Tuesday, June 30, 2009


It's all very well reading quality writing online but there's still nothing like holding a magazine in your hands and flicking through it. Afore-mentioned Chris Chapman (publisher of Gullible Travels) has done it again. His Chapbook 2009 – A Hard Slow Log is a fanzine (well, cunningly designed to look like one anyway) with parts pillaged from this very blog as well as Chris's own writing, photos, an amusing photo-strip called Vegan Girl and a world exclusive – the first review of Gullible Travels. My stuff reads even better in Chapbook than it does online – I promise!

Available to buy* now from... I'm not sure actually. Maybe you should ask him. Most likely small yet ubercool record/design/clothes shops in Shoreditch. They'll go like hot cakes. Buy/take yours now. You don't want to have to shell out three figure sums for one on eBay do you?

*I'm not sure either if it costs money or not. Probably free – these sort of ventures are done for love, not money. He'll make the money up on advertising and fame, don't worry.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Banksy versus Bristol Museum

Banksy is now officially a British institution. From being chased by police for illegally spray-painting walls to having his paintings and prints sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds, a best-selling book published and his works hung in art galleries, Banksy must be laughing all the way to the bank(sy). He's now been given permission to run amok in his home town, Bristol, in its fine museum and art gallery.

His rise has been gradual and somewhat surprising, since we still know very little about him – not even his real name. Is he still wanted by the police or is it a marketing ploy now? Whether he even exists at all – like William Boyd's hoax Abstract Expressionist artist, Nat Tate, who some critics believed real when a monograph about him was published; even a party was held in his honour – is a moot point. The work is out there in the street and unavoidable, iconic and accessible to all. The public loves the underdog done good (but not too good).

Banksy's – attack is too much of a word; exhibition too little – new event, titled Banksy Vs Bristol Museum is a lot of fun, if nothing else. My three-year old daughter enjoyed it immensely – especially the caged chicken nuggets hatching out of egg shells. It appeals to the child in all of us – being able to poke fun at such a stiff, stuffy, elitist institution. Some of it is like a game – spot the Banksy – once you've seen the main Banksy rooms, there's the rest of the museum to explore and find a Banksy-defaced Old Master in between the boring real art. This is a partial shame – none of the other art in the museum gets a look in (unless it's been 'defaced' by Banksy). Having not been before – in fact, not heard of the place – it was great to see some of the other art – I will return when I'm not being swamped by teenagers taking photos with their phones of every Banksy in the building (one hundred, apparently). Old fart, me?

As much as I like Banksy, much of his work is didactic and gimmicky, poking fun at (now) obvious subjects such as big business, capitalism, fast food, the environment, fox hunting, zoos, CCTV, police, apathy, vandalism, art... every picture is a different target. Did I read he's like the Chapman brothers without the intellect, or did I just think of it? I think I probably read it somewhere but I do agree. His work is immediate, in your face – but is it art? Who cares – it's great fun. When was the last time you heard people laughing out loud in a museum or art gallery?

We got there early – having read we'd have to queue for an hour. We did queue for about an hour (well, I did; partner and daughter drank milkshakes in a nearby cafe), but on our way out there was no queue to be seen. Arrive late. No related merchandise in shop – Aarghh! The exhibition is free and runs until August 31st, 10am-5pm.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gullible Travels: The Book

I wrote this travel book about ten years ago and have been trying to bury it ever since. It doesn't seem to want to go away. In particular, Chris Chapman, long time advocate of the stories, has gone and designed and published it on lulu.com. It's not available quite yet but in the mean time, to whet your appetites, have a look at more of it on Chris's cool graphic design website, chapbook.cc or read a couple of the stories – if you haven't already – at gullible-travels.com. Get your wallets open and be ready for a summer release. Watch this space.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Fête of Lord Bath

My London sightings of obscure but (personal favourite) famous people are near legendary (Peter Blake, Jarvis Cocker, Steven Berkoff) – and did I mention I saw Roger Daltrey, Bill Nighy and Anthony Gormley at the Dylan concert at London's Roundhouse the other month? – but my west country celebrity sightings are somewhat lacklustre.

However, with the fête season in full swing last weekend (we managed three), I got a glimpse of one of my favourite West Country people: Lord Bath (unmistakable from at least 100m), The 7th Marquess of Bath, drinking a pint of ale at Horningsham fête in Wiltshire, which is part of the Longleat estate. As famous for his flamboyant, gaudy attire and 'wifelets' as for being the owner of Longleat estate – including its stately home and safari park, at 77 he still cuts a flamboyant figure with his colourful waistcoats, joie de vivre and wild white hair and beard. He looks like the 1960s never went away.

I got a peek into the workings of his mind when I visited his private rooms at Longleat House. Viewable by guided tour only, many of the rooms are coated floor to ceiling with his paintings and murals. Like his waistcoats, they are a garish mish-mash of every art movement of the 20th century, and a few he seems to have invented along the way. Painted mostly in the 1960s when he was in his late thirties, they consist of nothing less than a history of mankind – from Stone Age man and Wessex discos to fantasies and dreams . It almost goes without saying that some of them are quite sexually explicit.

On the tour, I also got a glimpse of one of his wifelet's rooms. Lord Bath's womanising is legendary and to house his extensive female companions – affectionately known as wifelets, he has rooms for them, as well as cottages in the nearby vicinity. At the last count, Lord Bath has had 74 wifelets. That's roughly one a year for every year of his life. He usually has 3 or 4 on the go at a time.

I first encountered Lord Bath – real name Alexander George Thynn – through the BBC's children's series Animal Park, which I used to watch with my daughter. The series followed animals and keepers around the safari park. Many a tear was shed watching the birth of a giraffe or death of an aardvark. Within Longleat there's also Longleat House (where the murals are), Postman Pat village, maze, adventure castle, Old Joe's Mine (with bats), a railway and safari boat ride (complete with sea lions and a look at Nico's – a gorilla – island in the middle of the lake, where you can see a depressed looking ape watching TV – though which came first the depression or the TV, I'm not sure).

Have a look at his fairly confusing web-site (his hyphen) lordbath.co.uk. It looks like it was designed in 1994 but has pictures of his murals and a comprehensive collection of his writings (much of it sexual): autobiography ('Chapter 2.5 – Childhood – Sex: unearthing the erotic mould'), songs (yes, sexual), poems (yes, yes – sexual – with lines like:

I see you on my couch
with legs apart
your pussy preening in my avid gaze

He's clearly not one to go for the delicate sexual metaphor when the actuality will do) and his journal. In fact, the only non-sexual section is his speeches to the House of Lords. When he says his intention is to put on record 'his total identity', you know he's not joking: he's apparently written six million words of his autobiography and he's only up to 1994.

You can purchase his paintings from the site for a cool £10,000 – with an estimated wealth of £157 million, you can see he clearly needs the money.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Top 10 Writers on Bob Dylan

1. Michael Gray (Song and Dance Man; Encyclopedia)
2. Paul Williams (Performing Artist Vol.1-3)
3. Clinton Heylin (Revolution in the Air; Behind the Shades)
4. Greil Marcus (Invisible Republic)
5. Christopher Ricks (Visions of Sin)
6. Robert Shelton (No Direction Home)
7. Howard Soulnes (Down the Highway)
8. Sam Shepherd (Rolling Thunder Logbook)
9. Nigel Williamson (Rough Guide)
10. Anthony Scaduto (Biography)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Anon. Sense

When I was about 17 and a pretentious art student, I thought I knew everything about art. But there was one artist I liked a lot who I knew very little about – Anon. The diversity of his work amazed me, but his somewhat sketchy biographical details confused me. In particular, I was sure I'd seen something of his from the 1500s and other work from the 1800s – and other stuff in between, in all kinds of mediums. The truth was revealed in a humiliating conversation amongst fellow art students (far more embarrassing than my pronouncing 'Titian' as 'Titan' in public a few years before):

For some reason, a fellow art student had mentioned anon.
I said, 'Oh I really like Anon.'
She said, 'What?'
I said, 'I like Anon.'
She said, 'Are you being serious?'
I said, 'Yes, I really like his paintings. Why?'
She said, 'You do know anon. is short for anonymous?'
I went red and said, 'No, I didn't know that actually.'

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Overheard #1

Snippet of conversation heard outside a pub by the Thames.

– I thought the speed limit was 8 miles per hour on the Thames.
– You mean knots?
– How long is a knot?
– How long is a piece of string?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pizza Night

The other Friday whilst waiting for a bus, two drunk/stoned teenagers come up to me with massive pizza boxes in their arms. One of them tells me this is my lucky night. He has too much pizza, do I want some? He assures me there's nothing wrong with it, no one's spat on it. As it happens, I am quite hungry after the pub so I go for the pepperoni. The guy gives me two slices and some garlic bread too. Suddenly his box falls and his pizza goes all over the pavement – bar the two slices he'd just given me. Then my bus turns up. I offer to give my slices back but he says no. I apologise – though it's not really my fault, but when he said it was my lucky night he really didn't know me – and he's all mock pissed off. Anyway, I get on the bus with my two slices. He comes on the bus and shouts "He's just stolen my pizza!" and runs off. Everyone stares at me. I give a look of pure innocence back.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Vermeer Corridors

In bed-sit heaven
It's half-past eleven
At night.
Vermeer corridors
Dimly lit
Hide sleeping whores.
Hearing snores
From skin pores,
Ignored chores.

Written as a sixteen-year-old with Rimbaudian pretensions, when all I thought made a good poem was a rhyme. Twenty years later, I probably still believe that.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What do you do if...

...a close family friend gives your just three year-old daughter a doll for her birthday which reeks of cigarette smoke?

1. Give it back?
2. Ignore the smell?
3. Give it to a friend?
4. Throw it away?
5. Wash and air it?
6. Try and get a nicotine hit off it?