Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Musical Recommendation of The Week:
Wastin' Time - Ron Sexsmith


I read a review in the Sunday papers that described the film Big River Man ‘as if Werner Herzog had made Borat’ and went straight out to see it.
The documentary follows Martin Strel, a huge Slovenian who swam the entire length of the Amazon - from Peru to the Brazilian coast: 3,375 miles in 66 days - that’s longer than the width of the Atlantic - & he goes completely stark, raving psycho in the process.

In the headwaters terrifies some of the riverine tribes , who won't let Strel stay with them, fearing he is an evil pistachio - and this before his son Borat [really]
makes him a hideous white mask to protect him from sunburn, which makes him look like the The Elephant Man doing the crawl. The incredibly honest, loving, exasperated commentary is voiced by Borat who acts as his father’s manager, publicist & nanny-minder. We lean that the Amazon is not the first river Martin Strel has swum; he has already done the Danube, the Yangtze & the Mississippi. His vague motive for the Amazon swim was, in Strel’s words, " for peace, friendship & clean waters." although the film also reveals that lurking below the water level there is a deep psychological drive, as swimming was the only effective way Strel as a boy, had to escape his violent, drunken father.
What’s also revealed is that Martin Strel is himself a drunk; tortured by his inability to swim away from himself, exhausted by the miles of river, but unable to cope with life back on land, he ends up putting electric clamps on his goose-larded head, unable to speak.
Big River Man is funny, sad & without saying much about ecology, paints a horrifying picture our destruction of the Amazon with shots of vast swathes of burning jungle as loggers seek out a single mahogany tree to satisfy our craving for chic dining room furniture.

Martin Strel ends up a mess and the adventure is a personal disaster for him, he ends up a mess, but the incredible accomplishment makes one thrilled witness and also succeeds in making one think long and hard about the larger mess the
planet is in.
It strikes me that really, the only way any of it is going to stop is with the death of a large majority of the human race. Here we are, at the beginning
of the end of a civilization that we hasten by storing all our information on machines that will no longer be accessible when electricity grids grind to a halt. Such critical times and yet nothing at all seems to happen on a civic level & therefore I am steeping up & taking over. Someone has to do it.

In London, just for starters, anyone with a paved-over drive
should immediately dig it up & turf or gravel it to allow rain to enter the soil. We all need to limit our meat eating to once a week, and bicycles should be compulsorily if our work is within five miles of our homes…
The talking heads in the press are constantly coming a
t it from the wrong angle.
A typical example: in a recent article in The Times, brainbox Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford writing about a possible interplantary trainwreck, concluded by saying, ‘but before we abandon ship, the simulations show that it will take several billion years before Mercury might start to misbehave. For the time being, human interaction and not Mercury poses the most serious threat to the planet’s survival.'
[pictured above right, Prof Marcus Du Sautoy. Much to admire, aside from his wardrobe]
What the hell is he on about? 'The Planet’s survival'?
Why do people keep saying the planet is in danger?
The planet is inert, it doesn’t give a shit, it’ll just adjust to no ozone, more carbon or whatever.
It is not in danger [unless Mercury comes at it like a billiard ball} it is man who is in danger. We are facing the end of humanity & frankly we probably deserve to go.
Give moss a chance, I say.

I think I’m in this apocalyptic mood because I have RSI in my thumb from the way I use my computer & yet, guess what, I cannot goddamn well stop myself from using it. If I can't even control my thumb, what hope is there for the rest of my behaviour? was my birthday last week, a significant birthday, the anticipation of which had the occasional power to bring me (absurdly) to the brink of tears. It felt like I was strapped into a plunging funfair ride, hair streaming out behind, mouth open in a silent scream, heading for the hell of decrepitude.
In moments of calm - when my the G-force of my dread briefly stopped squishing my brain against the back of my skull like a sherry trifle - I assessed my life to date and found a minute scattering of achievements, victories - mostly Pyrrhic; the mistakes calamitous. In all this existential gloom the only things I feel remotely proud of are my two children. Having succumbed to my genetic pre-programming to procreate,
these poor darlings have reached young adulthood in a world of filth, poverty, corruption, Ricky Gervaise as a bone fide Hollywood movie star and the threat of another world war fought between two opposing ideologies based on identical superstitions.
While waiting for the end of life as we know it, I will lard my head with goose fat, attach electrical clamps & distract myself by heading to the Intelligence Squared interview with Werner Herzog at the Royal Festival Hall this weekend, where we are promised he will ‘explain why a real man should know how to milk cows & why chickens are such hateful animals’. One of Big River Man's many highlights is Martin Strel explaining that Slovenia is shaped like a chicken..... Poor chickens, we've bred them so they can't do what birds are designed to do & we keep them in gulags where they stand in so much of their own shit that the ammonia burns their feet and now we hate them for it...

Oh pass me the happy pills someone.....


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Prestat Chocolate Review No. 8
The Mint Box gave Prestat the royal warrant of the Queen Mother when she commissioned it for her 100th birthday. Gorging on mints from this elegant (mint) green box was an exciting departure for a woman who had spent the previous 84 years on an exclusive diet of gin & Dubonnet.

The box contains Mint Crunches: gleaming brown diamonds, Bitter Mints, that have the sharpness of snorting toothpaste, but no real bitterness, thankfully. The Mint Fondants:
topped with a violet & angelica that I accidentally finished without my analytical faculties to the fore, but probably means they are delicious… I left the Coffee Mints to last as they are white chocolate & I’m not a huge fan, but wait up! The Coffee Mints turn out to be the secret queens of the selection. It reminded me of the time, lying on the deck of Dado Ruspoli’s yacht in Monaco - and blinded by sunshine - I took what I thought was a bite of sorbet, and only when the giggles reached a crescendo of excitement did I realize it was Grace Kelly’s left breast in my mouth.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Musical Recommendation of The Week:
A Place Called Home - Kim Richey

Rumpelstiltskin, Strange Twins, Woodland Creatures & Nightcrawlers......My Life In Snapshot. It's A Goddamn Fairytale

To the Charles Ledray show in a disused fire station in Chiltern Street, Marylebone. It’s a strange little area, full of tailors, wedding shops and a Long Tall Sally shop selling Amazonian clothes & shoes large enough to accommodate a Viking raiding party. The surrounding shops compliment the Ledray show, which consists of just 3 pieces: the first, a tailor shop with a dummy displaying a gentleman’s jacket and on a nearby table, a fan of ties. Everything is handmade, doll-sized & under ceilings that are 2 foot off the ground, so you have to crouch down to see the charming, Rumpelstiltskin madness below.
The second piece is like a charity shop, with a circular rack of Hawaiian shirt on tiny hangers & tables of old t-shirts & jumpers. The last, is what it might look like in the backroom of that charity shop, with tiny, bulging dustbin bags in shopping trolleys beside an ironing board piled with jumble.
Everything is exquisitely made and has a weird poignancy. We seem so big beside these things & yet they manage to remind us that we are by any reckoning, very small. When it comes to how far we stick out from earth, even the tallest basketball players aren’t even as prominent as peach fuzz.
I took my daughter, who is about to start her first term at London College of Fashion and we spent ages peering at these scenes in their three pools of light in an otherwise shadowy, empty room. Empty that is, until John Waters walked in wearing his marvelous coal black Errol Flynn moustache & then we had four things to inspect.
[Show ends Sept 30th]

Wanting to clear some life clutter, I decided to hire a stall at Portobello for the first time.
I got there at 5am, to find that I was an hour early, so I sat in my car watching the dawn break and the market team build the metal frames that, by 9am, are all shops. The upside of arriving too early was a prime spot, but all the regulars were muttering it was going to be a bad day because of Fashion Week. It was indeed a bad day and I only sold a few things, spending the rest of my time people-watching. The only fashionista to break ranks with the round of shows and come our way was Barbara Hulanicki of Biba fame. I had a Biba shirt hanging at the front of my stall & for one excited moment thought she might stop buy it – I mean, fashion designers can’t possibly remember everything they’ve ever made, but presumably they admire their own taste.... The highlight of my day was a double twin spotting. One identical pair walked by wearing the same striped shirts, although one was red/white & the other blue/white. Two minutes later, another pair passed, this time one had cut her hair short. I wanted to yell, ‘Have you see the other pair yet!?’ Are twins as interested by other twins as I am? Do they acknowledge each other when they meet - or are other twins just the norm & their fascination lies in us the single egg folk? Twins have been a gentle obsession for most of my life, but things got stoked in my teens by two court cases that made it into the national press. The first was a set of teenage twins from Cardiff who were done for arson. They spoke their own private language & insisted on being in the witness box together. One twin spoke of how claustrophobic their lives were & not long after, the dominant twin said she thought it was better if she died, which she then did.
The other court case was of twins stalking a hapless neighbour they felt they loved, but soon began to hate. They were exactly like how you would expect Clara & Clarice of Gormenghast to look. They spoke as one, in a strange
droning harmony. In order to dress identically every day, if outfits differed in anyway - for example different buttons - they would cut off them all off & share them out again so they both had them alternating. Even if someone gave them a gift of two different coloured soaps they would hack them in half and cram the opposing halves together to satisfy their hysteria for parity. Riveting stuff.

Doing the maths at the end of the day at Portobello, I worked out that after expenses, in a twelve hour day I had made a sum total of £3, which even by my capacity for low earning was going it some. I tried to work out what that meant as an hourly rate & then fell into bed at 9.

Tom, our choirmaster had booked us to sing at a miniature festival called Summer Sunset in Berkshire. Set in a beautiful woodland glade at Wasing Park, we arrived to find a mass of green-faced revelers dressed as woodland creatures, lying in heaps of day-after-the-night-before unwellness.
Our choir is not remotely professional – we do it for fun, & very
occasionally, we don’t even have fun; motly we do. It is made up of artists, actors, a doctor, a chef and a nutritionist. There was slight disquiet among the sopranos when we discovered Sinead, a lawyer [& unbeknownst to her] our lead soprano, was stuck in bed with flu. Luckily though, handsome Rupert our [unbeknownst to him] choir mascot was in attendance, but everything was in the balance. As singers we are very up and down & so today it was possible we were going to make grown men, weep, but it was equally possible they were going to throw their shoes at us.
Before we went onstage, Tom took us off to run through the two songs we struggle with: Lovecats & Bare Necessities. We failed to nail either & an attempt by one of the sopranos [me] to get them knocked off our setlist was dismissed. Ten minutes later, we lined up & sung our hearts out to an audience of seventy hung-over people. Life On Mars - not always a good one - worked fantastically, as did Hallelujah & I’ll Fly Away; then we massacred Lovecats & Bare Necessities.

A distinctly odd day.
To fully explain it, let the scene go blurry as I
guide you back through time to 1986…when I flew to Spain for the weekend to join my brother who was staying at the house of a well known Catalan sculptor. It was the 50th anniversary of the Civil War and I arrived thinking, very foolishly, there were going to be merry public celebrations. The sculptor's home, in a suburb of Barcelona, consisted of half a dozen small farm buildings that had been converted to bedrooms, living spaces and art studios.
There were various other guests, but it was hard to tell who or how many, although my brother had a few friends there including, one of his old schoolfriends, who I had never liked, but the living spaces were so scattered, it was easy to avoid people.

My room was at the far end of a huge studio containing lines of plan chests and scupting scaffolds. The bed was behind a glass wall, up a few steps on a raised platform at the far end of the room, all quite 60s.
In describing this room I realise the layout is very similiar to where I work now
, on a little platform hived off the back of a photographer’s studio, - although the proportions are smaller & the wall is solid not glass.

On the last night of the weekend the weather broke and the wind started to howl in from the sea. I lay in bed reading Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer, a murder mystery in which the protaganist wakes up after a night of boozing to find his Porsche blood-soaked & a decapitated head nearby.
I turned out the light feeling spooked and listened to the branches of a tree being dashed against the courtyard wall outside the bedroom.

Then I thought I heard a tiny noise inside the studio, at the far end. I peered into the dark. Was there a denser bit of darkness in the general darkness? I stared harder, but could hear nothing over for the wind. I kept staring into the studio thinking something was there. I wanted to turn the light on the but the lamp was a good stretch from the bed & I started freaking myself out that a decapitater's axe would crash down on my outstretched arm. I went on staring and listening, until I realised I had spent the better part of 20 minutes like this & it was getting ridiculous. I really had to
get over this Mailer-induced dread & sleep . I leaned out of the bed, switched the light on & there on the steps at the edge of the platform was a naked man.
There had been a denser black in the blackness. It was the schoolfriend. I had been staring at him creeping incrementally across the studio towards me.
‘Whatthefuckareyoudoing?’ I shrieked.
‘I’ve come to join you.' he said, now crouching down against the steps to hide himself.
' Getthefuck out of my room’ 'GettheFUCK out of my room’
‘Getthefuck OUT of my room’ Thankfully he slunk away. What kind of guy tries it on with a girl - who has shown absolutely no interest - by taking off all his clothes edging silently towards them in the dark? Afterwards I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t been reading Mailer and had fallen asleep: he would have made it to my bed. Would he have raped me? If I had screamed for help would anyone have heard me? Had he raped anyone else?

When I got home to my bonsai flat in London, it had ceased to my haven; it felt like a wallpapered trap. I no longer slept in my bed, but on the sofa with all the lights on. I was wakeful most nights, listening. Sometimes I’d drink half a bottle of vodka before I could get my eyes to close. Weeks, turned into months and by the end of the year I put the flat up for sale & moved somewhere I could afford more than bedroom; I was a wreck living alone.
Years went by and I saw the schoolfriend on maybe three occasions: once across a crowded seminar, once at a party and once most oddly, deep in the Oxfordshire county.

I was driving along a narrow lane when another car appeared from the opposite direction, we slowed down to pass one another & as we drew level, I saw that it was him. On no occasion did we speak.

On Monday I drove to work, opened the door to the photographer’s studio and there was the schoolfriend, sitting in a chair. We recognised each other instantly. I passed him without speaking and went to my studio. All day long I could hear him talking to the photographer. All day long I wondered what to do.
Three sightings across 20 years & and nothing ever said.
In the afternoon, I could hear them discussing what they were going to do the following day & realised that this fouth time, I
finally had to do something. I told myself that courage lies solely in the hands of the alarmed & then stepped out of my studio and said as calmly as I could, ‘By the way, what you did to me had a massive impact on my life that went on for years and years, all of it entirely negative. The thought of breathing the same air as you again tomorrow fills me revulsion.’
He sat there staring at me, saying nothing and then I left.
I walked down the corridor feeling very emotional, my hands were shaking, but by the time I reached my car, I felt goooood.


The photographer rang me late last night, saying the schoolfriend had told him he couldn’t come back in. Annoyingly, I had to stay away from the studio today because the photographer can't be the fall guy & lose the job over something that has nothing to do with him.
With an enforced day off I decided to wash that sleazeball outta my hair & take up the offer
of M&M Management to experience hairdresser Paul Edmond's new UPR protein treatment brought here from Iran where, beneath their veils they have great glossy mains. I read somewhere that absolutely every adult Iranian, male & female wax their entire bodies. Whenever I look at Ahmedinajad fulminating on the news about the West, I can't help thinking that below that hairy chin of his he's as hairless as a spoon.
I then took my newly glossy mane to the first screening of my friend Bernard’s biopic Mr Nice, about drug dealer Howard Marks who is acted by Rhys Ifans.
I have sworn omerta until it is released.......& that's yr average four day in the life of a
writer, artist, insomniac single mother: Brent brigade [militant wing]

Stop Press. Word is that twins are joining the choir tomorrow; tenors apparently [& unbeknowst to them, our lab specimens for minute study].
Prestat Chocolate Review No. 7
Milk Sea Salt Caramel Cup
I don’t know what wacked out genius came up with the idea of adding sea salt to chocolate but he stumbled across something almost…sacred.
The tang is

These are FANTASTIC: up there with violet & rose cremes, up there,..yes even with the lime chilli.
Eating the Sea Salt Caramel Cup reminds me of the time a bit a chunk out of Rowan Williams's ankle when I tumbled off my hassock after the communion wine. Although the Archbish was bleeding quite heavily, he took it in his stride assuming it was a moment of religious ecstasy.

Prestat also do a Sea Salt Truffle, but I daren’t talk about it now, lest they think I’m reviewing it & don’t send me any.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Musical Recommendation of the Week:
You're No Good - Betty Everett

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Like A Scooter Outta Hell - Hello

The Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, Israel's Security Fence, The Congestion Charge, they're all walls that divide people, although only the Congestion Charge is conceptual rather than concrete. Like a Mongol, an East German or a Palestinian, I live on the wrong side; the outside. Should I cross the line forgetting to pay my £8 outsider levy (which I've done a sickening amount of times) there's a whacking great £50 fine for the impertinence.

In 2008, Mayor Boris announced he would rescind the western extension of the Congestion Zone, which would make my life easier as my work is currently just inside this inner city sanctum. For some reason ‘the earliest it can be removed is 2010’. There must be equivalence to Murphy's Law going on that unpleasant things like price hikes can be introduced overnight, but if it’s something involving people paying less, it takes two years.

For some reason the leader of Transport for London have agreed that motorbikes and scooters have magical powers. Like a trebuchet at the Great Wall, or a pole vault at the Security Fence, [pictured] anyone on two wheels is allowed free egress. that my children move around with independence, I have decided to return to biking.

About twelve years ago I owned a motorbike, but it was ridiculous: my children were not only too little, but there were two of them and besides, the bike was far too powerful for my skills and I frequently frightened myself.

My plan is to buy a scooter, but feeling too rusty to just jump on one and weave off into the traffic, I booked myself into a short ‘proficiency certificate’ top-up course.

On Friday, as I looked around at the other people filling out forms in the scruffy office on an industrial estate near Wembley, I realised that the real joy of an excercise like this is not relearning all the defensive tactics of city driving, but being thrown together with a bunch of strangers, sharing a single purpose, for a finite period of time. The best thing about strangers is tht they are often pleasingly strange. I was aware that I too was not short of my own mental health issues. Last week, I had spent most evenings playing furious games of Snatch, an aggressive anagram tile game in which you nick your opponents' words by adding a letter to form a new word.

I still had anagrams on the brain when I was introduced to the little group of fellow bikers. there was Peter, an IT trainer, or, as he was to me: Peter-Pester-Repeats-Separate-Parakeets. There was Craig, a gardener who was a T short of Tragic and Enzo, an Italian model who would be mine if only there was an N to convert him to Dozen. I calmed down when I met to ConcepciĆ³n, a Filipina midwife, because that name wasn’t going anywhere. Arriving late, wearing a rainbow knit and looking as if he’d slept in a dumpster was Mervin, an urban druid type who whispered to me he was funding this course from the proceeds of hydroponically grown sensemilla growing in his mother’s attic.

The first hour was spent just re-acclimatizing ourselves to starting and more importantly, the art of stopping. I don’t know what had happened to Concepion in her non-biking years, but handling all those newborn babies had played havoc with her sense of balance. She had lost all hand-to-handlebar co-ordination and after tumbling into the tyre barriers for the 10th time, gave up and left.

The rest of our party was deemed sufficiently competent to take to the highway and follow our trainer, Reg-Rage-Grate-Target into central London. We zapped across the Congestion Zone border like Steve MacQueen in The Great Escape and went round Trafalgar Square one-way system a couple of times, passing the Anthony Gormley project on the fourth plinth as we did. As an excercise in 'people art' it is a curious thing. Every time I've seen someone having their hour up there they look a bit awkward and well, gormless. Rather than looking like voluntary living sculptures, they have an air of undergoing a punishment of gentle public embarrassment.

We returned to Wembley without incident, apart from temporarily losing
Pester while crossing Hyde Park. After lunch we set out again, and again Pester became detached from the party. We parked up by a hot dog van and grabbed something to drink while waited for him to catch up. Mervin, who seemed to see cosmic significance in almost everything, was telling me how he’d been stung on the neck by a bee as we crossed Oxford Street, having just passed a van with Honeydale Laundry on it. He interrupted his story to gasp delightedly, ‘Look man! A pigeon!’ As if he'd just spotted a bird of paradise.

By early evening we were ready to run through a quick solo test for our proficiency certificates and drew straws for the order we rode. Pester went first and came back looking glum. He had gone the wrong way down a one-way street. Tragic and Dozen and I all passed and then it was Mervin’s turn. He came back fuming, tearing off his helmet and threwing it on the ground. ‘That Reg is a fascist! He failed me! There was a frog in the road! I put my indicator to overtake it and then I forgot to turn it off. I was freaked man – you don’t kill frogs!' London is many things, but what it isn't is frog-filled. It was probably a leaf.

We bid each other goodbye and I headed off for another evening of Snatch never expecting to see any of them again, but to my amazement, the next day, in a completely different part of town, I saw Mervin mooching along in some sort of cape. I was on the opposite side of the road buy food at a farmers' market, but excited by such a chance encounter I put down my purchases and hollered at him. As I did, my tongue was ambushed by my Snatch hangover. Instead of ‘Mervin!’ To my horror, out burst, ‘Vermin!’ at full volume and I had to crouch behind a cheese stall until I was sure he had gone away. It all felt suddenly so Gormley plinth.

Prestat Chocolate Review No. 6

Rose Ganache this week. The exotic flavours of rose etc originated in Damascus and was brought back here by crusaders. One can read about the dangerous ecstasies of this sweet can elicit in the Newstead Abbey scrolls on display in the V&A. In the end the monks decided the effects were to powerful for the average Joe and withheld the recipe for hundreds of years. It only came back into general usage when a Syrian chef happened to be employed by Nell Gwynn.

It chocolate square with a crystal rose shard topping, inside is ganache, which is like smooth cake mix before it goes into the oven. I’ve never understood why people cook cakes, it ruins them.

Oh my God! I’ve just eaten one, they are UnBELIEVAble! My knees nearly gave way with joy - reminding of the time I fell to the ground with Rutger Hauer’s shapely calf between my teeth. [We were listening to the climax of Norma in a Cuban graveyard and I had grown overwrought]