Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Spiders and Flies

Yesterday a bluebottle was bumbling around in the kitchen. It must have been asleep for the winter, and something woke it up. It followed the light round the house and was being a nuisance. Martin phoned and suggested that I should lure it into the Offsprogs' room for the night by switching all the lights off and leaving a light on there. It worked, and I closed the door. This morning, I opened the door and it flew downstairs. I think it's gone back to sleep again.
Then, rather weirdly, when Dr No and myself were approaching the barrier at South Kensington tube to come home, she almost walked into a gigantic spider that was swinging on a ten foot long line of web from the high ceiling of the station. I pulled her out of the way just as she was about to walk into it, and although she said she didn't mind spiders I still felt that she'd had a remarkable escape. It really was enormous, and very wiggly indeed.


So January has been visiting museums month. On Friday, I went with Claire to the Foundling Hospital Museum in Bloomsbury, a touchingly sad museum based in the old Foundling Hospital that was set up in Georgian times by Thomas Coram as an institution where mothers could bring infants born out of wedlock that they could not afford to support. There were books with details of each child written in exquisite copperplate handwriting, and their new name. Each mother left a tiny token (see below) which was wrapped in paper and used to identify the child should a relative come forward to claim them in future. There were uniforms from as late as 1940, which I found shocking. The children were raised to go into service, either domestic (girls) or the army (boys). William Hogarth set up an art gallery there to help to raise money. Upstairs there were walls painted with bible stories, one of Moses being rescued from the bullrushes.
As I looked at the carefully-listed names of little babies, I thought of how much their tiny lives were valued. What a species we are: assigning such value to human life in one era, and in other eras gassing whole warehouses full of children and women (and men), and burying them in pits; mass murder has happened in Germany, Rwanda, and the Balkan States. Who cares about space travel to Mars? Don't we need to sort out life on Earth first?

Later, we went to hear Viv Albertine being interviewed by Fred Deakin at Central St Martins. The building is enormous; the students look tiny. There's a strange atmosphere of something about to happen, but not yet. The microphones malfunctioned for a while, making Fred sound like a rapper and Viv sound quiet as a mouse. When all had settled down, it was interesting to listen to Viv formulating new thoughts as she spoke. To promote a book, yes, you must repeat yourself, but Viv still listens to what she says as she's saying it and develops everything in a very interesting way; she also deals with sycophancy in a very neat and tidy manner. Tiredness took us home before the Q and A, but it was a Good Day.

 Yesterday, I met Dr No and we went to the permanent exhibition of Russian Theatre Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum. As well as work by Rodchenko and Popova, there was lots of other work to see. It was interesting how popular G.K. Chesterton was in Russia in the 1930s. The colours of the costume designs were rich; rulers, protractors and set squares had been used and we wondered whether the designers were having to justify their designs to committees of engineers, perhaps. I particularly liked Mr Monday, dressed in his business suit and with a sneery expression. Some of the people had enormous bodies and afterthought heads, with strange large flat feet. The music playing quietly in the background was lovely and I noted it all down: the Bolshoi Choir featured heavily.
There is so much to see and do in London. January-avoidance has never felt so good! Today, I stuck my nose back to the grindstone. I'm applying for a sabbatical to do some writing- lots, actually, but only specifying one thing on the application. It's going to take a few more hours to get it right but I hope Im successful this time around.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bonkers Saatchi

The guy who was photographed with his hands around his wife's neck in public has written an article in tonight's London Evening Standard expressing utter amazement at the sexism and misogyny of 1960s US advertisements and criticising them for their portrayal of women.
Well I never!

Theatre Royal Nottingham Next Monday

After work I shall be hopping on a train and heading north to Nottingham Theatre Royal for this lovely gig. It will be a full set which I'm rehearsing furiously (or happily, but you know what I mean). I hope you can come along if you live in the area!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Finished Poster for First Artyfartle

I really enjoyed designing and drawing this. The night is going to be just as much fun. Martin is flying down specially to play; Pete Astor used to be in The Weather Prophets and The Loft and will be debuting new songs, and so will Amy Corcoran (who used to be known as Acton Bell) who released an album on Barbaraville last year. And I will be playing some new songs too; I've just picked up my guitar for the first time since Christmas and played for an hour and a half without stopping. The bug is back with a vengeance, and the bunny's back (see left). Poor joke. I'll do better next time.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Watching Come Dine With Me

Oh bliss! It's the one with successful Ayr businessman Forbes who serves his guests pigs' trotters at 30 pence a pop and sets the rhubarb crumble on fire.
And the English lady who calls him Fraser all the way through and gets a miserable score of five for that: she would have won if she'd been a bit more polite.
I don't know why, but I could watch these things all day, every day.
The ones with the horrible vindictive and competitive people aren't as good as the ones where the people like each other, for some reason.
I got all the ironing done as the episodes followed, one by one.
And those hairs on the pigs' feet....

Thursday, January 22, 2015


I have moved my computer to the Offsprogs' room, off the kitchen table which now is beautifully tidy.
There is one minor problem: I don't switch on the radiator in that room unless they are here, in an attempt to keep the bills down, so it's bloody freezing in there. To work, I stuff myself into a few thick cardigans and tap at the keyboards at high speed until I'm done.
This makes me economise on what I do and I've actually been getting up ultra-early to go into work where it is permanently warm, to do all the admin that I used to do at home.
Ultimately, this is probably a good thing; my part-time job has been dribbling into the rest of the week like an ice cream on a hot pavement, and it has now tidied itself into the days that it's supposed to fit into, albeit long ones.
I shall be warming the room up this weekend as I have seven research projects to mark (roughly 7000 words each) and I'm going to be camping out up there for most of the weekend. What a pity I've eaten all the marshmallows!

The Artyfartle Hare

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Allen Jones at The Royal Academy

Leave half an hour extra: it's not in the main part of the RA. You have to walk round the back via the ever-crystallising Burlington Arcade which has seen off the funkier little shops and is now pure high end with no compromises. The shoe-shine chappie is there still, though.
This outing was an idea proposed by Caroline Coon, who suggested it because of the controversy surrounding Allan's work. Coincidentally, our visit coincided with the slipping of the Page 3 tit-pictures on to the internet, where all is apparently forgiven, and not forgotten. Gina Birch joined us and we had a humdinger conversation about politics around the coffee-table once we had assembled.

The first room in the exhibition featured the 'sexy' women on all fours with perspex tables bolted on to their backs. Caroline noticed the dust on the tables (really, RA, you can to better than that!). Perhaps they needed women in bondage pinnies with feather dusters to keep them clean.
I must mention that to the Piccadilly Jobcentre so they can create a doubly-humiliating zero-hours job for some poor young woman to do.
The sculptures actually looked cheap: not 'cheap', but cheap. Time has not been kind to either the sculptures themselves, nor the ideas behind them.
There was a small room that housed a lot of sketches and 3-D card models that were rather nice. The models were of couples together (later, we saw the full size metal sculptures created from these ideas) and were angular and stylish with quite a 1930s look to them.
The largest room was full of colour: wonderful colour, it has to be said, and some wonderful paintings. Away from the pointed and bent Barbie-feet that infested so many of the works, there was a real joie-de-vivre and joie-de-peindre here. I sat in front of Sun Plane (1963) just staring at it. Snuggled amongst the colours were a couple enjoying a mile-high experience; but aside from this, Jones had conquered the coldness and hardness of technology without making it cuddly. The coloured stripes of the plane blended it into the landscape, but the propellers propelled us out of it.
The bus paintings were great too. How odd to make transport technology so jolly, yet make women look so cold and hard!
In the next room the sculptures, also coloured and very Soho, depicted couples and solo men entwined or looking for sex. There was something of the dumb-waiter about them: again, very much a nod to the thirties but in form not in colour. I liked these, but my companions weren't so keen.
The last room was vile.  Jones has become a parody of himself. Here, plasticky women had breasts thrusting upwards to the sky like pigs' heads, their nipples like mini-snouts. Their feet were forced into the shape of pigs' trotters, in a parody of Chinese foot-binding. I'd say the main influence here was Marvel Comics, but without the story.
That's the problem with Allen Jones's work: the story is weak. I love superficial stuff as much as 'deep' stuff (after all, I'm a total pop music fan), but there is no sense of artistic development in the exhibition. It seems as an artist he has worked backwards. The recent work looks dashed-off and the portraits don't even resemble the sitters; in the earlier work there is a wonderful joy in drawing, painting, detail and humour that promised so much more than he has delivered towards the end of his career.
This is, of course, a very opinionated reflection. With my companions we sat in a little Italian restaurant talking about our response. I am so glad we went (thank you for suggesting it, Caroline) because the exhibition allowed us to talk about so many things.
Ultimately cultural traction is the purpose of any exhibition, and despite my gut feelings against so much of Jones's work, this was indeed a very interesting and worthwhile exhibition, despite simultaneously being a disappointing one.

Monday, January 19, 2015


After a long day at work, I have eaten three quarters of  pack of marshmallows, and now I feel sick. I have also realised that I really, really don't like the pink ones, and they really, really do taste different to the white ones.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Weather Variations: a Nerd Pontificates

I keep lots of locations on my phone and sometimes idly browse through them.
Today, it's cloudy and it's going to rain in Gateshead. It's not too cold.
Newcastle, on the other hand, is bloody freezing and snow showers are happening as we speak.
The two cities are a mere short footbridge away from each other.
Extreme weather, indeed.
FYI, Sheffield and Brighton are both clear. Sheffield and Oslo are both 3 degrees; Brighton is a degree colder, and it's minus one in Inverness.
Here in London it's the warmest out of the lot at 5 degrees above freezing, but it will snow on Sunday.
They don't call me the weather nerd for nothing!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Music of All Sorts: Footworms and Earworms

Our office at work is next to the largest rehearsal room and we are frequently treated to a variety of different music styles pulsing through the walls and rumbling under our feet. Today's offering featured a toetappin' drum pattern that made the music sound like a cover version of a soundcheck. Musicians will definitely know what I mean.
As a gentle flow back (that's the same as a fight back, only different), follow this link to hear some lovely songs sung in Simlish. We couldn't get the first one out of our heads.
In fact, now I can't again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


From the Pottery Cafe (not the Poetry Cafe, that's something different). This was the result of an inspired birthday present from Offsprog One who took us there to celebrate my birthday, after Christmas. We sat there painting with mysterious pale paints round a wooden table while drinking lukewarm coffee. She painted a Jamie Oliver plate and Offsprog Two painted a mug with lots of symbols that included a Smiley face and Homer Simpson. It was a lovely therapeutic morning after all the Christmas activity.

Back when I was in my twenties, my then boyfriend installed a kiln in his room in the squat where we lived. He bought plain white tiles and painted designs like Atora Suet packs and Tampax boxes on them, building up a roaring trade in some of the more chichi shops in Brighton. I made a little porcelain baby whose hand fell off, and also some rattles and things which I think he still has. It used to get very warm in the room when he was firing the kiln, which operated on stolen electricity piped up from the basement where a squatter electrician had a flat. O, the stories I could tell!