapping out a comment telling me how lame that title is. I will delete that comment. I WILL. This is what I’m like back under the kosh of work. Not that it’s bad. Actually it’s good – the work I mean. It’s just the regimentation of waking up at seven, eating a breakfast comprising fruit, yoghurt and psyllium husks fibre (don’t even…), getting to the station by 8.01 in order to have a meaningful conversation with wonderful John – today he handed me my Metro in a plastic bag – he must have saved it - bless. I missed the 8.06 because I was trying to print out the four pages of my new novel that I have set myself to do each evening after my run, but am too knackered after completing said run to even press ctrl p, and Mr Windows happened to decide that 7.15 this morning was the optimum time to upend a shitload of updates that will make my computer run even slower. Arrrgghhh.

Okay. I seriously need to start this again – after tea which is, incidentally – two modest gin and tonics and a glass of the sort of wine of which I could only have dreamed last week. As an afterthought I might consume a modicum of whatever Abel & Cole, whom I still adore despite the fact that this is the second week of the official British asparagus season in which they have failed to deliver asparagus. There must be a good, if not great, reason. Anytime you want to clue me in guys... Please consider the one tiny portion of Jerusalem artichokes that came my way this year ended up being passed on to a friend because I was having my near death experience in the Homerton Hospital at the time. You guys owe me.

This is SO NOT elegant, sorry. Take two. Here are some lovely daisies which I snapped on the Kodak yesterday morning when I wasn’t quite so flustered. I’ve just remembered that Ad tagged me to reveal seven ‘surprising’ things about myself. That sounds like a young persons’ game – bah humbug. Well, you’ve got to either rally to the challenge, or accept that you’re ill-humoured by nature – perish the sell-by date of that thought. So,

1. I truly believe that if I eat the Shaper’s option of the Boots meal deal for the entire six weeks of my contracted employment, I will lose the two stone required to make me look human again.

2. I further believe that if I amble around Hackney Marshes every day after completing said employment at a pace at which even hedgehogs would consider calling 999, that will help shed the requisite two stones required to re-enter the human race.

3. I can’t actually count to seven.

3.1 I don't do rules.

Done and dusted as we say here in Hackney – with the caveat that we neither do nor dust without good reason – has mother booked a visit? No – then stand down Mr Sheen.

I hope your Wednesdaisy was as pleasant as mine…

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

St John at Hackney Wick

From time to time you hear that old piece of dog-eared doggerel ‘one person can make a difference’, and you think – in Quasimodo’s dreams. If you try to apply this to the North London Line, that fabled clogged artery especially designed to make misery the lives of anyone unfortunate enough to have no alternate means of getting from grim A to grubby B you enter the realms of science fiction. This line is so appalling, even Boxcar Willie refuses to ride it. It makes the Tube look like the TGV. But, standing like a beacon of hope in this twilight gloom of commuter despair is one man who truly has made a difference on the NLL. I speak of John, the Station Manager at Hackney Wick.

For years, Hackney Wick was a ghost station. The office was closed. You could get on and off the train there but couldn’t buy a ticket and you would have felt safer in Gaza, especially on dark winter nights. I would go all the way into Liverpool Street and out again if I wanted to go to Camden or Kilburn, even though the journey took three times as long. If your intention is to go west anytime between 6 am and 9am you don’t even attempt the NLL because you almost certainly won’t get on. But if flinging school children to the ground and trampling them to death doesn’t bother you, you’ll then have some hod carrier’s crotch in your face all the way from Hackney to Hampstead. You can’t use pre paid Oyster Card on the NLL either. It’s like someone set out to purposefully create the worst possible rail experience that doesn’t contravene UN regulations, which are actually stricter for the transport of livestock. Consequently, I hadn’t used it in yonks.

Last year I had to make regular journeys into deepest Essex for work. The easiest way to get to Essex is to take the NNL to Stratford. At least the trains are fairly empty going east. Bracing myself for the urine stench of the waiting pen and persistent announcements of late running trains, I marched to Hackney Wick on a cold February morning to find the office open and a cheery smile awaiting. John travels to Hackney Wick from Willesden at the ungodliest of hours every weekday morning and even picks up a pile of Metro newspapers which he hands out to customers with their train tickets. After a week of buying individual tickets to various Essex destinations, I arrived at the office one morning to find that John had done a little research on how I might get better value for money and written his findings out for me. That’s what I call service – and the thing is, John enjoys offering this level of service. This is a genuine win/win.

As of tomorrow, I will be travelling into Ilford for work for the next month or so. The thought of starting my day with a little chat with John instead of running the gauntlet of scowls at some impersonal tube station fills me with so much cheer I won’t even mind being in Ilford. That’s how much difference one person can make. I was given a questionnaire to fill out about the NLL last year during a week of chronic delays - you’d think they could have timed that better. I scrawled across the questionnaire in my best nutter’s script ‘Your service is rubbish. The only good think about your whole company is John, the Station Manager at Hackney Wick.’

This morning I popped down to the station to discuss my commuting options with John. We agreed that a three zone travel card is my best bet. I can always use it on the weekend should the desire to go up to Upney prove too great a temptation to resist. I would say that I will be blogging less now that I will be back in the land of the suited and booted but that hardly seems possible as I only do about two posts a week as it is. Perhaps I’ll be inspired by the good burghers of Ilford to post some touching vignettes…

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Elegantly Dressed Divas

This is Marie Lloyd, England’s most famous musical hall artiste of Edwardian times, or ever really. She was born in Hoxton in 1870 and spent her early years right here in Hackney. There’s a blue plaque on her old house in Graham Road. Lately, one’s beloved BBC has been showing a bio-pic of her life starring EastEnders strumpet Jessie Wallace in a highly credible performance.

Lloyd’s is the ample bosom from which all bawdy theatrical double entendre springs. Her winks and obscene gestures transformed innocent ditties such as A Little of What You Fancy (Does You Good) into aural bodice rippers that frequently ran the gantlet between popularity and decency. She became the target of Vigilance Committees set up to monitor decorum in the music hall. When the moral moaning minnies objected to the lyric ‘I sits among the cabbages and peas’, her idea of an appeasement was to alter it to ‘I sits among the cabbages and leeks’, to the great amusement of her devoted audience.

Offstage Lloyd was equally controversial with a car crash private life that would make Kate Moss’s look prim. Although the most popular star of the London stage, she was excluded from the bill of the King’s first Variety Command Performance because of her racy reputation. She retaliated by staging a rival performance on the same night and selling out. Her backing of the 1907 variety artists’ strike was hugely important. Although a massive star by then, she went out in support of her fellow artists, famously heckling rival Belle Elmore as she crossed a picket line with, ‘Let her through girls, she'll close the music hall faster than we can.’

After a career spanning nearly forty years, Lloyd collapsed on stage half way through I'm One of the Ruins That Cromwell Knocked About a Bit. At first the audience thought it was all part of the act as the song is about an old gin soak but she died shortly afterwards. Over 100,000 people attended her funeral in 1922 and some of the songs she popularised like My Old Man (Said Follow The Van) are still musical hall staples.

In Lloyd's day, one’s hallowed Hackney Empire which opened at the height of her fame in 1901 was the music hall venue and Lloyd performed there many times. Although variety has remained popular amongst East Enders, the Empire suffered a long period of gross inelegance as a bingo hall. Thanks to the conscientious efforts of local people and influential luvvies, it reopened as a theatre in 1984 and underwent a full and wonderful restoration a few years ago. The old flea pit pub abutting it became the classy new Marie Lloyd bar.

And this is Ms Pants in the days when she used to comb her hair and occasionally adorn it with gardenias. It is impossible to see this because I am bathed in (thoroughly deserved I might add) spotlight, but there is an entire orchestra of tuxedoed musicians behind me and I am on the stage of none other than the Hackney Empire. It’s January 1989 and the occasion is one of the first variety events of the music hall revival of the eighties after the Empire had undergone its initial refurbishment. It was hosted by Hackney’s king of variety Brian Walker who later went on to co-found the Brick Lane Music Hall. I believe Dockyard Doris was also on the bill along with jugglers, tumblers, people who played the spoons and a very clever lady who cut out long choruses of paper dollies. I sang a thirties ballad called Deep Purple and later joined Brian on Bye Bye Blackbird.

I shudder when I think that the Hackney Empire, which now has probably the most diverse entertainment programme in the whole country, was very nearly lost to our community when certain very determined political interests considered it not ‘multicultural’ enough because of its variety history, which they misinterpreted as ethnically ‘white’. The word ‘variety’ should have been a hint to its true nature. There was powerful support for a brand new venue, which eventually became the sickeningly expensive Ocean Music Venue. Although quite stunning, the scale of it was far in excess of what a place like Hackney could support. It died in infancy at the age of three and the centenarian Empire is still going strong and serving the whole community at prices we can all afford.

Is everybody happy? You bet your life we are…

Photo of Marie Lloyd from

Photo of Pants by Peter Loveday

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pants Says Knickers To Ducktatorship

When I finally move to the tropics, I have decided I’ll take all my furniture with me. It’s not that I have particularly nice furniture, in fact quite a bit of it comes from skips, I’m just not interested in furniture. You do have to have some furniture in your house unless you want to stand up all the time and pile up your belongings on the floor. It may be an aid to fitness but not to lifestyle. I will stick with the furniture I have. I’m used to it and most of it works perfectly well. Whereas I have nothing against IKEA furniture, I don’t like going to their shop. It doesn’t make sense to throw out all my IKEA furniture here and then buy the same stuff again on the other side of the world.

The most expensive piece of furniture I have, apart from the piano, is my Warren Evans bed. It is one of three sensible purchases I’ve made in my life. I’ll keep this bed for ever. It doesn’t do anything fancy like elevate at one end when you press a button or make you think that you’re lying on a lilo in a swimming pool. It just lets you go to sleep quickly and wake up not remembering where you are for five minutes, although, that may be the wine. Part of the success of the bed is the mattress but I won’t be taking that with me. It’s twenty-five years old and, although perfectly serviceable, not the sort of thing you want to transport abroad. Besides, in all the time I’ve lived in Hackney, I have never once deposited a mattress on the street. It is time I carried out this civic duty. Hackney without mattress-filled streets would be like Venice without the gondolas or Paris without the dog shit – unimaginable.

I’ll be taking my baby grand too. I wasn’t going to. I’ve had a hankering for one of those little Yamaha electric grands for some years now but you can’t get a decent price for a baby grand these days. In the mean little flats that are being built now, no one has got the room for one and children are learning to play iPods now rather than pianos. It is certainly a lot easier to fit an iPod into a small living space. I fancy having a shed that I can turn into a music studio. I’ll put the piano in there along with my old DX7 and maybe start making music again.

One thing is certain, I’ll be going home with a lot more luggage than I came with. I sold everything when I moved to Britain and arrived with only a Roland Keyboard and amplifier and a small suitcase full of clothes. But I will be leaving behind quite a bit of baggage. When I first came to Britain I found the political maturity of people in general stimulating. Everyone I met was involved politically in some way. I called Australia ‘The Bossy Country’ because people seemed to be falling all over themselves to obey every government directive. It was thoroughly distasteful. The near anarchy of Britain was so refreshing by comparison. All that’s changed now. Australians seem far more politically literate by comparison. Now that is something.

Ex Tory leader Michael Howard’s emotional outburst this week on Newsnight in which he laid the blame for the amorality of contemporary British public life firmly at the feet of Alistair Campbell was instructive, not least of all because Campbell spent the whole tirade nodding in enthusiastic agreement. He took it as a compliment, obviously. Campbell might have been manufacturing the bullets but there has been no shortage of enthusiastic gunslingers in this government willing to intimidate the population into submission. I know Thatcher’s thugs did as much, and worse, but because getting a Labour government was a hope we’d clung to all through the eighties and nineties when life was so bleak, it feels like being fucked over by family rather than the enemy and it hurts so much more.

The ascendancy of Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown into the premiership will complete the transformation from country to cuntocracy. Incapable of being magnanimous even in unchallenged victory, the world’s dourest duck couldn’t wait to wave the carving knife over the still warm corpse of his predecessor, claiming in his speech yesterday,

‘One of my first acts as prime minister would be to restore power to parliament in order to build the trust of the British people in democracy.’

You what? It would work better if you retired duckie. Ever heard the term ‘part of the problem rather than part of the solution’? Wishful thinking as the wreckers have already moved into No. 11 Downy Street and are converting it into a brand new money bin for the exchequer. Checkers, the PM’s country residence is to be renamed Dunsinane and The Proclaimers have been been commissioned to write a theme song for our new ducktator, sorry PM. Rumours that the song is to be entitled Things Can Only Get Weirder proved disappointingly unfounded. What about We’re All Insane in Dunsinane?

There is some glee to be drawn from the gloomy rituals of the last few days. In the course of reading yet another account of the inheritance of the McDuck family moral compass, handed down through the generations as they were far to mean to buy one that actually works, I discovered that Scroogie’s dad was called John Ebenezer. How I laughed. As Scroogie glumly intoned ‘I have never sought the public eye for its own sake’ in his coronation speech, he was most assuredly not anywhere near the public eye as some ridiculous auto-cue device obscured his face for the entire speech. I like to think there was a conspiracy in our beloved BBC to make the old duck look like a bit of a twat. The camera operators must have noticed they couldn’t see his face, mustn’t they? Maybe anarchy is not entirely dead in Britain. I hope not…

Scrooge McDuck, Disney Comics

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Elegantly Dressed Gilbert and George

Gilbert and George are two people but only one artist. In other words they are like two bicycle wheels that form one bicycle. No one knows which one is the front wheel, Gilbert or George. To be physiologically accurate, they are probably more like a sideways bike in that they go everywhere together, and walk in step.

You don’t see much of Gilbert and George ordinarily, unless you live in the Brick Lane area of East London or eat at one of their favourite restaurants, in which case you see them a LOT. They are reclusive, except when they’re out – then they’re gregarious.

The reason for featuring them as this week’s Elegantly Dressed Wednesday offering is that, not only are they always immaculately turned out, they are having a major retrospective at the Tate Modern. This is something very special because British artists are usually only allowed to exhibit at the Tate Britain. Clearly, if you are both Modern and British, Britishness takes precedence. Gilbert is not actually British, he is Italian. But, as previously explained, the artist Gilbert and George is, in fact, British as all the best artists are.

In the last ten years, being both British and Modern has become very important. However, whereas there are any number of courses to teach us how to be British, only Kate Moss is seriously tutoring in how to be Modern.

The Tate Modern should really have been called the Tate Foreign as it only features artists who are not allowed to exhibit at Tate Britain because they are not British. Monet, who is in the Tate Modern, was never modern, even in his own time. However, The Tate Foreign doesn’t sound very nice and doesn’t really go with the New Labour ‘Cool Britannia’ image.

Gilbert and George, who famously don’t give interviews, are being interviewed all over the place lately. There was a show on one’s adored BBC last night and a big article in one’s beloved Guardian a week or so ago. I understand that Mr Choudhury at the Cash and Carry where they buy their PG Tips tea bags and jars of Nescafe has done a piece for Grocers’ Weekly and their favourite waiter Mehmet is writing something for this week’s edition of the Turkish paper Hurriyet as well.

It is so unusual for Gilbert and George to be separated that when I was eating at their favourite restaurant Mangal II in Dalston recently and Gilbert walked in ALONE, I got straight onto The News of the World which I have on speed dial should I see Victoria Beckham eat something or Pete Doherty stand up straight. It was a false alarm as George came in about two minutes later. I believe it is the longest time they’d been apart since 1971.

Gilbert and George could also qualify for naked Thursday as a lot of their art features them naked. This requires them to take their clothes off rather a lot. It stands to reason that at least some of those times will be Thursdays. Mostly though they go to work in their specially tailored suits. Their work mainly consists of them just being themselves which is not only genteel but jolly jammy into the bargain. To go to work they simply walk up some stairs and into a room full of drawers where they sit looking at pictures of themselves all day. I can’t think of anything more delightful.

Fournier Street, where Gilbert and George have a charming Georgian house, is in the heart of the fashion industry in London. In fact the street next to theirs is even called Fashion Street. Huguenot silk weavers lived in the area in the eighteenth century, Jewish tailors in the nineteenth and since then, Bangaldeshi leather jacket makers have called Spitalfields home. From the roof terrace of their house, Gilbert and George can see both Hawksmoor’s famous Spitalfields Church and The Gherkin. They prefer to do so whilst wearing Savile Row suits, which is why they are this week’s EDW nominees.

In celebration of this historic occasion, you can download a free copy of their latest work Planed for the next thirty-six hours from Of course you can download any of their work at any time free from Google Images but it is quite novel to have the artist’s permission to appropriate their work for a change.


Art by Gilbert and George

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Blair Necessities

I had a few anxious moments after yesterday’s post when I tagged five of my favourite blogs for a Thinking Blogger Award after being tagged myself by Ros Barber of Shallowlands. It seems this meme had been associated with viral marketing and web advertising and may have been rather cynically pandering to the vanities of bloggers who fancy themselves as a bit on the clever side (i.e. all of us). We’ve already established that I AM so vain that I DO think this blog is about ME.

One of my taggees, Ms Melancholy, raised the alarm (see yesterday’s comments – sorry my techno-twatedness is not in dispute). However, Reading the Signs (who had nominated Shallowlands – I know it is all a bit incestuous), quelled the panic by revealing that we, the people have triumphed over cynicism and claimed this meme for our very own. The tag no longer has links to its original source where it could earn hard cash by pandering to our weaknesses. Human foibles, priceless – for everything else there’s Paypal. So, a bit of harmless fun then. No wonder the Nobel Prize people haven’t called yet.

It got me thinking about vanities in general and some I wouldn’t mind seeing on a bonfire in the not too distant future. Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown is about to ascend to a job that he is no more suited to than Scooby Doo is, yet he insists on having it and is openly offering to turn the head of anyone who dares stand in his way into haggis. David Mild’n’Bland’s head is currently a funny shape and he obviously doesn’t want to risk further confusion or being served up as the plat de jour next time he’s in The Fat Duck. Charles ‘Grizzly’ Clarke’s head is, in fact, a haggis but he’s already given his pledge to Scooby Doo.

The question of what Tony ‘Blah Blah’ Blair will do next has become a national pre-occupation. Former heads of state generally turn their hand to a role for which they are supremely unsuited. Bill ‘The Clinch’ Clinton is lecturing the world on moral responsibility and personal restraint for example. The catalogue of non-skills that our soon to be former prime minister possesses is formidable, however I think I may have come up with a field in which he will clearly suck on a scale worthy of the world stage – Communications.

I can see him now in a room full of eager thousand US dollars a plate beavers, hanging on his every dangling participle as he delivers such gems as this from his recent ‘legacy’ speech,

‘The cultural change, which seems obvious now, is you transform from it being a set process in which the public service deliverer is in the dominant position to it being much more driven by the particular needs of the person to whom you’re providing the public service, which then leads you into giving to all the public the choices which currently only the middle classes have in relation to the provision of vital services like health and education.’ (commas optional)

It will give me a great deal of pleasure in the future to imagine these paying customers’ bafflement met with Blah Blah’s famous ‘you just don’t get it’ look. Might they be left wondering why the lower and upper classes in Britain are not allowed to attend school or go to the dentist? It would probably clarify a lot about Britain – like why all the rich people they meet seem so thick and have bad teeth.

For the last two weeks, one’s precious Guardian newspaper has been reprinting some of the famous speeches of the 20th Century. It’s interesting to speculate on how Blah Blah might have tackled Winston Churchill’s ‘We will fight them on the beaches’ speech. Might it have gone something like this,

‘Look…. What’s happened here is wrong and we as a community need to think about ways in which we can ensure that when these things happen there are ways and means of dealing with what is clearly unacceptable and I know that people want to feel that their community is safe and that the people who deliver those services are able to do so with the support of the whole community.’

I wonder what he might have done with Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’ speech. I’m thinking,

‘I mean, you know. I was on Richard & Judy the other day doing my ‘am I bovvered’ thing for charity. Richard doesn’t think it’s as good as his Ali G by the way. I was in the green room and there was this little boy from some ethnic minority or other who’d got cancer or something anyway he didn’t have long to live and I got to thinking wouldn’t it be a great legacy for my premiership if I could stop little children like that from, you know, dying which is an appalling tragedy for their family and for Britain as a whole.’

I suppose a man is entitled to a sense of purpose. Maybe he’d be more at home in the Bermuda Triangle. That’s where most empty vessels end up. My money’s on Scooby Doo…

Fine art from Steve Bell

Monday, May 07, 2007

It's the thought that counts

Many years ago my friend Fiona and I used to spend our Sundays dodging the ferries that criss-cross Sydney Harbour in a tiny boat called a sabot which is, I believe, the French for salad bowl. More often than not, we would misjudge advancing whitewash and capsize. There is no re-floating a sabot, at least not the old hardwood ones anyway, so we’d have to sit out there in the cold, bobbing around for hours in shark-infested shipping lanes waiting for the rescue boat manned by Dads to come and pluck us from our mini Poseidon Adventure. It has since become illegal for parents to endanger small children in this way.

I have previously mentioned our most spectacular maritime disaster where we rammed a much bigger boat and the sabot sank. This unfortunately occurred on the same day that Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt also went missing at sea. Since every available rescue service was engaged in the hunt for the Chinese submarine that had kidnapped our prime minister, we had to leave the boat in its watery grave and swim ashore. We weren’t seriously considered to be suspects for very long.

Despite our being the worst sailors in nautical history, Fiona and I always received a small trophy at the end of the season. This was a recognition of our proud achievement of failing to finish a single race in dry clothes. It was the firm belief of our sailing club that every child deserved a prize for effort, even if there was clearly no evidence that any had been expended.

I mention this because I have been nominated by Shallowlands for A Thinking Blogger Award.

Ros Barber is a Marlowe scholar and person of great wit and intelligence so I can only assume that she is in the throes of some kind of breakdown if That’s So Pants has stimulated the provocation of any thoughts at any time. Be that as it may, if opportunity knocks at House of Pants, we generally invite it in for a nice cup of tea, so thanks Ros.

It falls to me now to find five of my favourite blogs that have not already been the recipient of a Thinking Blogger Award. Baroque in Hackney has one, as does Reading the Signs and The World of Zhisou.

I can’t believe Dave Hill hasn’t got one already for his cerebrally panoramic Temperama, not to mention his unfeasibly well-reasoned contributions to Comment is Free and his tender chronicling of the mythically myopic microcosm that is Hackney in Claptonian. But he isn’t ‘proudly displaying’ the Thinking Blogger logo so either he thinks it’s pants or everyone else thought he already had one. If you didn't have one before Dave, you do now.

If the only thing Ben Locker ever contributed to the blogosphere was Elegantly Dressed Wednesday, it would have been enough to earn him a brainiac gong because it’s a mathematical fact that if grossness is not tempered by elegance, the world will blow up. Ben has been keeping the world save for bespokery for a long time. A period of mourning followed the demise of his Hackney Lookout blog, but he stormed back with his brand new blogorific Scorn and Noise.

Ms Melancholy’s Confessions of a Psychotherapist has achieved the impossible and given me cause to believe that the state of your mental health is not necessarily determined by Dr Phil. Unfortunately for me, it’s too late as Dr Phil had already convinced me that ‘if I think I can, I will and if I think I can’t I probably won’t’. Since recovering from the disappointment of failing to win a place in the British Beach Volleyball team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics despite being certain that I could, I have subsequently given up the search for Harold Holt and settled for a life of simple, affordable pleasures. No one says no to you if you just want to buy something.

Reading Not Saussure is like looking at a Ferrari and knowing you will never be able to afford it. Some might think this is a negative thing but I am not the jealous type and have become quite content with walking most places. Besides a No 26 bus is bigger than a Ferrari and just as red so it’s not all bad news.

What can you say about a blogger who has written more posts on anxieties than any other subject? Nothing except you love her. Anxieties ignite my thought process more than anything else. One moment a child has fallen ill from eating supermarket chicken and the next thing I’m rewriting my will and living on oranges and Tamiflu. It doesn’t matter how many times I remind myself that I don’t eat supermarket chicken. The damage has been done. NMJ at Velo-Gubbed Legs regularly sparks these episodes which is great because at least I know I’m alive. And I still don’t know what Velo is or what it’s like to be gubbed so I know there is still work to do tomorrow.

There you have it. My five Thinking Blogger nominees in no particular order.

If you would like to carry on this fine tradition and are able to find someone out there in the blogosphere who has not already been so honoured, the rules are:

1. If you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,

3. Optional: Proudly display the "Thinking Blogger Award" with a link to the post that you wrote. (Tip – level of pride not able to be measured as far as I am aware.)

Thanks again Ros, my award is proudly displayed on the shelf with all my trophies for not drowning…

Cartoon by the wonderful Leunig

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ms Pants Regrets She's Unable To Launch Today

I have no interest in clothes any more. To me, all clothes are now pyjamas. If they have sequins on them it makes for an uncomfortable night so I avoid those. However, I’m so overjoyed by the return of the blogger formerly known as Quink whose fabulous Hackney Lookout petered out just as I discovered it, that I have decided to take an interest, if not in clothes per se, in the elegance of them when beautifully worn. Quink, in reality the author Ben Locker, is the originator of Elegantly Dressed Wednesday and I am delighted to report that his new blog Scorn and Noise features this wonderful meme. EDW was a rudderless ship without Quink. But now it’s to be born again, like hotpants! Even one's beloved Guardian has featured an EDW this week - on retro regency dandy Maloviere. Except they did it on Monday. But that's The Guardian for you.

Vowing to be an active participant now that I no longer care about elegance unless it refers to phrasing or physics, will require some creativity on my part. I am not so far gone I can’t recognise that would be a very good thing. Cynicism and subversion would be inappropriate to the spirit of EDW. The only EDW I’ve previously done was one on Wednesday Addams. You can only get away with that sort of thing once, besides I don’t know of anyone else who’s called Wednesday.

I offer Katherine Hepburn as my first EDW of the new era. It was a toss up between Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant. The Philadelphia Story and Giant were my two favourite films when I was a kid. This is because they were shown so often on television that I could pretty much recite them word for word.

The scene in Giant where the children discover their playmate turkey has been slaughtered for Thanksgiving relaunches in my brain whenever I see any potential poultry walking around.

Child in Native American feathered headdress pointing at huge cooked turkey,

‘Mommy. Is that Pedro?’

Liz in immaculate blouse,

‘Yes darling.’

Cut to Liz on stairs fielding difficult questions about brutality of man and absent Daddy with three snotty, sobbing children completely unable to penetrate immaculacy of blouse.

It had to be a contender. Maybe another Wednesday.

The term clothes hanger might have been invented for Katherine Hepburn. Despite her weird, wooden face, she did look wonderful in clothes. You noticed the clothes. She was way ahead of her time in that respect. Hepburn had a brilliant ability to send herself up. She was privileged by wealth and didn’t need to earn a living from acting but it must have taken a massive level of skill to exploit that quality successfully. It starts in Stage Door where she plays the superficial whimsy of Terry Randall’s second rate acting against the literal do-or-die aspirations of Kaye Hamilton’s mega-talent. Within a bouquet of organza, Hepburn immortally delivers,

‘The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower - suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day; now I place them here in memory of something that has died.’


Whenever I hear Claire de Lune, I automatically recall Chill Wills explaining to Liz’s politically marginalised Texan rancher wife Lesley Benedict,

‘There’s a little Claire de Lune in all of us.”

She may have been thinking Kill Bill rather than Chill Wills but you wouldn’t have gleaned it from her unruffled Broderie Anglais. I’ve got to do Liz at some point.

All through The Philadelphia Story improbable pretexts are created for Hepburn, as the spoilt rich divorcee Tracy Lord, to wear every conceivable item of themed clothing from nightwear to swimwear to messing with journalists’ heads wear to re-swooning ex-husband wear to wedding gown. It’s not possible to choose a moment when Hepburn doesn’t look like the reason EDW was invented, so this week’s EDW she is.

Out of character as it may be at the moment, I’ve gleefully engaged in another blogventure in a good cause. I’ve joined the search party for Adam – the fictional missing persona of Caroline Smailles’s forthcoming book In Search of Adam. I’d like to say it’s as easy as pissing one’s pants, but the reality is I needed a masterclass from the dauntingly smart Stray who built the widget-thingy that tantalisingly invites you to join the search. Click on the button and follow the instructions to get Stray to help you too.

Finally, since you ask, I draw your attention (again) to the latest Moon Topples Short Story Competition. Maht at Moon Topples is so spectacularly community spirited that one is tempted to rejoin the human race.

I feel the love people. Tonight, I will wear sequins in bed…

Photo of Katherine Hepburn from

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ben's a Dream So Why Can't I Sleep?

Ben is not a cynic. To him, pants are just trousers and the world is kind and fair. He’s handsome and nice and from 1994 when even I thought the world wasn’t such a bad place. The problem for me is that Ben is occupying my head – it’s his job and he’s mine. Ben was brought up poor after his father died from work-related asbestosis, but he’s not complaining. He got a job. He got married. He got divorced. Not his fault – obviously. Why would it be? Ben knew that Thatcher couldn’t last for ever and is grateful that his father was spared her altogether. He was right – she didn’t. It’s a blow when John Smith dies but Ben doesn’t know that welfare socialism, real socialism will die with him. Tony ‘Blah Blah’ Blair is as fresh-faced and eager as the Andrex puppy. Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown is still Gordon who? But Ben is already living in Spain.

I usually tell people that Ben looks like Daniel Craig. He doesn’t really, otherwise he’d be a movie star and not a divorcee with a small bar on the Costa del Sol. Daniel Craig smoulders, Ben doesn’t. I will admit to thinking about Daniel Craig in Layer Cake when writing a couple of gangster scenes but, actually, Ben looks much more like Brian Smith, Director of Rugby at London Irish Rugby Club (pictured). Smithy and I go way back – only in my head, I hasten to add. My six month stint in Sydney in 1991 doing nothing much but playing the piano in a bar in Newtown coincided with Smithy’s brief spiriting away from rugby union to league – its cloth-capped brother.

I say ‘spirited away’ because Smithy was lured to my childhood idols the Balmain Tigers by controversial radio personality and sometime rugby coach Alan Jones. There was talk because Smithy’s installation at half-back (as they say in rugby league), unceremoniously displaced crowd favourite and New Zealand captain, Gary Freeman. Smithy’s career in rugby union had been uneventful save one notable indiscretion in Tonga in which offence was caused to the royal family. They say he never got that drunk again. Failure to achieve selection for the Wallabies led to him being chosen to represent Ireland and he seemed to be doing okay at Lansdowne Road until the Tigers roared.

Ireland’s loss was Balmain’s gain, initially and then only very occasionally. I was a Balmain Tigers fan from childhood until the club ceased to be. There were very few fanciable players at Balmain. Keith Barnes was a hero but looked like my maths teacher. Artie Beetson was a hero but looked like a Christmas pudding. Wayne Pearce - I adore you. I still have your Christmas card but I always saw Ben as fair-headed. Be grateful that I didn’t model Ben on my first rugby league blonde god love, Dennis Tutty who, although breathtakingly handsome,

  • Bore a daft name.
  • Had a disconcerting habit of bursting into prayer at inappropriate moments.
  • Jeopardised our chances of winning the 1969 grand final in a pay dispute – and so didn’t succeed.

Dennis is pants. I was a child when I was in love with him.

Sometimes people just aren’t in the right place. I want Ben to have some of the spark I saw in Brian Smith when he first turned out for the Tigers. And I want it to end well too. Brian Smith seems to have found his spiritual home with London Irish.

Please light candles in the cause of Ben managing on the Costa del Sol. He does have the enormous disadvantage of me being in control of his destiny.

Be oh so very afraid for him.

But consider that at least he doesn't have Alan Jones in charge of his fate.

Picture of the actual real Brian Smith from