Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jimi Fixed It

Another day, another tiresome hand-wringing doom memo from HM Government soothsaying our young people’s lives are being blighted by drugs and alcohol. Novice Home Secretary whom the media have delighted in christening Jacqui Spliff after her admission to smoking ‘cannabis’ (like we so called it that) at university, today announced the largest ever public consultation on ‘tackling drugs’. Brace yourself if you live in Britain because you are about to be asked by the people you are paying to provide these answers what you think needs to be done to get drug dealers off your streets. You get ten points for giving the answer ‘arrest them’.

You’ll also be asked whether you think ‘drug education needs to be expanded’ – whatever that means. Perhaps there could be a Girl Guide badge on offer as there is for ‘practising safe sex’ and ‘assembling flat pack furniture' – no prizes for guessing which of these is the most popular.

‘I want to sharpen our focus, target the most vulnerable and educate the young’ sayeth the Spliffy one adding that she is seeking ‘fresh and constructive ideas’. What? For free? Can we not get a big ‘consultancy' wedge for this Ms Mary-Jane?

Why, oh why are getting all anal about this – again? Young people aren’t daft. They know that all these grown-ups who are trying to take all the fun out of being young, weren’t exactly taking Bible classes between Politics for Dummies 101 and How to be a Total Cunt in Business 101. When they weren’t drinking yards of ale with absinthe chasers, they were scouring the fens for magic mushrooms and trying to remember where the fuck they scattered the dope seeds they bought at Glastonbury. Duh!

Forty years ago (yesterday), on 24th July 1967, an influential group of British artists, scientists, writers and politicians inserted an advertisement in The Times calling for the use of marijuana to be decriminalised. This list included all four of The Beatles (who paid for the ad), Francis Crick – one of the scientists who discovered DNA, eminent philosophers RD Laing and Anthony Storr, artists Davids Hockney and Bailey, politicians as diverse as Jonathan Aitken, Brian Walden and Tom Driberg and many more names that resonate today as pillars of twentieth century cultural life; David Dimbleby, George Melly, Tariq Ali, Graham Greene and Kenneth Tynan. To this day, the law hasn't caught up with the public will to get off its collective face occasionally and the consequence is that criminals have moved in on a very large scale. Subsequently, the marketing has gone way beyond invitations to share a joint whilst listening to Dark Side of the Moon.

Hands up who thinks kids are so daft they can’t work out that people in power have had, like, a fun time in dare yoof, yeah? Who’s going to buy the George Michael method which is not to take any drugs at all until you’re totally famous and too old to look good wasted? You could drive Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster bus through his whole argument. The time to take drugs and mess with your head is when you’re a kid and your brain cells are still regenerating, as any fule kno.

Every day I thank my lucky stars to have come from a generation where our shenanigans went largely unnoticed because our parents were too busy buying into the frenetic ‘heads down, tails up’ work ethic of the sixties and seventies, leaving us kids to do pretty much as we pleased.

And thank Gaultier for Elegantly Dressed Wednesday and the opportunity to celebrate some heroes who dressed fabulously and died young – from drugs! I picked Jimi Hendrix but I could just as easily have gone for Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Gram Parsons or Brian Jones.

Let me make my position clear here – I’m not in favour of the premature death of highly successful artists and, I suspect, neither were they. All of these people drove their caravanserai to the very edge of the world so that they could report back to us what they saw – something so vivid that we will never, ever forget it.

Gaudi bless every mind that was ever blown in the name of art and every velvet morning when a gate was opened up by someone who thought they were straight but were actually still groovin’ on a sunny afternoon…

Monday, July 23, 2007

Il pleut dans mon coeur

And there is no Rimbaud at the end.

No decking of the halls at House of Pants with Buddy Holly either.

Quelle est cette langueur?

Il est le British summer. Arrrrggghhh!

Okay so now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about weather. You will note from the view above taken from a strategic House of Pants turret on Friday, ‘torrential’ rain by which I mean water delivered in very un-British quantities. This is not what we call ‘rain’. This is what we call ‘a holiday in Florida’. You can tell that British people are not used to receiving one month’s worth of rain in one minute by their willingness to wade through streets of untreated effluent without any apparent motive.

House of Pants is, of course, protected by the Thames Barrier so you needn’t worry about the tides rising to carry Barney away. Besides he’s working on learning to fly and has befriended Henry the heron and Colin the cormorant who have promised him that ‘swooping’ is the most fun you can have at forty-five degrees. Carp diem!

Summer, such as it is, also brings a flurry of blogospheric parlour games including ‘memes’ – a kindly person might let me in on the derivation of this term at some stage. What I do know is that they are usually invitations to provide insights about oneself via a list. There are, naturally, rules. Regular readers will be aware that I don’t really do rules. I figure why have a virtual world where there are rules – that has to be the ultimate in pointless self-discipline. Last summer I was invited to reveal seven or eight or ten interesting facts about myself - I can’t remember the exact number now, only that I got to 3b and changed the subject.

Well, it’s rained nearly all summer and last Friday House of Pants received two invitations for the same meme, one from dear friend Reading the Signs and one from new friend Dame Honoria Glossop. The challenge is to reveal eight ‘random’ facts about myself. This is, on the face of it, much easier than disclosing seven or eight or ten ‘interesting’ facts. I therefore disclose as follows:-

1. I often dream about buses.

2. I believe in Tuesdays.

3a. I am versatile with artichokes.

3b. Artichoke pasta is currently my favourite dish.

You know the rest.

As I pointed out to her Dameship Glossop, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is the new Theory of General Relativity, so there is no need to nominate further. Everyone who is going to be tagged has been so blessed.

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s'écoeure.

If you will excuse me I must return to pondering the origin of my discontent. I feel a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc coming on …

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Evidently Distressed Wednesday

Wouldn’t you know it? I’ve finally got all the onerous administrative details relating to the passage of Barney, my hypoallergenic owly-cat (cat-owl cross) to Australia and convinced Barney that he would be better off with someone like me, who has always accepted him for the freak, I mean unique individual that he is, than take his chances scavenging from his hideout in the loft. Believe me I’ve more rewarding tasks parked in the in-tray. 

Now, Barney is having second thoughts. More about that in a minute.The original sticking point, you may recall, was that the Department for Animals and Furry Things (DAFT) and I couldn’t agree on a classification for Barney and he faced a possible six years in quarantine. I solved that problem by having him reclassified as an Interactive Bagpuss in which case I only need an export/import licence. Barney did not take the ‘bad’ news that he would have to carry my pyjamas for the duration of the flight well but grudgingly accepted my assurances of a ‘better life’. My only other obligation is to sign a declaration that I will not commercially reproduce him. As if.

It was no mean feat talking the stubborn bugger around. He embodies all the worst qualities of a cat (sleeping through my entire, meticulously constructed arguments) with those of an owl (not giving a hoot about anyone but himself). As it turns out, I won him over by appealing to those very qualities and by, well, several audacious lies. You see, I have ‘explained’ to Barney that Australia is full of hybrids like himself and that they are so common there’s even a name for them. We call them Marsupials. He was anxious to discover the etymology of the name which had me kind of stumped until I came up with this flash of brilliance. ‘It’s an Aboriginal word meaning belongs here.’ I had to look away as his peculiarly glacial eyes misted over. Needs must.

Barney, being no one’s fool, demanded some proof – cat curiosity mixed with owl cynicism. What can you do? But I’m used to his foibles and machinations now so I was ready for him. Reaching for my trusty copy of Life of Marsupials, I opened it at the page marked Wombat. ‘The wombat’, I explained authoritatively, ‘is a Womble crossed with a bat.’ Well, The Wombles of Wimbledon is one of Barney’s favourite TV shows and, although he maintains a healthy distrust of bats, as do we all, he firmly believes that creatures of the night owe each other solidarity at least. I further regaled him with tales of the kookaburra – an animal that cooks its own food underground and the wallaby – an ambitious mix of walrus and honey bee. By the end of this seminar, Barney was searching the sewing basket for a suitable zip for his stomach.

Then, disaster. It was probably a bad idea to encourage Barney to go online to further research his new home but, frankly, the constant interrogation was all getting a bit much. Unfortunately, on one of his forays, Barney came across an article in the Sydney Morning Herald reporting that the city council has advised citizens to keep a survival pack which it has dubbed a Go Bag in permanent readiness should a state of emergency suddenly occur.

I tried to reassure Barney that ‘a state of emergency’ in Sydney is when you find yourself stranded in a street without a decent cappuccino outlet but the damage had been done. Worst of all was the advice that you should ‘carry your cat in a pillow case’. I’m afraid now all my hard work has been undone. I am bracing myself for the eventuality of having to carry my own pyjamas on the long, lonely journey…

Pic of GoBag from Sydney Morning Herald Rag

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pretty Vacant

I am not in the habit of looking at job adverts. You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I finished a very short contract that I undertook for the purposes of hearing the reassuring sound of clinking in the House of Pants kitty. I liked the job well enough. It amused me to rattle around in an old town hall and listen to earnest people blather on about step changes and achievable outcomes. What really made it worthwhile, apart from being able to afford slightly better wine and a new pair of impeccably sensible shoes was that for an entire week after I finished it, I basked in the joy of not having to go. You become inured to the blissful state of joblessness after a certain length of time and I find it helps to dip your toe into the mire of misery every now and then in order to appreciate this extraordinary state of grace.

I therefore cannot explain what I was doing poking about in the Society section of one’s adored Guardian last Wednesday where I discovered this continuing source of mirth in a little column entitled Jobs of the week. It begins,

A versatile team player is required by Lambeth council to fill the position of area manager, team around the child.

That does sound like jolly fun, although possibly not for the child being surrounded and the salary? A very respectable £65K top whack. Naturally I read on to ascertain if in any way I could be suitable for this post. I am, after all, the very essence of versatility and would only have to do it for about six and a half minutes in order to eat for the remainder of the year. But what would I have to do, exactly?

Focusing on the early identification of need in line with the Common Assessment Framework, it calls for a mix of strategy, partnership working and commissioning.

Happily I have an NVQ in Bureaucrese so I can tell you this means – fill out a couple of forms (2 mins), talk to a few people (two mins), and buy some things (2 ½ mins – extra half a minute required as there are often long queues in The Early Learning Centre these days). So we’ve established I could do the job but do I fit the person spec?

The successful candidate will have proven skills around inter-agency working as well as substantial knowledge of the issues surrounding the Every Child Matters policy and Change for Children Programme.

I happen to know quite a bit about these initiatives. Every Child Matters is our ongoing national penance for the horrific death of a little girl at the hands of a relative who was entrusted with her care. Rather than see this vile event for the mercifully rare anomaly that it was and be content with punishing the murderous relatives and negligent social workers, Government decided that the appropriate response would be a permanent state of paranoia about child safety.

It was around this time that the term ‘looked after children’ entered the local government lexicon. For a while I was asking everyone ‘why are we worried about these children. Shouldn’t we be more concerned with children who aren’t being looked after?’ I eventually twigged that ‘looked after children’ was a euphemism for ‘children in care homes’. You live and learn.

The Change for Children Programme is, I think, a very good idea. You give children all your small change when they are very young. You don’t miss it and they have something to play online poker with which keeps them off the streets. By the time they are adolescents they have plenty of change so do not need to sit in front of cash machines with dogs on bits of string asking complete strangers, ‘got any spare change?’ Everyone benefits.

I think this will be six and a half minutes well spent. If you’ll excuse me, I must go look for my CV…

Pic from

Thursday, July 12, 2007

It'll end in tears

There was a time when I was fairly bristling with blog topics but these days, I can barely think of something for Elegantly Dressed Wednesday. This morning I woke up and remembered that I had been to the Surreal Things exhibition at the V&A a couple of weeks ago. Why had I not written about that I asked myself. Myself had no decent response. I was as stumped as Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown at Prime Minister’s question time. In fact, if I’d had a ginormous sheaf of papers about my person, I would have shuffled them obsessively and wondered how I’d ever got a job like this. Then I remembered that I hadn’t got a job and so there was no excuse whatever for failing to think.

This is one of the wonderful Elsa Schiaparelli dresses on show. It’s called The Tear Illusion Dress and was one of her collaborations with Salvador Dalí dating from 1938. As well as making dresses out of imaginary tears, Schiaparelli also made them out of monkeys – not one of her more endearing activities. It’s a wonderful exhibition with lots of soft, funny, intriguing and daft things in it. I even bought something. I bought a pair of Miró cushion covers and some Magritte fridge magnets. The cushion covers remind me on a daily basis that the world is not necessarily as boring as it looks. As long as you also remember to stay out of ASDA and visit Paris every once in a while, you can enjoy reasonably decent mental health.

Since I finished that last little job two weeks ago today I’ve been able to think of little else but how great it is not to have to go to work. I would have made a very good surrealist I think or member of the shabby aristocracy. Then Wimbledon was on and I could only think about how much fun it would have been to be a tennis pro. I love playing tennis but I don’t like collecting the balls which is what I have to do a lot of when I play my friend Carole. Carole only has two shots – winner and straight into the net. I know the whole point is to win but it’s also nice to get a ball in play occasionally. It’s not very sporting of me but I like tennis lessons far more than I like games. Tennis teachers tend to be quite good at returning the ball and you get to hit at least fifty of them before you have to go collecting and even then, there’s a big basket with a hole in the bottom of it that saves you from bending down and picking them up. I’m not very good at that trick where you flick balls up between the racquet and foot.

It’s only this week, after all the strawberries and cream and champagne had worked its way through my system that I got some order back into my routine. There were onerous accounting duties to complete which I endured stoically. Around this time of year John the mild-mannered accountant turns into John the sheep drover. I start to receive warnings about the October deadline for my accounts at the beginning of June, at which point there are about 200,000 minutes left in the countdown. I figure I’ll only need around 400 of those minutes to complete the accounts so what’s the rush but John insists that leaving it to 'the last minute' would be a disaster so we have leeway of about 196,000 minutes. Sounds like a safe margin to me.

The last time we spoke of Ben Webster, the hero of my novel now in its fourth triumphant draft, I believe I had just shot him. Like Ibsen, I had set myself on a course where I could do nothing else. I had shown a gun so I had no choice but to use it on someone important. I’d previously shot two minor characters which clearly was not going to satisfy the rigours of serious drama so Ben bought it. At present though he’s learning to love again after his painful divorce and move to Spain. He’s getting neon signs made, meeting gangsters and drinking with bullfighters. You don’t need Hemingway in a Schiaparelli dress to tell you that it won’t end well.

You may have read today that Sebastian Faulks has become the latest Bond author. The Ian Fleming estate has commissioned a steady series of writers to carry on the money-making tradition of the Bond franchise since its patron’s rather selfish demise. Why should authors’ deaths mean no more lolly for their lazy relations? JK Rowling – let this be a cautionary tale. Mostly the brief has been to stick to the tried and tested format – an impeccably attired Bond drinks a lot, fucks a lot and kills a lot and never misses cocktail hour. Easy enough you’d think but Kingsley Amis, whose writing and drinking habits were almost parallel to Fleming’s missed martini time with his attempt Colonel Sun.

More recently Charlie Higson slammed like tequila with his adolescent Bond books. Even though I have plenty to do, I would like to offer a proposition to the Ian Fleming Estate. Since I am now very good at shooting people on the page and strictly observing G&T time, I would like to put myself forward to author the post sex-change Bond. Oh yes, didn’t anyone tell you? ‘She’ is now Jasmine Bondi, proprietor of a small surf shop at the dodgy end of Bondi Beach. You know how it will end…

Surreal Things is on at the Victoria & Albert Museum until 22nd July.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Diamonds are a ghoul's best friend

It was my intention to publish this post yesterday for Elegantly Dressed Wednesday but I got caught up in Wimbledon, as one does at this time of year and spent most of the day as an art installation myself. I call it ‘couch potato’ and it is for sale on e-Bay. The highest bid at the moment is 13p so I don’t expect to be receiving a phone call from Charles Saatchi anytime soon. We can either pretend it’s still Wednesday or make an effort to extend elegance to Thursday – it’s up to you.

A couple of weeks ago Mr T and I booked places in a bleak corner of London’s White Cube Gallery - a mini black hole in a suspended universe behind one’s bustling Piccadilly if you will - and spent our allotted cinque minutes ordinairre staring starkly and star-struck at the most expensive piece of art ever made. I mean expensive in the sense that the cost of raw materials expended to create The Love of God by Damien Hirst exceeds by far that of any other. This is the singularly most heavily resourced bony-fide object d’art ever.

I have to tell you it is magnificent.

Shoot me. I deserve to be shot for admiring such a thing, but it is breathtakingly beautiful. Diamonds are magical even when you have only one modest one as I have. Mine is just about the same size as one of the 8,601 ‘ethically-sourced’ pavé-set stones encrusting this nineteenth century junk-shop skull. My little diamond is ethically-sourced too. I bought it in an antique market in Lewes.

The centrepiece of Hirst’s current show, Beyond Belief, For the Love of God, places us at the very cusp of beauty and ugliness. It’s sort of like looking in the mirror on a good hair day. On the blurb we received with our free ticket, it is described as a ‘Momento Mori – an object that addresses the transience of human existence’. Art critic Rudi Fuchs offers this insight,

It proclaims victory over decay. At the same time, it represents death as something infinitely more relentless. Compared to the tearful sadness of a vanitas scene, the diamond skull is glory itself.’

The statement reminds us that diamonds in this volume and context can’t help but dominate mortality – ethically-sourced or not. In many ways it is an art statement big enough to prompt thoughts about the meaning of life. Mr T and I made the mistake of having a very large mojito each directly after seeing the exhibition so talk of all things fleeting and regrettable was virtually inevitable.

It is strange to be in a darkened room with a dozen other people just inches away from something smaller than one’s head but worth the same as 200 London flats. I started to think about other grand artistic gestures. If Christo and Jeanne-Claude for example were ever to consider recreating their famous Valley Curtain in the most expensive shoes ever made to date, (just an idea) – that would be the Manolo Blahnik alligator boot at US$14,000 – over the 400m span of their original Colorado Rocky Mountain site, the raw materials cost would still only come in at $US28million. Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? Could they guarantee that all 2,000 pairs of those Manolo Blahnik’s would be ethically sourced? I emphasise that this is just speculation on my part and no reflection on the moral character of Blahnik or Christo or Jeanne-Claude.

As usual, I’ve strayed far from the topic. The rest of the exhibition is fun too. I like Damien Hirst. He’s more of an art industry than a single artist, and he employs a lot of other artists which is more than most people are willing to do because they tend to smell of linseed oil and wear paint-spattered shoes.

Hirst already holds the record for the most expensive work sold by a living artist. Last month an anonymous buyer paid US$19m for Lullaby Spring, a pill cabinet. I also sold a pill cabinet recently but I only got around US$500,000 for mine. I bet Lullaby Spring didn’t come wrapped in a fully functional flat!

For the Love of God is likely to achieve somewhere in the region of US$100m when eventually sold. Mooted as possible buyers are George Michael and Kenny Goss who already own an art collection worth around US$200m. They were recently given a private viewing and Goss was apparently beside himself with excitement when he told a rep, ‘I got to hold the skull!’ No wonder George spends so much time on Hampstead Heath. It’s nice to see there appears to be no lingering animosity between Hirst and the habitually disoriented pop icon. It is rumoured that George was interested in Lullaby Spring but was refused a private viewing as Hirst thought he might help himself. It’s Kenny who’s the expert. George apparently can’t distinguish between art and medication.

Will For the Love of God bring Hirst immortality? Probably. No one’s ever going to paint over this baby. The downside may be that the mists of time might erode his name and future generations may know him only as that diamond geezer. Will he mind? I think not…

For the Love of God by Damien Hirst is showing at the White Cube Gallery, Mason's Yard, London, W1 until 7th July. Entry is free but you have to book.