Archive for June, 2004

Top 5 adjective-noun clich├ęs

Monday, June 28, 2004

Veritable smorgasbord
Is there such a thing as an unverifiable smorgasbord? Can anyone certificate them, or is there a recognised Swedish buffet industry body?

Glittering array
Arrays can glitter, I admit, if they are made up of shiny objects moving in relation to a light source, but they do not sparkle per se. A quick Google search suggests that you can have a glittering array of mineral collectors, celebrity chefs and latino community leaders. I've never met a mineral collector or a latino community leader, but I've met at least five celebrity chefs and I guarantee you that Jamie, Ainsley, Anthony, Gary and Gordon are as matte as fish paste.

Leafy suburb
It isn't a tautology to talk about leafy suburbs, but it's bloody close. It's a bit like describing a cat as furry. We all know there are hairless cats out there (sphynxes, they're called) but it is safe to assume that cats have fur unless otherwise stated. The only reason suburbs are described as "leafy" is beacuse writers are too lazy to come up with any insightful imagery.

Countless millions
Trumped in playground arguments only by the word "infinity", "countless millions" is just a meaningless euphemism for "really big". It is supposed to aggrandise the noun to which it is attached, but it achieves the opposite by belittling the speaker, who clearly doesn't know what he is talking about.

Designer jewellery
Much like an engineered car or an oven-baked souffle, the adjective is redundant because without it the noun could not exist. If jewellery appeared spontaneously like shit in an elephant house I could understand, but as with clothing and spectacles a designer is a sine qua non. "Designer" is a word used by retailers to draw a false distinction between products inspired by an artist's vision and clobber created because there is a market for it. Don't believe them: all innovation in retail is commercially-driven. The only difference is whether the designer is paid in gold bars or animal feed.

A funny thing happened on the way to the bus depot

Thursday, June 17, 2004

A balding man struggles up the stairs of the number 25 bus talking on his mobile phone. “Don’t get me wrong, Dave,” he says. “I love you as a mate, I love you platonically, but you are a f***ing c***.”A woman sitting in front of him frowns but doesn’t say anything. She has, after all, just vomited in a Miss Selfridge shopping bag.

The seat next to the swearing man falls vacant. A man with a clipboard sits down. The clipboard holds a table of addresses with marks next to them and a key explaining the symbols. A smiley face means visit the flat again. An unhappy face means “dickhead”.

A couple get on at Tottenham Court Road, where the dire Ben Elton musical We Will Rock You is showing at the Dominion Theatre. He is dressed like the lead, Galileo Figaro. She is dressed as the love interest, Scaramouche. They are fans, not actors.

I witnessed all of this last night with my own eyes. Bless the number 25.

(originally posted on June 17, 2004)

Top 5 artworks

Friday, June 11, 2004

HopperEdward Hopper – Excursion into Philosophy
Everyone likes a Hopper, even critics. Just to be deliberately obscure, I’m not going to choose Nighthawks, his most famous work, but something that appeals because its message is subtle, simple, wry and universal. The title is unusually descriptive for Hopper, who liked to use neutral names like Cape Cod Evening or New York Pavements, but a better clue to the meaning is the nickname he and his wife had for it: “Plato, reread too late.”
The commentary at Tate Modern, where I first saw the painting, said that the reference to Plato, the author of the open book on the bed, had something to do with the man being absorbed by metaphysical thoughts while ignoring the physical presence of the half naked woman. I think the meaning is wittier and less vague than that. The man and the woman have just had sex, and the man (and possibly the woman) is thinking how much simpler their relationship was when their love was platonic, or sexless.
The woman’s state of undress is intimate, but in the worst way: she is showing him her arse.
Also, the symbolism is fun. The man and the woman each have their own separate pool of light, but neither of them are bathed in it. And the viewer can also see what they have not yet spotted: it is beautiful outside, but they are sitting indoors, oppressed.

RothkoMark Rothko – Red on Maroon
There isn’t much point in having a picture of this here, but I’ve included it so you know which daub I’m talking about. On the surface it is a boring, if mildly aesthtically-pleasing, abstract smear. It is just a window with a crap view, but there’s a secret to this painting that you can only see if you visit the original. It is supposed to be hung in semi-darkness, so that your eyes have difficulty distinguishing colour. If you sit in the room and stare at it, the colours start to swim. There are no defined images hidden within it, but your imagination will pick out shapes, imprinting your personality onto the painting. How clever is that?

Richard WilsonRichard Wilson – 20:50
It’s just a room full of oil, but it has three things going for it.
(1) It might be sludge, but it’s serenely and forebodingly beautiful.
(2) It is intimidating. As you walk into the room you are constantly aware of the threat of the barrier collapsing and covering you in gunge, like one of Noel Edmonds’s guests on his (thankfully redundant) television show.
(3) It looks bottomless, but may not even be more than a centimetre deep. A low tap on the outside suggests that it is as deep as floor level, but this could be a trick. I like that.

fieldAntony Gormley – Asian Field
Gormley has been doing the same thing for decades: endless casts of the human body varying only in size, quantity and the materials from which they are made. But his Field series is magical, and Asian Field is my favourite because it is the biggest, and I have met the Chinese rice farmers who made it for him. Your first view of a floor covered with clay figures is breathtaking. You feel like a god. 200,000 pairs of eyes stare up at you reverently in a way that is both awe-inspiring and subtly worrying. What would you do, you wonder, if they turned on you?
In the first row, you can see the little figures’ bodies; in the next rows, their shoulders and upturned heads. The further you look, the less you can see. As the heads become too distant to discern you can make out only the eyes, and finally nothing but swirls of light and dark red.

CanalettoCanaletto – Piazza San Marco, Looking Southeast
I’ve liked Canaletto since childhood because his paintings resemble the action-filled scenes of a children’s book by Richard Scarry or Martin Handford (the author of Where’s Wally?). Uniquely among 18th century artists, he had a sense of fun. You can spend hours looking at his huge paintings (to which this thumbnail does no justice) looking for people jostling and larking around.

Apache indian

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Native Americans are faring much better since they managed to find a collective name that doesn’t immediately conjure images of a savages with a penchant for ritual killing, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of the occasional atrocity.

viz the Apache Wedding Blessing, a piece of ethnic tat beloved of cheap wedding planners:

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other.
Now you will feel no cold for each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no more loneliness.
Now you are two persons but there is only one life before you.
Go now and enter into the days of your life together
And may your days together be good and long upon the earth.

(Helpfully supplied by Helen)

Apart from being as profound as saying “Have a good one, mate”, it is also nonsensical. How can neither of them feel the rain? As a metaphor for the strength of the family unit it is peculiarly inappropriate. The message is essentially that one of you will be exploited.

Just because Native Americans in films make extensive use of dramatic pauses doesn’t make their sayings deep. You might as well stand in the pulpit and say: “Let us smoke a while, Dances With Wolves.”

Train of thought

Monday, June 7, 2004

Our timetable might be haywire at weekends, a poster at the front of the Aylesbury to London train informs me, but that is only because of “track improvements”.

Now I may be as thick as the knot of hair blocking the plughole in Brian May and Anita Dobson’s bath, but even I can see that this is a gross euphemism. Improvements are when you make a competent thing better. Performing essential work so your customers don’t die is called repairs.

Travelling on Chiltern Trains is bad enough without being patronised by middle management functionaries. Credit us with some intelligence.

(originally posted June 7, 2004)

I have seen the fluorescent light

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

There was shouting from the neighbouring carriage on my Underground train last night and I knew it must either be a drunk or an evangelist. Sure enough, a weedy-looking man with a crazed expression and a beard made his entrance between stations.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to give you a message,” he shouted at the top of his voice. “And that message is: God loves you.”

Is this the Second Coming, I wondered.

And the end of his sermon he offered to shake our hands “with my right hand” to reinforce the message that Jesus died for us. I declined, and wondered if this meant I would go to Hell. It would be a harsh deity who damned you for eternity merely for ignoring a handshake, but it isn’t inconceivable.

My main problem with religion is that you have to be a member of the club to benefit. This might be logical from a material perspective, but philosophically speaking it is odd. Apart from solipsism, I can’t think of any philosophies whose benefits apply only to their adherents rather than universally.

The District Line’s beardie weirdie said “God loves you”, but he omitted the generally held Christian notion that His love is conditional upon my subscription to the basic tenets of a monotheistic belief system. Or perhaps His love is unconditional, but flexible enough for Him to love me from afar while I endure unending discomfort including, but not limited to: fire, brimstone, wailing, gnashing of teeth and stinging from horse-shaped locusts with human heads and scorpions’ tails (Revelations 9:7 to 9:10).

I don’t think Christianity is bad per se. We all seek validation, and it is no more daft to get it from community-based confrontation of your mortality than it is to write a blog or own a cat. But if a man gets onto my train and offers to sell me a cat, I won’t shake his hand either.

(originally posted June 2, 2004)

Eee bah gum

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

I rarely enjoy avant garde theatre, but it is worth going occasionally to remind oneself why it doesn’t deserve any more public subsidy. Leaving the Royal Court Theatre’s attic space last weekend after watching Lucky Dog, I felt that public funds could be profitably diverted into sealing playwrights inside a small container until Godot turned up.

Lucky Dog, by Leo Butler, is a play so tedious that I kept myself amused only by running a private sweepstake on which of my buttocks would fall asleep first. But what really bothered me was the characters’ arbitrary Northern accents.

Why do fringe playwrights and directors insist on a Northern twang? Do they think it lends their characters an earthy quality? Do actors need to put on a voice to get into character?

I think it is because playwrights think Received Pronunciation is uncool. They see Northern accents as the antidote to the bourgeois, everyday feel of RP, without the need to explore anything as vulgar as Estuary English. It is a lazy way of creating a person who is remote yet familiar, moral but unpredictable, and dramatically encumbered by the decline of post-industrial Britain.

I also think it is a cheap and patronising way of disguising inadequate characterisation. By all means tell your actors to match their accents to their location, but don’t think that you can import a socio-political agenda just by having them say “anyroad” for “anyway”.

(orginally posted June 1, 2004)