Art, books, travel

A man can lose himself in London

I have always loved London.  Although born and brought up in Nottinghamshire, from an early age I have always felt engaged with our capital.  As a boy my parents regularly took my brother and me on day trips to London, sometimes to site-see and other times to visit shops.  A treat for me was being dropped off at Hamley’s toy shop on Regent Street where I would happily spend hours exploring its seven floors of fun.  As I grew older my taste in toys would develop with me as Action Man was pushed aside in favour of Subbuteo Football and all its many accessories.  A highlight was in 1975 when my brother won a drawing competition and the prize was £60.00 worth of Hamley’s vouchers.  In 1975, £60.00 was a lot of money even split 50/50 between us.

In the late 1980s old school friends would move to London which gave my more grown- up self opportunities to savour the city’s pubs and clubs as well as attending the odd party.  I once went on a football coach run by Nott’s County FC to see them play Millwall and recall the excitement in me just from seeing that change in architecture so unique to London; the brown bricks and white window frames, buildings piled on top of buildings and that instantly recognisable character, the Londoner.

I support a London football team – Tottenham Hotspur and my favourite band, Saint Etienne, are from London too.  London never lets you down, it is loyal, it is faithful, it always has something to offer.  And so, on Wednesday June 13th, I set off on the train from Preston to arrive in London Euston at 12:33.

First stop, The London Review Cafe.

I have three favourite shops in the UK; Rough Trade in Nottingham, Oi Polloi in Manchester and The London Review Bookshop set in Bloomsbury in London.  I cannot  visit London without paying a visit to the LRB bookshop and its cafe which is the only place I know selling palatable vegan food.

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The book shop is on the right, the cafe is on the left.  The menu is small and light, the food is reliably excellent, the selection of teas perfect.  There is an opening between the cafe and bookshop so you can easily walk between the two.  From the book shop I bought a couple  – Transit by Rachel Cusk and Yalo by Elias Khoury.

Next, a short walk to The British Museum for The Rodin and the art of Ancient Greece exhibition.  I have memories of visiting the Tutenkhamoun exhibition here in 1972 only to arrive with my family without booking a ticket and turning back on seeing the queue snake all around the forecourt, through the gate and around the iron railings surrounding the museum.  No such problems this time, just a short wait to have my ruck-sack scanned and I was on my way in.  Inside the museum I was surrounded by Japanese and Chinese tourists who seemed more interested in taking photos of themselves on stair cases and cafes rather than taking an interest in the exhibits  Which was fortunate because there was no great line to buy tickets for Rodin.  £17.00 lighter I made my way into the exhibition.

My knowledge of art and sculpture is scant but I had read some rave reviews about this exhibition beforehand and I was determined to see it and appreciate it.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I walked in and was confronted by The Kiss.

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I was surprised at first to learn that this amazing feature is carved out of plaster but standing beside it I really fancied having a snog with someone (ahem).  Composing myself I moved on to something equally as familiar, the mighty Thinker.

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To be close to a great sculpture is to recognise the delicacy of the work of the artist and how something so subtle and so sublime can emerge at his or hands, from what is, essentially a lump of rock.  As well as Rodin’s work, the exhibition had several items of sculpture from the works of Ancient Greeks including relics and fragments from The Parthenon.  It was all amazing to see and it was so tempting to reach out a hand to touch a work of art forged by hands over two and a half thousand years ago.  I didn’t but these works which convey such movement and such delicacy almost look as if they possess like itself.

I had a bit of time to kill after the museum so I had a walk down to Soho and a mooch round the shops there.  Aware that an Oi Polloi exists somewhere in the area I managed to locate it and buy a light knit jumper and bum bag.  The shop isn’t quite on the scale of it’s Mancunian big brother but it still sells a great array of clobber which I could easily have thrown too much money at.

Then it was off to my final port of call, The Institut Francais de Royaume Uni in South Kensington, practically opposite that other architecturally fine building, The Natural History Museum.

I had come to London today specifically to attend an event to promote the new book by Anglophile, Parisian author Agnès Poirier, Left Bank.  I first came across Agnès Porier on the BBC News Channel programme, Dateline London.  Thown together with a host of other British and foreign news correspondents, a panel of 4 debate and discuss the national and international news of the day.  I always found Mme Poirier interesting for her Gallic charm, wit and general wry take on the news of the week.  I often feel she is not as sharp or as on point as many of her more serious news colleagues but I find she excels in the written word such as her Guardian Newspaper article on the reaction to the #MeToo campaign in France and of course her new book, Left Bank .

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I’m about two thirds of the way through Left Bank and it’s an excellent book.  It tells the story of Paris between 1940 and 1950, under German occupation followed by the rise of the existentialist movement through the formidable figures of Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and a host of other artists, intellectuals and writers who made the city such a fascinating place to live in during that time.  Mme Poirier was interviewed for the event by Professor A C Grayling who had recently come to my attention through his outspoken comments against Brexit.  The thirty minute interview was genteel and followed by a further half hour of questions from the audience.  Mme Poirier appeared a little nervous, not making eye contact with the audience but speaking passionately nonetheless about her subject which had occupied her over the past 10 years.  I had intended to sit on the edge of the second row but was muscled out of it by an elderly lady and ended up right in the middle of the front row.  I felt a little awkward and wondered if AP recognised me from our occasional exchanges on Twitter.  The very fine room we were in was full of books and even had a mezzanine floor which no library should be without and a high domed wall will of obscured glass panes to let in more light, no doubt.

After the talk we made our way down to the foyer where Mme Poirier signed copies of her book.  I had taken my own copy along with me and was quite delighted when Mme Poirier recognised me as ‘Fish’ from Twitter and signed my book accordingly.  She invited me, amongst others to the bar for a glass of wine and we convened round a table with comfortable chairs.  I ended up sitting next to Professor Grayling who appeared at first a little perturbed that I had plonked myself next to him; I felt it a little like that awkward first encounter between Mr D’Arcy and the clergyman William Collins in Pride and Prejudice.  No matter, the delightful hostess busied herself around us and the conversation began to flow.  I regaled people with my northern background and lamented the lack of events like this in my home town area near Blackpool but spoke positively about the Home arts complex in Manchester, even though we all agreed it has an atrocious name.  I threw in the question of ‘what exactly is existentialism’ which A C Grayling, Professor of Philosophy was only too happy to answer.  I then entered into a debate about existentialism with the good professor who appeared to warm to me after I mentioned the loss of my first wife.  We then had a discussion about sorrow and mourning and I showed him the very excellent article I read that very morning on the same subject written by Matthew Parris in this week’s Spectator magazine.

With one eye on my watch I had to leave earlier than I would have liked to catch the 21:10 train back to Preston.  So, just time for a photo with Mme Poirier…here it is, taken by Professor Grayling, no less.IMG_1158.JPG

And with one of those double kisses on the cheeks the French are famous for, I bid my adieus and left.  The train was 20 minutes late but no matter, it was a good day in London; a city I love.

 

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Art, books, Film Review, lists, Live music review, Uncategorized

2017

2017

Books:
The Civil War – Peter Ackroyd
Runaway – Alice Munro
The Italians – John Hopper
The Lonely City – Olivia Laing
A Room Of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
Imagine Me Gone – Adam Haslett
To The River – Olivia Laing
The Last Banquet – Jonathan Grimwood
Eating Rome – Elizabeth Minchilli
1984 – George Orwell
Our Man In Havana – Graham Greene
As Consciousness Is Harnessed To Flesh – Susan Sontag
Winter – Ali Smith
Civilisation & Its Malcontents – Sarah Wood
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson (unfinished)

Films:
Julietta – dir Pedro Almodóvar
Whiplash – dir Damien Chazelle (TV)
The Survivalist – dir Stephen Fingleton (TV)
Deadpool – dir Tim Miller
La La Land – dir Damien Chazelle
Venus In Fur – dir Roman Polanski (TV)
A Serious Man – dir Ethan & Joel Coen
T2 Trainspotting – dir Danny Boyle
Hail, Caesar – dir Ethan & Joel Coen (TV)
Fargo – dir Ethan & Joel Coen (TV)
Toni Erdmann – dir Maren Ade
Raging Bull – dir Martin Scorsese (TV)
Jackie – dir Pablo Larrain
Moonlight – dir Barry Jenkins
Elle – dir Paul Verhoeven
Dunkirk – dir Christopher Nolan
The Bourne Identity – dir Doug Liman (TV)
Carol – dir Todd Haynes (TV)
The Big Lebowski – dir Ethan & Joel Coen (TV)
Panfilov’s 28 – dir Kim Druzhinin & Audrey Shalopa (TV)
In Bruges – dir Martin McDonagh (TV)

Live Music:
Cabbage + The Shimmer Band + – EBGBS, Liverpool
Josefin Ohrn & The Liberation – The Soup Kitchen, Manchester
Honeyblood – Museum Of Life, Wigan
Various – Folk Roots Festival, Hebden Bridge
Saint Etienne – Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
Blue Öyster Cult – The Academy, Manchester
UFO – King George’s Hall, Blackburn
The Duke Spirit – The Deaf Institute, Manchester
Lana Del Rey – Echo Arena, Liverpool
Gorillaz – Arena, Manchester
Saint Etienne – The Ritz, Manchester

Galleries/Museums:
The Whitworth, Manchester – Andy Warhol exhib
The Manchester Gallery – True Faith exhib (Joy Division/New Order)
The Harris, Liverpool
Fylde Council Art Collection – St Annes Town Hall (guided)
The Charles Dickens Museum – London
The Manchester Gallery – Waqa Khan (closed), Dutch painters 1600 – 1800, etc

Art, books, film, lists, Music

My Cultural 2017

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After a pretty dull and devastating 2016 I became determined to make 2017 more interesting and engage myself with human life.  So far so good

I have been fortunate to meet a new and good friend this year via my yoga class; a woman, 12 years younger than me, just out of a 12 year same-sex relationship.  We’ve been great for each other and I’ve even found myself, recently, sitting in pubs on a Friday night with a group of men talking drunken nonsense and frankly enjoying it.  I’ve always been quite shy and introverted sitting in groups of other men, finding myself becoming detached and uninterested but now I think, what the hell, and join in, contributing my own slant and opinion on completely unimportant matters.

I’ve been on 2 dates; one in a new town to me; Hebden Bridge and the other in a beautiful old pub in Manchester called The Marble Arch Inn.  Nothing came of either but I’m feeling better for getting out there again.

At the start of 2017 I made a resolution to myself to visit the cinema at least once a month and read at least one book per month.  Progress is encouraging.  Not only have I made six visits to the cinema already this year I’ve been watching more films on the TV; here is my list to date:

Julieta (Cinema)

Whiplash (TV)

Deadpool (TV)

The Survivalist (TV)

La La Land (Cinema)

Venus In Fur (TV)

A Serious Man (TV)

T2 Trainspotting (Cinema)

Hail, Caesar (TV)

Fargo (TV)

Toni Erdmann (Cinema)

Raging Bull (TV)

Jackie (Cinema)

Moonlight (Cinema)

I’m on course with my books too, with 3 completed so far and a fourth on the go.  The first book read in 2017 (or rather finished after staring it in 2016) was Peter Ackroyd’s Rebellion, a book I was inspired to read after visiting The Houses Of Parliament in London last year.  After watching Paulo Almodovar’s excellent film Julieta, I then embarked on the series of short stories which inspired the film; Runaway by Alice Munro.  That was followed by John Hopper’s The Italians and now I’m reading The Lonely City by Olivia Laing.  The Italians satisfied my taste for all things Italian and Olivia Laing’s part autobiography, part biography helps me come to terms with the loneliness and feelings of being alone I have sporadically felt since I separated in 2014.

BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Radio 4 are my constant companions; the former for great music the latter for excellent political commentary; ‘that talking shit‘, as my ex used to describe it.  6Music continues to be a great source for discovering new music and this year I saw the outrageous Cabbage in Liverpool and Josefin Ohrn and The Liberation at The Soup Kitchen, Manchester.  Honeyblood, Blue Oyster Cult and Radiohead already booked for this year and mustn’t forget Austra later this month.

When I’m at one of my yoga classes I often get asked what I’m up to and we talk about places visited, gigs attended, films watched.  People say I should write a blog about my ‘interesting’ lifestyle.  Funny, I don’t consider my lifestyle interesting.  Like social media, for every photograph we post of ourselves in smiling posture for the camera there are umpteen moments of boredom, ennui, trivia and outright dullness.  That’s pretty much how I would describe my life currently.  I envy those in relationships talking about their holidays and trips they’ve made with partners or friends. It makes me realise my life is not complete because I don’t have the intimate contact of a partner or lover.

I separated from my 2nd wife in April 2014 and last year discovered the guy she was having an affair with was my next door neighbour’s son.  It was a seriously devastating discovery which had a profound effect on my mental and physical health.  The next door neighbour thankfully moved house in January so that perpetual reminder is no longer in proximity and my pursuits in 2017 are have helped put that distraction behind me (again).  But what I have learned is that no relationship is better than a bad relationship.  I deeply regret ending my all too brief relationship with MFM in April 2015 but there is no mileage in believing half-hearted physical intimacy is a substitute for a mutually loving relationship; for me anyway.

Art, Live music review, Media, Music, Uncategorized

Cabbage – The Shimmer Band – April. Live at EBGBs, Liverpool. February 10th 2017

img_0728The first time I heard of Cabbage was during an interview on BBC Radio Five Live between Christmas and New Year.  They sounded young and bored and decried the lack of royalties they receive from Spotify.  As reward, no doubt for their appearance on the ‘serious’ talk radio station, one of their songs was played; Terrorist Sympathiser.  I liked it.  Sing-a-long lyrics sung by a bawdy lad drawing out his vowels with little regard for standing erect at a microphone stand. I thought of Johnny Rotten with his sleeves pulled over his clenched fists.

Forays into the music press revealed Cabbage as a bit of an upcoming band earning affection from music critics writing in broadsheet and music papers alike.  After looking them up and finding their scant website I discovered they were on tour and playing at both Manchester and Liverpool in the North West.  Manchester was sold out so I bought a dirt cheap ticket for the Liverpool gig at EBGBs.  The gig was last night.

EBGBs is the basement bar to it’s more grown up looking sibling Heebie Jeebies on Seel Street.  The cheerful door crew waived me through, I’d shaven my hair completely for the occasion, thinking the lack of grey stubble might help me blend in more with the kids. EBGBs is tiny with a bar in one section adjacent to the auditorium separated by a low arch carved out of the bowels of the pub and what once was, clearly, the cellar to the pub above.

After paying £4.50 for a bottle of Estrella Damm I ducked under the arch to see first support band April in full swing.  April are aptly named as the callowness of the band members matches the month which heralds the first days of Spring.  I imagine the band I played in at school looked a lot like April without the stresses and strains of being on a national tour.  They looked like a bunch of kids whose soap their mums had packed for them had long since worn out and they couldn’t work out how to recharge the batteries in their bum-fluff razors.  I was reminded of Ant & Decs attempt to re-create an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads with their appallingly applied 5 o’clock shadows fresh from make-up, in an attempt to make them look older and wearier.  These kids had it in spades.  They could play and their next single, Time, had a bass line worthy of a sample or two.  The bass player was probably the kid who took A level music and scored a grade 5 piano; there’s always one.

April dismantled and removed their equipment, The Shimmer Band moved  in and assembled theirs on stage.  Sound and light guys walked back and forth with tablets fiddling with the son et lumiere.  After much testing of microphones the Shimmer Band shimmied back off stage and the house sounds came on for another 10 minutes.  It was apparent the band couldn’t play their set without the benefit of sunglasses and they re-emerged donning cheap looking shades which suggested they’d spent the 10 minute hiatus in search of a 24 hour petrol station where they could buy emergency sunglasses.  A swirling opening worthy of the finest Dervish musicians began with the flabby arms of the  lardy singer emerging from a gold velvet t-shirt prodding towards the ceiling.   A stomp of his foot heralded the band joining in with the backing tape as it became suddenly apparent the boy could sing.  The white plastic sunglasses clashed strikingly with his velveteen t-shirt but the voice inside caused the audience to stop and register what sounded like an English Ronnie James Dio.  No sword and sorcery was this as punk energy met middle eastern rhythms during a noisy set of of well constructed songs.  I think they’re from Nuneaton…or was that April.  My listening and viewing pleasure was curtailed when a lady about 5′ 8″ tall stood on the step I was on at the back of the hall, smack bang in front of me with her 2 friends and they began to chatter and laugh loudly.  It was rude it was ignorant and I told them; selfish idiots.

Cabbage followed The Simmer Band.  I read a few live reviews of the band from their 2016 tour and to be honest they weren’t that positive.  The band’s antics were largely thought of as contrived and set them aside as rebels without much of a cause.  Another delay caused by the sound system and they arrived onstage at 10.10pm just after the chattering lady who’s rear neck I had become rather too familiar with had fucked off.   Cabbage continued the trend of the bands playing in ascending age order with their teenage years seemingly just behind them.  T shirts were quickly dispensed with by the two main protagonists of the band who between them shared lead vocal and guitar duties.  It was difficult to tell most of the time as the stage at EBGBs is only about a foot higher than the hall floor and even from my slightly elevated position, I could only see them from the neck up.

The moshpit was in full swing and I enjoyed the gig vicariously sharing the mayhem going on down the front which felt sticky and sweaty.  After two songs the road crew emerged to implore the audience to take a step back  as their momentum had caused something of a stage invasion.  The band said they were ‘fucking skint’ and couldn’t afford to replace any damaged pedals;  “There’s plenty of fuckin’ shit to go and smash up out there, but don’t smash up Cabbage’s equipment” the singer implored.  “Who thought this would be a good idea?” he rhetorically asked before bigging up the audience.  They were great; swigging beer and crowd surfing on an audience who provided backing vocals when the singer found himself po-going in the third row.  He amused me when he announced the next song was about dead people and ‘why we like shagging them’; I couldn’t restrain a reflective chortle.

The crowd, mostly made up of students (I think I was the 2nd oldest there), got their moneys worth with a set of blistering energy and well crafted punk-pop songs.  Cabbage 2017 are kids on fire who, if they took any notice of their critics in 2016, have learned to have a fucking good time on stage and let their music do their talking for them. If they don’t implode they have a chance to replicate fellow Mancs, The Happy Mondays as stardom awaits.  After it all finished the band came out and mingled with the departing audience.  I shook one of the singer’s hands and he seemed genuinely pleased when I told him I enjoyed the performance and what a great gig it was.  There was enough humility which made him likeable which, along with his talent should see them through.

Well done cabbage, you fulfilled my 5 a day.

Art

Basically, if you can hold a pen you can draw

Basically, if you can hold a pen you can draw

The title of this post is the response I received recently to a comment I made about some great art I saw in a blog and expressed my envy at being a hopeles artist and having no skill with a pen, pencil or brush.

You see, in my family all the artistic DNA went to my brother who was clearly a skilled artist from an early age winning countless drawing and art competitions as well as having his work published in the local press. I literally couldn’t draw for toffee and my earliest recollections of any attempts by myself at art were weekly drawing lessons at Infants School where we were asked to draw a picture to show the class. I recall that the teacher was less than impressed with my weekly offering of a circle crayoned in yellow with strands emanating from it which I presented as a picture of the sun. I eventually improved my output and extended my portfolio by drawing a square with a triangle on top with 4 smaller squares in the corners and an oblong in the middle on the ground. Have you guessed what it is yet? Yes…a house.

Art became something of a dread lesson for me and I used to quake with fear whenever it was announced we had to produce a collage. A bloody collage; that pointless objective when the teacher would produce a large sack of surplus material obviously left over from the sewing class and us 7 year old pupils would be asked to create a picture using pieces of material cut from the swatches using blunt scissors and stuck on (sugar)paper with a white liquid glue called Marvin. Suffice to say I was hopeless at it and after one particular attempt at around Christmas time was hauled off to the headmaster’s office to show him the dereliction of my artistic talent. Thankfully the headmaster was away so for want of someone else to humiliate me in front of the teacher decided the school secretary was the best she could come up with so together they discussed how crap my collage was. Naturally the tears were flowing by now to such an extent that I remember quite clearly a big green bogey flew from my nostril and landed quite prominently on the corner of the secretary’s desk. At that point the secretary was quite anxious for us to leave and as it was home time I grabbed my satchel as quick as I could and dashed home with no desire ever to draw, paint, stick or glue ever again.

In spite of my complete inability to produce anything worthy of being described as art, that is not to say I do not appreciate and enjoy art, it’s just that I can’t do it myself, or thought I couldn’t. Since being an active blogger I’ve looked with admiration at reams of drawings, paintings and pictures of varying degrees of detail on this site and been persistently impressed. When I was told that I also could draw…because I can indeed hold a pencil, I decided yesterday during a quiet moment at work to give it a go. So in between seeing customers I scanned my surroundings to find something suitable to draw. Well; here’s the drawing (biro on paper) of a plant and pot as it looked in front of me and to be honest I don’t think – for a first attempt – it’s all that bad. In fact, I’ve shown it to a few people in work who have been quite wowed in a fun sort of way. I was so chuffed that I’ve even cut the paper out and stuck it in my Moleskine notebook for posterity.

Now, what can I choose for my next subject?