Tuesday, January 31, 2006

How hard is Vin Diesel?

I can prove that Vin Diesel is not hard. Clicky

Ergo these are not true.

This is all true however...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Bacon and Rousseau

Last Saturday I took myself down to Tate Britain to have a look at the mini exhibition of the works of Nathaniel Bacon, the gentleman artist, horticulturalist and latterly Knight of Bath. There are only nine surviving paintings believed to be by him and seven of them are in the show along with a couple of personal letters and other effects. The pictures fall into two catergories, the self-portraits and scenes of buxom young women surrounded by nature's bounty, be it vegetable and fruit or game and fowl. The self-portraits are intersting but do not captivate as much as the "Cookmaid" paintings. Perhaps it's because I like girls and food that these appeal so much but I must admit to being transfixed, as much as anything by the loving attention to detail with which everything is depicted; from cleavage to cabbage, from rosy cheek to pod of peas everything has had vast love and attention lavished upon it.

It was this attention to the surroundings as much as the figure which put me in mind of the Rousseau exhibition currently at Tate Modern. A very different era, but an equally passionate rendition of the foliage and fauna of the jungle. Both artists' work has a strange flatness about it because everything is equally precisely depicted. You would expect the least attention to be lavished upon the surroundings, so that the eye is drawn to the figure, but in both these artists' work every leaf is as important as a person, every item delights the artist enough to expend equal attention on it. Bacon was a keen hoticulturalist and his produce not only suggests bounty and wealth, but a deep pleasure in life and what humans may make of it. I might also suggest that the beautiful cookmaid connotes similar ideas. The food is a triumph of post-renaissance humanity over nature. Bacon succeeded in growing melons in Suffolk and they along with grapes are proudly displayed in the picture. This is a painting by a man who loves life and all it can offer and his enthusiasm extends even as far as carefully depicting the strand of excess stem still attached to the marrow.

Rousseau too seems to delight in the rich detail of the foliage, the raw unpredictability and massive complexity of nature. Though his jungles seem flat from a distance, up close they surround you, transport you and plug you directly into Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". It is easy to see the mixture of excitement, wonder and fear that the jungle would inspire in the France-bound Rousseau. The magic, the strangeness and sheer difference almost overwhelm both the artist and the viewer. Comparing these massive, epic canvasses with the twee little Parisian street scenes elsewhere in the show is like comapring night and day. One is full of promise and wonder, the other the reassuring sameness of everyday suburban living.

I love both of these shows dearly; their passion for their subjects cannot help but delight the eye, and summon up the spirit of all that makes this a fascinating world to inhabit and enjoy. If one word can be ascribed to both these exhibitions and their respective artists it is "passion". May we never lose it.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Commoditization of Everything

I had a coffee with the Bagel Toaster after work today. She mentioned in passing that if she won the Lottery she'd go into property development and I bit her head off stating that I thought was a rotten thing to do, which wasn't very kind. At the time I didn't know why I reacted so strongly, it was a gut feeling, but I've been having a think and I reckon it boils down to a "commoditization of everything", by which I mean all costly objects are being refined to appeal to an imaginary lowest common denominator. If you develop properties (not "houses", you note, nor God-forbid "homes") but property, you must not offend anyone, that would drive away potential sales and thus all these identikit houses are being tweaked to the highest levels of blandness possible. Everything is cream or magnolia. The bathroom is white, the fittings chrome. The carpet is mushroom and so on and so on. Houses so inoffensive, they completely suppress the individuality of the person who lives there. Or to put it another way, a commodity.

Look at car design. The same problem is endemic. Fiat may get a kicking in the press over the Multipla and its design and to an extent I agree, it's not a thing of beauty, but at least it looks different, it isn't a generiCar like 95% of the other cars on the road.

Under this Tyranny of the Dull a house simply becomes a machine to live in. Period. A car is a machine to move you from your house-machine to your work-machine or shop-machine. All human individuality or expression is expunged in order to maintain some notion of market-value. Surely a house is more than this? It is a fundamental part of being human. Our ability to construct complex dwellings of staggering variation is one aspect that sets us apart from the animals. It is a solid expression of who we are, what we're about, what and who we care about. It is a home. It is where we return to the womb, where we lick our wounds ready to take on the next day's travails. In short, magnolia don't cover it.

And that's why I don't like "property development".

Monday, January 23, 2006

Last weekend I went to Kew gardens with the youngest Doddling to catch the final day of Dale Chihuly's glass exhibition. The glass was displayed amongst the plants both outdoors and in the glass-houses (no pun intended). It was a lovely show and though I took many pictures of the artworks I liked this one of some backlit leaves best. I suppose sometimes nature just does it best.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Worst. Lounge Act. Ever.

In the words of the great sage of our time, Flavor Flav, "Don't believe the hype". Last night The Tall American and myself went to a Conran restaurant in central London as the reviews we'd seen suggested it would be a good place for an entertaining civilised evening. Well, like the man said, there's lies, damned lies and restaurant review websites. The irony is that the food and wine was OK to pretty good. The rest of the experience was so God-awful (especially the band, but we'll come to them) that the thought of going back might result in a mild aneurism.

So first we had to get someone to acknowledge our reservation. This took 3 people and about 10 minutes. Think Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" and you get an idea of the bureaucracy involved. Finally we made it to the bar for a cocktail. Now I wasn't expecting anything amazing, but I did at least expect them to have the bloody ingredients for the drinks on their sodding menu at 7 o'clock in the evening. Apparently I was somewhat naive. So after we had been (barely) served a piss-weak, warm cocktail we got to eat. This, in fairness, was the good bit; decent tapas and good wine and it should, of course, have been the centre-piece of the evening. But it wasn't. Why? Because there was THE BAND. Holy Mary, Mother of God. Never have I seen 2 perfectly lovely baby grand pianos treated so badly. Imagine, but carefully, I wouldn't want you to suffer any lasting injury, 2 twentysomethings playing an array of pop and jazz standards on these poor innocent instruments accompanied by a drummer who redefined my understanding of rhythm. Very loudly. That they could take such a range of classic tunes and butcher them as they did serves only to show that you should never be unkind to any wannabe karaoke starlet belting out "Gimme Gimme Gimme" at the end of the night. It could be so much worse. And did I mention that they were loud? Holy Crap they were loud. And they were everywhere. Thanks to the miracles of the PA system they were piped to all corners of the establishment. Even in the kazis the aural bilge water of an utterly balless version of "A Little Less Conversation" conspired to make you feel trapped in some kind of dystopian nightmare of tawdry design, rotten lighting and piss-poor service. I had thought that it was really only the food that I cared about in restaurants but I was so wrong. I pity the chefs. With friends like these...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Me, myself and I

There is an American psychologist whose name I can't remember and haven't been able to track down on Google who said that when two people meet there are in fact six people present. Each person as they see themselves, each as perceived by the other and each as they actually are. Beyond the existential questions this poses, this week I've been living a proof of this theory. On Monday I collected a new pair of glasses; my first in over two years. Now to me this is quite a momentous change - it's wearing the same item of clothing every day for two years. It becomes part of you and definitely a major part of how I see myself and, I'd assumed, how others saw me. Every time I walk past a reflective surface and catch a glimpse of myself, it doesn't quite seem like me again yet. A new pair of specs is a major moment in any myopic's life. And to prove the point the psychologist made, no-one else noticed. Well a couple of close friends after promting figured it out but no-one's spotted the change of their own accord. I feel that I look as different as if I'd grown an extra limb, my close friends who see me daily see no change at all and I guess the reality is somewhere in between.

It is very true that how we see others, or indeed how we generally perceive the world is based very little upon that which our eyes feed our brain. Instead the majority of what we think we see is in fact conjoured up by the lump of grey scambled egg that sits between our ears. Tricksy little bugger. So if your short-sighted friend keeps looking at you in an appealing manner, take another look and make sure they haven't got a new pair of bins that you didn't notice because your brain was telling you porky pies.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Boeuf en daube (sort of)

It's trumpet blowing time. I made a highly inauthentic daube on Sunday and though I say it myself, it was delicious. Since I made it up as I went along I'm going to record it here for my benefit as much as anyone else's. So what you do is :-

Chop 2 largish onions into fine pieces and crush and chop 3 cloves of garlic (peeled). Slice 4 rashers of bacon and put all of this into a stockpot on a reasonably high heat on the hob with some olive oil. Put a third of a bottle of wine in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer, set it alight and burn off the alcohol. Add vegetable stock and my secret weapon, Geo Watkin's Mushroom ketchup to taste. Dice one bushell of carrots and 6 tomatoes. Once the onion has started to brown add 2lbs of stewing steak to the pot and brown that. I cover the steak in a dusting of plain flour, salt and pepper before it goes into the pot. Add the carrots and tomatoes to the pot together with a couple of bay leaves and a couple of tablespoons of chopped rosemary. Mix it all together and pour over the liquid till it almost covers the solids. put a piece of foil over the mixture so it is sealed inside the pot well and then put the lid on the stockpot. Put it in the oven at 170 degrees Celsius for an hour or so. Serve with spuds or rice. It's even better on the second or third day.

Well, Elizabeth David, may be spinning in her grave but I was quite pleased with myself. And if you live in South East London I recommend William Rose butchers on Lordship Lane and Pretty Traditional, the greengrocers on North Cross Street as being fantastic places to do your weekly food shop.


Friday, January 06, 2006


There, that got your attention didn't it? Well don't get too excited because it's not that sort of flagellation, this is about ART. No no, not that sort of bear skin rug, tasteful nudge nudge say no more type art. I mean PROPER ART. This is a link to a RAI website which has a great collection of Caravaggio pictures scanned at a ludicrously high resolution. "The Flagellation of the Christ" was in the Caravaggio show at The National Gallery in London last year and it is one of the most senational pictures I've ever seen. What doesn't quite come across in the scan is how the figure of Christ has been painted. The figures are life size which gives you an idea of how big the canvas is and in classic Caravaggio fashion the blacks in the background are inky. The figure of Christ has been painted with a lot of thick white paint, with the detail applied almost as a wash over the top. This makes Him appear luminous as he reflects much more light than the surrounding figures of the background. It's a quite remarkable effect, breathtaking almost, and hung as it was in the show I saw, quite high up the wall, it has a three dimensional quality that sucks the viewer into the canvas whilst the Christ figure leaps out. Amazing. Even as a commited aetheist I couldn't help but be moved.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Chip and PIN

If you live in the UK you can't help but have noticed how we have now pretty much shifted from signing our names on till receipts to tapping in a four digit number on a keypad connected to the cash register (as if anyone were actually using cash anymore). This is, we are told, going to revolutionise card security and reduce credit card fraud. This is a good thing. What is not a good thing is that we have had yet another layer of social interaction removed from our lives. I bought a new pair of trainers today and besides handing the box to the sales assistant I did not interact with her in any way. You put your card in the machine, you watch the display till it tells you to confirm the price, then tap in your PIN. You then watch until it tells you that you may remove your card. By this point the sales assistant has put the receipt and the shoes in a bag and then moves onto the next customer. It's so utterly impersonal you could get a robot and you'd never notice the difference. Perhaps sales assistants like it? I'd imagine that it must become wearing dealing with hoi polloi like me all day long but it must surely be getting a little lonely and soul destroying these days? I'm sure the technology improves people's lives by lowering the risk and inconvenience of having your card details pinched but I can't help but feel that at the same time we've lost something too.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Can You Put Me Through?

I have been thinking about getting a new, well truth be told, an old telephone for the house. I have always liked the GPO 706 series phone which for those of us of a certain age will be the first telephones we remember and will always be the first to spring to mind when someone says the word "telephone". The connection is that direct in my mind. I have discovered that you can buy them, converted to work on modern exchanges, online for about fifty quid which seems entirely reasonable. Aside from aesthetic and nostalgic notions, there are a couple of other reasons for thinking that this acquisition would be a good thing.

The first is the bell. Once again this may have an element of halcyon memories of my youth but there is something about the bell on an old phone that is so much less jarring than pretty much every modern phone with an electronic ringtone. It is reassuring, comforting even, like a favourite jumper that you only wear when you feel poorly. Somehow the solidity, the knowledge that there is a mechanism, a thing hitting another thing to make a sound comforts in a way that the inert witchery of a circuit board can never do.

The second reason for getting one is the dial. With an old phone it takes time to call a number. You have time to think, "Do I really want to call this person?", indeed should you really call them? The fact that some effort must be expended to call further concentrates the mind that the lucky recipient of your call very much needs to hear your voice now, at this very moment and no other. Modern phones, where no-one is more than two button presses away, tend to allow for frivolous calls and worse, unwise calls. Telephoning ex-girlfriends or family or indeed anyone when maudlin drunk is not a) gallant or b) very wise. Modern technology enables this social faux pas to occur too quickly and easily, or perhaps even accidentally, God forbid. Making a phone call should be carefully considered, thought out and weighed up; the invasion of someone else's privacy is not to be taken lightly. Have you thought that at this time they are likely to be listening to "The Archers" or is there a test match on? There is time for these kind of questions to be asked if you have to dial. Having realised your mistake you may, halfway through dialling, simply replace the beautiful, chunky, plastic receiver back on its cradle, and no harm has been done. Now all I need to do is develop a system to disconnect my 'phone when I open my drinks cabinet and a small step towards enlightenment will have been taken.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Fretting, Animating and Cooking

This may be a bit "Dear Diary-ish". You have been warned...

Well here we are, once again staring into the yawning abyss of a whole new year. The last one was a rather mixed bag for me and my only plan for 2006 is for it to be more uniformly positive. I've made and broken so many resolutions over the years that it seems specious to make them now. Though that said it is also my aim to do more in 2006. Last year felt rather stagnant, there's precious little that I can do now that I couldn't do 12 months ago and that's not how I like things. So more self-study, more making my own art, more of all the good stuff and put those bad bits of 2005 behind me. This is all getting rather confessional isn't it? Well there, I've said it now so all I have to do is follow through on my own promises, and how hard can that be? Hem hem.

I shall certainly try do a short film in the next couple of months. I think I have a good idea for a one-minuter and I've been spending a couple of days getting the technology working. Now I'll have to put together an animatic and see if it flies as an idea. I made the soundtrack today by hacking togther and layering chopped up drum-loops in GarageBand and it doesn't sound too bad. Now I have something to figure out my timings from and animate to. Which is a good start. I shall feel more confident once the whole sequence is blocked out, at the moment I'm still feeling a bit "but what if..." and I need to make my ideas more concrete.

Oh, and the other thing I was going to mention was that I came up with quite a good chicken recipe that I'll share for what it's worth. Here goes :-

Put a peeled, chunkily chopped butternut squash and celeriac in a roasting tin sprinked with rosemary, black pepper and olive oil. Roast at about 180 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile in a stockpot brown 8 chicken thighs in more olive oil. Mix 500ml or so of veg stock with the juice of a lemon and a good handful of mint leaves. Add the roasted veggies to the chicken and pour over the liquid. Season to taste. Put the lid on the stockpot and put it in the oven at 160 or so for another half hour. It's a really good winter warmer type stew without being stodgy or heavy.

That'll do for now, I have animatics to do now plus I think I might go and eat the remainder of the gratin dauphinoise potatoes I made to accompany dinner last night. Yum.

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