Saturday, April 7, 2007

Singing the caberet blues

Purple Rain by Clare E. Rojas (2006)
This is how I feel when the writing isn't going too well....

Check out the profile of Clare E. Rojas on BBc's interactive magazine Collective, here. Make sure you have a look at the Gallery of her images. I don't know much about art...

You can also preview the new Maximo Park album in this month's edition of Collective, which made me twice as determined to buy it when those cheques in the post clear.

The Queer Up North programme have some great caberet and comedy acts playing right now. I discovered Taylor Mac, my new favourite ukelele artiste, tonight. Funny and raw and full of feeling, here's But I Loved Him.

Taylor Mac - But I Loved Him

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Let me know what you think.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Fresh from the virtual newsroom

The Salford Star - how would you like one just like it?
(And no, the Portsmouth and Southsea magazine does not count)

My resolution to be a better employee by employing consistent mindfulness, whilst maintaining a running Hicksian dialogue in my mind really paid off yesterday, with increased productivity and a much happier Chief. I missed the wisecracks a bit, and received fewer laughs from my Ministry comrades, but such is my happy sacrifice.

I love this Bank Holiday. Last night I had dinner with Bean, washed down with a couple of bottles of wine that left my head humming a little this morning. I have spent the whole of Good Friday in a bit of R&R - Reading and Recovery, that is - and am only now, at 6pm getting round to writing anything. As Bertie W. would say, 'Delish.'

(The Chief asked me what I was reading the other day and I turned my book to show him the cover of one of Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster novels that I had finally decided to try.

"Fascist," was his only reply. I think he was talking about Wodehouse, rather than me.)

So I've spent today working my way through the Neil Gaiman Sandman series, which I don't think I ever want to end. Central Library, and Portsmouth's very own Youth Librarian, Dave have a lot to be thanked for, as so far I haven't had to wait for even one volume of it. I've currently got a screensaver of Morpheus, the eponymous Sandman, and I'm loving my new status as a graphic novel geek.

In the same week that the Chief tells me about a unique independent alternative to the local newspaper in Salford, I read on Clarky's Pinkworld about an online pdf magazine called Amour.

An idea begins to hatch within my mind....can you guess what it is yet?

The Salford Star is an independent local paper, which has achieved a hell of a lot in just the one year it has been running and reads as a fantastic role model for bigging up your home town. The Star has proved itself a real challenge to the local council in its loud and comprehensive opposition to the local authority's development plans and its funding (or lack of) of local cultural events like the Salford Film Festival, but the Star doesn't restrict itself to worthy criticism on behalf of the average Joe or Joanne, either.

With articles that champion local sons and daughters like Christopher Ecclestone, or big up the unique Working Class Library, or follow some 'yoots' while they attempt to access the highbrow and still exclusive world of the Lowry, the Star has succeeded in creating an independent voice that acts as a champion to the entire local community. You'll never look at the Portsmouth News in the same way again......

Since I emailed Steven and Stephen, the two faces behind the Star, to ask if the Star is still running (their website had not been updated since January) and if I could interview them for a piece on the blog, I discover from another blog, the Mancubist (an inspiration for local journalism in itself, check it out...) that the Star is indeed still going strong with a new edition just out. As the Mancubist notes:

A subscription of six issues costs £20 - and you get a free Salford Star tshirt too.

The magazine is now sponsored by Private Eye and the Guardian, has recently been longlisted for the Paul Foot Award for campaigning journalism. Not bad for a magazine that started less than a year ago.

You're not wrong. I'm off to spend my £20 right now (the Star is free to local residents, which makes me inclined to pay for it all the more), and if I can persuade some of my mates to help, a Portsmouth Star may not be too far behind...

Thursday, April 5, 2007

An unwelcome portrait of myself

No, I don't mean the picture. I actually like it. There's one of my brother doing the same thing. God, we're so kooky.

I had a day of conflict in the Ministry. I find myself bickering, biting, bothering and bitching my way through the day and I know my blood pressure must be hiking its way to a heart attack. What's my problem? Why can't I just go in, do my hours, say 'Sir!Yes!Sir' and ship out again at the end of the day? Why is everything with me such a drama?

I'm beginning to think I have a slight problem with authority. My brother and I have always joked about the way he feels compelled to disobey direct orders - just because he is being told what to do by anyone who is not him - but I'm beginning to think that I may have the same problem. In fact, I think I have a problem with the concept of being managed at all. This may place me in an awkward position in today's society, or at least in it's job market.

I take heart, as ever, from Hicks, who provides a guide to my sort of employee attitude. At least I'm not alone in my rebelliousness.

You know what I hate about working? Bosses. That's what I fucking hate. First of all, let me tell you something real quick. The very idea that anyone could be my boss, well...I think you see the conflict. Not in this lifetime, Charlie. A few more incarnations, we'll sit down and chat. But I used to always get harassed.

'Hicks, how come you're not working.'

I'd go, 'There's nothing to do.'

'Well, you pretend like you're working.'

'Well, why don't you pretend I'm working? Yeah, you get paid more than me, you fantasise. Pretend I'm mopping. Knock yourself out. I'll pretend they're buying stuff; we can close up. I'm the boss now, you're fired. How's that? I'm on a fucking roll. We're all millionaires and you're dick. I'm pretending shit, I'm wacky, I can't be stopped.'

I don't know if I have the right attitude for the workplace.

You take my point. However, I've decided that tomorrow I am going to reign in the attitude. It will be a lesson in meditation, in mindfulness (thanks Lou, for the inspiration).

I will be the very mistress of self-control.

Or I'll be psychotic by 14.30, but hey, it'll make Thursday more interesting.

Overheard by Michael in W.H. Smiths:

1st Man: You gonna 'ave children then?

2nd Man: Nah. My wife hates children.


2nd Man: She says they're vermin.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Of art and birthdays, and cows.

Banksy, one of the works on display at the Andip Gallery, London, Knightsbridge

On Saturday, I took my brother and my sister to London for the day. We went to South Kensington to see the Banksy Exhibition in the Andipa Gallery. The exhibition itself is very small, but worth going to see just to be near to an original Banksy. The gallery owner, Acoris, told us that the exhibition had won him over 4,000 visitors in less than a month, but the gallery was very quiet when we got there and he had the place to ourselves until a man walked in with a woman. I paid them no attention until my sister started to gesture frantically at me and told me that the man was Ricky Gervais. I looked up and she was absolutely right. This made my brother's day perfect and taught me that, as ever, I am crap at celebrity shopping as I stood there goggling. The picture above is the one that I think may have elicited a loud giggle from him.

The one thing we all found hard to work out was whether Banksy had been directly involved with the exhibition at all. When I asked Akoris, who he had been dealing with in the organization of the exhibition, what with Banksy being so elusive and all, he told me that he had a team of scouts who had worked for several months to source the works on display. He said that he had always wanted to exhibit Banksy's work in his gallery as he is such a fan - I must admit, I thought there was a certain irony about the gallery and its location that I had previously assumed was a deliberate statement by the artist. What I couldn't work out was whether this means that the gallery could have bought many or all of these pieces without involving Banksy at all, from private collections, other dealers, other exhibitions etc.

Given that some of the artist's other exhibitions have featured a room full of rats and a live elephant, it would certainly explain why this one was a lot more tame. I wish the price tags had been just ironic too, as the cheapest one on sale was approximately £5,000 and the most expensive £170,000. Finally, I find a video which answers the question and reveals that it is an entirely private exhibition.

We spent the rest of the day at the Natural History Museum, which was refreshingly free and I bought the best recycled wine glasses, made from old beer bottles. Awesome. Matt took a few pictures of the day, but my sister steadfastly refused to appear in any of them as she had burnt her neck on her hair straighteners and the resulting mark was shaped like the Armani logo. This one nicely captures the back of her head though, as she looks on in awe while I present a turtle to the viewer.

The next day, my brother had another celebration (we were now at day four, I don't know how he gets away with it) when the whole of our family went to Arundel Castle for the day. This almost never happens and we were joined by my Elaine's parents, who is my brother's girlfriend - Elaine not her parents, obviously - so we were all on our most normal behaviour. My sister and I have discovered since Hearst Castle in the USA that we love touring stately homes together, tripping around the maze of corridors as if we own the places and passing judgement on every facet of the interior design and decoration. Amy was not, however, so much a fan of the stuffed animal heads, of which Arundel has a curiously large collection, including several huge cow heads in one gallery.

Why cows? I mean, I can't imagine they pose much of a challenge, can they?

"Good Lord, Sir Tarquin, how bold you are to have caught and captured and hacked the bleeding head orf that most fearsome of creatures - the cow!"

"Actually," said Bean, catching me mid-observation, "Cows are very dangerous. A surprising number of people are killed every year by cows."

He nodded at me, sanguine, before wandering away again, murmuring to me to come and see the triptych. I could only take his word for it as I reconsidered the Bovine Head Hall one more time and tried to deduce the exact nature of a surprising number.

So, I'm forced to ask, of anyone who might know, just how dangerous are cows?