Monday, February 28, 2011

And the band played off

Being in a band is like any kind of job really. Stay at it too long, it gets boring and you get pigeon-holed; stay at it too short a time and you don't get enough experience. In the last few months four bands (that I know of) have decided to call it quits – for their present monikers anyway: Jack White's (and Meg's, ages: 35 and 36 respectively) The White Stripes, Mike Skinner's (age: 32) The Streets, James Murphy's (age: 41) LCD Soundsystem and Conor Oberst's (age: 31) Bright Eyes. The youth of today have no staying power. They should club together and form a superband; they could call themselves The Bright White Striped Street Sound, perhaps.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

London through its charity shops #9: Putney, Southfields, Wandsworth


Ah, Putney. Gone are the days when one could get Blonde on Blonde on vinyl for £1 in Oxfam but there's still some rich pickings to be had if you go often enough. The trick is to pop in every couple of days, which I tend to do as they're my locals. Turning right out of Putney mainline station are the Holy Trinity, virtually all next to each other: Oxfam, Trinity Hospice and Cancer Research. Further along is a British Heart Foundation, and a little out of the way along Upper Richmond Road is an Octavia. Though none are exceptional, over the years I've got great stuff from all of them.

Oxfam has just re-opened after a two week revamp. The only differences I could see were laminated wooden floorboards and over-bright lights; unfortunately it's still full of over-priced crap. Perhaps it's trying to compete with Trinity Hospice next door, which transformed itself some months ago into what one can only describe as a boutique. There's been a mixed reception to its transformation; some love it, others say it's not even recognisable as a charity shop any more. I can only say this is a good thing. I like it; real wooden floorboards with the back room opened up to reveal a nice old fireplace. Not looking like a charity shop I'm not that bothered about one way or another; but not smelling like a charity shop can only be a positive thing. Recent Barngain of the Day: David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, hardback book, as new; £5.* CDs and records only £1 each.

A little further along, a smallish Cancer Research has good books, CDs and DVDs; a fair bric-a-brac section and some cheap but lame records. Recent Barngain of the Day: Animal Collective – Feels CD; £2.

British Heart Foundation is, as usual, cramped, but a good selection of CDs, DVDs and books. No records. Recent bargain of the day: Flying Lotus – Los Angeles CD; £1.99.

I like Octavia. Although quite small it usually has a good selection of art books, vastly overpriced but at least decent records, and fairly good CDs. Recent Barngain of the Day: Playmobil Indian set, boxed; £12.

7/4/11 Update
I got a tip off from a friend of a friend: there's another charity shop in Putney. Tucked away off Upper Richmond Road is the RSPCA, which has its charity shop within its building. It's a small, somewhat uninspiring shop, with lots of pet-related products, books and bric-a-brac. And a big, friendly Labrador.

Also, coming soon: a large Trinity Hospice Furniture shop, next to Laura Ashley on Putney Bridge Road. 3/5/11 Update: this has just opened; seems quite reasonably priced. All the good stuff had been sold by the time I got there.

December 2011 Update
The RSPCA has had a severe makeover: it's not a charity shop any more. There is a new charity shop, RFFR (Relief Fund For Romania) a little further along from the post office and on the opposite side on Upper Richmond Road. It's a bit shabby but pretty cheap; lots of books and clothes. I got a large Hello Kitty soft toy for 50p. Difficult to say how long it will last for; it seems quite temporary.

It's been years since I've been to Southfields. I can't believe how much it's changed! I'm joking. It's exactly the same; small, sleepy London suburb, circa. 1950. A funky, pricey FARA and an average Oxfam.

2012 Update: Now also a decent FARA Kids a few door along from FARA.

By Wandsworth I mean the district not the borough; so around the hellhole that is the 'regenerated' Arndale Shopping Centre, now called Southside. It's still crap. With, surprisingly, less than a handful of charity shops, most of which are along Wandsworth High Street. The British Heart Foundation Furniture shop recently featured in the Guardian Saturday magazine so it must be good. I've never been in. RSPCA is small and cheap; I tend to stay away from it now as the guy who works there tends to explain to me which books are where every time I go in. The Salvation Army is huge with lots of records, CDs, books, bric-a-brac, pictures, DVDs, clothes and furniture split over two large rooms. However, I've never bought anything there. Along Garrett Lane there's a huge Trinity Hospice Furniture shop (which I haven't been in). There's also Wandsworth Town but it's a bit out of the way so I haven't checked recently if there's any charity shops but from memory it's all restaurants and estate agents.

(*Not such a barngain after all: in the current HMV sale it's also £5. This happens to me all the time, and is quite annoying; I buy what I think is a barngain in a charity shop only to see it a week later for the same price brand new in a shop or online. Still, at least it's for charity.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Film Remains the Same

Just as John Peel famously only listened to songs once, so I tend to only watch films the one time. After all, most films are plot-driven, and there is little to be gained from watching them again. But two films with very little plot I have watched again recently and, though the films remain the same, I am a slightly different person from when I last watched them, some years ago, and perhaps appreciate them more now than then.

Keane (2004), starring Damian Lewis, is an intense study in mental illness, disillusion and loss. The plot of the whole film we know within the first few minutes: a man is searching for his seven year old daughter who was abducted at a New York coach station a year ago. Or was she? The film offers small clues along the way and we are left guessing whether Keane himself abducted his own daughter or if he even had one in the first place. Since first watching it some time ago, and in the intervening time both known people with mental illnesses and had a daughter, the film took on extra poignancy.

Uzak (2002), a Turkish film set mainly in Istanbul, couldn't be further removed from Keane. Where Keane is febrile and intense, Uzak is leisurely and detached (and Uzak translates as Distant). Concerning a bucolic cousin who comes to visit his relative in Istanbul… er, that's it. But it's a beautiful film, with long static shots of characters doing not very much at all. Since seeing the film first some years ago (and finding it rather dull, to tell the truth), I've been to Istanbul and seen the film Stalker. There's a scene where some characters are discussing the Russian film-maker Tarkovsky, and later, back at home, one of the main characters, a photographer, sits down to watch Stalker with his cousin. When the cousin, bored of the film, goes to bed, the photographer turns off Stalker and puts on a porn film. Anyway, it's one of the few light-hearted moments in the film.

Maybe both films have more in common than I thought. The lack of plot lets one focus on other aspects: acting, locations, the weather (harsh in both films), nuances and small details that get lost or are deemed unimportant in a more expositional film.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Six years in the making.*
46 Films and Videos.
On two DVDs.
Lasting over five hours.

The most arduous viewing experience since Warhol's Empire movie (or Dylan's Renaldo & Clara).
*with a four-year gap for financial, technical and purely apathetic reasons.

Homeless Movies [hohm-lis moo-vees]

1. Films without a home; rootless; unwanted.
2. Less or worse quality than home movies.

Yes, the Homeless Movies DVD is finally out – j
ust in time for the 20th anniversary of the early classics: Red Lipstick, Blood & Rain and Darker than Night. It's a double-disc set consisting of forty-six films and videos that I either made or worked on from 1991 to 2010. All the films and videos have been re-edited and digitally remastered with new titles, effects, sounds and music. But don't worry – they're still rubbish. You've probably already seen some of them on YouTube, but now you get to own them. And get a cool booklet. And postcards.

The films are handily divided into six self-explanatory chronological sections: Putney Movies, College Movies, Foreign Movies, Other Movies, Home Movies and Bonus Bits N Bobs – some never seen before!

The DVD has a very limited release, so grab a copy while you can! Available to buy on Etsy.

• All the classics including Red Lipstick, Darker Than Night, Blood & Rain, Face to Face, The Woman with the Hundred Hairless Heads, The Red Whine, Desire, Hope & Bourbon, Warminster Carnival… and many more!

• Music by Rumpelstiltskin, Bob Dylan, Leonar
d Cohen, Tortoise, Boards of Canada, Steve Reich, Broadcast and the Focus Group, Young Marble Giants, Brian Eno, Eric Satie, Van Morrison, Sun Ra, Jack Nitzsche, Michael Nyman, Neil Young, Beck, The Eurythmics… and many more!

• 12-page booklet, 'A Cinema of Disappointment'

• Five exclusive movie poster postcard
Getting the DVD:
If you worked on any of the films or videos in any capacity, you will get the DVD free of charge (if you want one), posted to you or given to you in person; if you know me (but didn't work on one), and buy me a beer or two, you'll probably get one free of charge (if you want one); if you don't know me at all and want one (highly improbable but you never know), you'll have to pay for it: email me at for details. It'll probably be £15 including p&p, payable via PayPal (think that's expensive? Listen, it cost over £20 a copy just to get it produced).

For best results: watch the DVD on an old analogue 4:3 CTR TV
For worst results: watch the DVD on your brand new 40" widescreen digital TV or computer

The DVD goes really well with: Gullible Travels, the book I'm still plugging. You can match the faces (in the videos) to the names (in the book).

Got the book and the DVD? Congratulations: you know everything there is to know about me.

Special thanks to: JMS Attwell; Pink Pigeon for doing a great job on the authoring.

Buy it now on Etsy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Period Magazine

Following on from the Eric Gill post… Period magazine is a mock publication I made at college over a decade ago, which had features on Eric Gill and Hermann Zapf, creator of the typefaces Dingbats and Palatino. The magazine also had an article on Phaistos Disc, the clay disc from the Minoan palace of Phaistos in Crete. Apparently made almost 2000 BC, its symbols, purpose and meaning have remained a mystery ever since it was discovered in 1908.

In the States a period is a full-stop. Here in the UK it has connotations with women's menstrual cycle – a concept I played with on the title of the second issue, called Period Monthly.

I also started a magazine called ampersand (&), until someone else bought a magazine out with the same title. A quick look on the web shows there's loads of them now. But in the year 2000 I (thought I) was being quite original...

Previously on Barnflakes:
Flaneur magazine

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The amazing album art of Mati Klarwein

A selection of Mati Klarwein's (1932-2002) 'visionary' paintings used for album covers. Bottom left is a painting intended for a Jimi Hendrix and Gil Evans album that was never finished. Above it is Klarwein's original painting for Santana's Annunciation; above the water melon on the left is a grinning self portrait of Klarwein.

The excellent website has the approval and participation of the Klarwein family.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

London through its charity shops #8: 'round Clapham Junction

Tucked away round the back of Clapham Junction train station, past the bridge on Falcon Road is a British Red Cross shop, on 11-12 Bramlands Close, seemingly part of the housing estate there. It's pretty good, reasonably priced. Up Lavender Hill is a Trinity Hospice, small but decent, though I've rarely found anything interesting there.

Along St. Johns Road is a British Heart Foundation cramped as usual a but always a fine selection of clothes, CDs, records and books. I've often got decent art books there. Opposite is a posh, expensive, 'vintage' clothes shop called Ace! The Ace of Clubs Helping the Homeless, which also has some bric-a-brac. It's possibly the first charity shop I've been in where I didn't feel welcome in and was immediately asked if I wanted any help. TRAID I didn't go in. Cancer Research, okay. Sirca 6, no idea what charity it represents; always shut anyway.

Onto Northcote Road amongst the posh eateries and yummy mummies is another Trinity Hospice where just about everything is expensive except the CDs, which are £1. Further along, towards the end of Northcote Road are two FARA (one Kids). As usual with FARA, it's on two floors and pretty funky; men's clothes, books, records, CDs and DVDs on the bottom; women's and bric-a-brac on the top. 

Barngains of the Day: Jonathan Ross, The Incredibly Strange Film Book, £1.50. Based on the show Ross used to present in the 1980s, the book takes an amusing look at porn, exploitation and horror films; WG Sebald, The Rings of Saturn (Harvill Press edition), £2. I don't know why but I've always wanted to read this. Both from FARA. 

2019 update
I loved The Rings of Saturn. Funnily enough, I know a writer who started studying literature at the University of East Anglia around the time Sebald died in a car accident near there (in 2001); he had been the lecturer at the university on the same course my friend was on. 

Ace! and Sirca 6 have shut down. Another Trinity Hospice has opened on St John's Road (so two minutes from the one on Northcote Road). I've only been in once; there's no books or music and it's too posh for the likes of me. My favourite new charity shop is quite a way along Northcote Road: Shooting Star Children's Hospices Charity Shop is large, tasteful and funky; reasonably priced, nicely laid out and with a fine selection of bric-a-brac, clothes, books and records.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Book Cover: Eric Gill's An essay on typography

Typographer, artist, engraver, sculptor, writer and, er, sexual deviant: Eric Gill (1882-1940) was experimental in all aspects of his life. Fiona McCarthy's explosive biography of the man, published in 1989, exposed for the first time Gill's sexual depravities. Using his diaries and daring to go where no biographer had gone before, McCarthy unearthed tales of Gill sexually abusing his children (though not Joanna, whom he named a font after, which was used as body text for An essay on typography), having a sexual relationship with his sister and doing unspeakable things with his pet dog.

I hope the revelations about his private life haven't diminished the fine work he produced (one biographer has suggested it's actually strengthened his work). Gill Sans is the font he's most famous for and can be seen on the cover of the above book, as well as on the BBC logo, early Penguin book covers and British Rail signs and communications. His sculptures and reliefs adorn public buildings (one of which, originally called Fucking, was renamed Ecstasy when the Tate bought it). He also made fine erotic etchings.

It seems true to say that Gill was a contradiction; deeply religious and spiritual on the one hand, scandalous and secular on the other.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Greatest Hits

I guess it was the last Bob Dylan Greatest Hits package that prompted me to thinking about Greatest Hits. I can understand why Dylan's had so many – he's still churning out albums that have at least one potential nugget on them, though many of his Greatest Hits albums are pretty repetitive (Pitchfork gave Dylan, the 2007 compilation, a 1.3 rating, along with a list of other Greatest Hits where the songs had appeared before). Other artists have died, or stopped making records years ago yet still have a re-packaged Greatest Hits album out once every couple of years.

Dylans include:
Greatest Hits (1967); More Greatest Hits (also known as Greatest Hits Vol II) (1971); Masterpieces (1978); Biograph (1985); Greatest Hits 2 (1993); Greatest Hits Vol.3 (1994); The Best of Bob Dylan (1997); The Very Best of Bob Dylan (2000); Best of Bob Dylan Vol.2 (2001); The Essential Bob Dylan (2000); The Best of Bob Dylan (2005); Blues (2006); Dylan (2007); The Collection (2009); The Best of the Original Mono Recordings (2010)...

Even Dylan – whose recording career has lasted something like fifty years, hasn't released many more Greatest Hits albums than, say, Roxy Music – who I love, don't get me wrong. But they haven't made a studio album since the early 80s (and only released less than ten albums) yet seem to have a repackaged Greatest Hits every couple of years. Okay, Ferry is still bringing out stuff, but nothing worthy to put on a new Greatest Hits.

Roxy Music/Bryan Ferrys include:
Greatest Hits (1973); The Atlantic Years (1983); Street Life: 20 Greatest Hits (1987); Bryan Ferry – the Ultimate collection with Roxy Music (1988) – NB: This was the first CD I ever bought. I was hesitant about buying CDs at first – the media all said they wouldn't last (physically) and recommended keeping them in the freezer to prolong their longevity. Which I may have actually done once or twice; More Than This: the Best of Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music (1995); The Thrill Of It All (4CD Box Set) (1995); The Early Years (2000); Bryan Ferry: Slave to Love – The Best of the Ballads (2000); The Best of Roxy Music (2001); Roxy Music: The Collection (2004); Bryan Ferry: The Collection (2004); Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music: The Platinum Collection (2004)...

I know of people who never buy Greatest Hits and frown upon those who do (though the annoying thing with some of Dylan's is they'll contain a song or two previously unreleased... meaning completists like myself have to buy them). They often disagree with the choices and believe if you like the artist, you should buy all their albums (though in the age of mp3s we can all make our own Greatest Hits). I don't know, with some bands you only really need a Greatest Hits package; buying all their albums can be an expensive (and bulky) way to find out you don't really like them that much after all. But then there's bands like The Libertines who only released two albums – and yet have a Greatest Hits album. Come on, if you like them you may as well buy both albums.

Aside from Greatest Hits, record companies are good at other ways of repackaging what we've already got and make us want it again. Remastered CDs, reissues with bonus tracks, live tracks, out-takes, bonus DVDs of live tracks, SACDs... Talk about flogging a dead horse. I invariably fall for it sometimes. The Band's remastered CDs all have plenty of bonus tracks of out-takes and as I only had their albums on LP I thought I'd revisit them again. They're great.

(It seems worse with DVDs. Directors cuts, extra footage, and now Blu-Ray and HD DVD ensures we buy the same thing at least twice. Do they think we're stupid or are we stupid?

DVDs annoy me. Every time I want to do something a little crossed circle appears. Usually I just want to play the film and not have to watch the piracy commercial and various trailers and wait for the menu to come up (with VHS you just FF!). This is especially annoying when my daughter wants to watch a DVD. This means she wants to watch it now. By the time I'm able to press 'Play Feature' it's five minutes later and she's either lost her temper or lost interest or both.)

Monday, February 07, 2011

London through its charity shops #7: Ealing Broadway

Call me sad, but I'd been looking forward to venturing into Ealing Broadway as I'd heard it has a specialised Oxfam Music shop – the only one in London (and one of only six in the whole country). In fact, Ealing Broadway has three Oxfams altogether – as well as the Music one there's a regular one and an Oxfam Books. Oxfam Music was okay; a slight disappointment to tell the truth, it lacked warmth, though lots of CDs, records and videos; also music equipment and TVs, reasonably priced. Likewise Oxfam Books (when compared to, say, Oxfam Books in Turnham Green) was okay but lacking charm, though had some interesting books; in fact, perversely, the best Oxfam for books and music was the regular Oxfam – sometimes less is more.

Cancer Research and Octavia were both poor. There's also a FARA Kids. Slightly out of the way is a CHF (Children's Hope Foundation); it has a decent clothes section but poor books and music. I couldn't find any others. There are some nice old buildings around Ealing Broadway but the people just look battered and worn out.

No barngains again today.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


I was playing a crocodiles game in a paddling pool with my daughter and a girl called Honey. It proved a popular game. They were crocodiles and were chasing me. For about half an hour. It proved so popular that others joined in. Including a boy who, first of all, tried to drag me into the water by my leg off the ledge of the pool, then took the crocodile game just a bit too literally, and bit me. I had to grasp him by the arms to prise him off me. I was looking around desperately for a parent. There was none in sight. Was I even allowed to touch a child? Very doubtful. But with no parent around, I had to take physical action. Parents never seem to watch their children at playgrounds. I could never take my eye off Martha for a second.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Friday, February 04, 2011

Drugs are God for You

There are only a few more weeks to catch High Society at the Wellcome Trust, an interesting exhibition looking at drugs through history, culture and art.

All drugs at one time or another, in one culture or another, for one reason or another (medicinal, spiritual, religious, recreational, experimental), have been both legal and illegal, socially accepted or frowned upon: tobacco, coffee, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, LSD. It goes without saying that the legal ones – tobacco, alcohol – are the most lethal. Make them all legal I say. Even though in a way it takes an objective approach, the exhibition, by showing how drug illegality has caused more widespread crime and misuse than it would have if legal (there's a look at prohibition in the States), states the case quite plainly that legalising them all is the obvious thing to do.

There's quite a bit of art in the exhibition to illustrate various points. A print of a morphine addict (possibly a prostitute) by Eugéne Samuel Grassett; photos of a 'Crack Den' by Keith Coventry; a watercolour by J F Lewis of a Constantinople Drug Bazaar; an etching of an East End of London opium den by Doré. Also of note is something I'd been wanting to see for ages, Brion Gysin's Dream Machine, a 'stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli' (read: makes you dizzy). A cylinder with holes in is placed on a revolving record player with a light bulb in the middle. It's apparently meant to be 'viewed' with eyes closed; we didn't do this so perhaps didn't experience it fully. Anyway, it produces nice patterns with eyes open. Gysin was a close friend of William Burroughs (surprisingly, there's no mention of him in the exhibition), and is credited with influencing and shaping Burrough's writing from Naked Lunch onwards with Gysin's cut-up technique (since employed by numerous artists and musicians including the Stones and David Bowie). Gysin was also a painter and performance artist.

For hundreds of years we've expected our artists – usually, writers (Burroughs is the ultimate example) and musicians, but sometimes painters – to take drugs. If you're a rock star (or even a jazz musician – classical musicians, less so), it's positively expected of you. Whereas if you found out your best mate was taking heroin on a regular basis, you'd probably be a bit concerned. Essentially we want our rock stars to do it for us. To live our (fantasy) life.

My boon companion forwarded a theory – which he'd told me before, at least once – that all addictions are circumstantial. If we're removed from the situation, the addiction is alleviated. He cited the example of posh people in the 1920s who would take copious amounts of cocaine at weekend parties but never became addicted; whereas, say, smack addicts take the drug where they live and hence are never removed from their situation, their environment. I don't know, it's just a theory, he probably read it somewhere anyway. Funny thing though, we did really feel like taking some illicit drugs after seeing the exhibition. Unfortunately they didn't sell them in the exhibition shop.

High Society at the Wellcome Trust, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, runs until 27 Feb.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Art of the Seaside

Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, has a lot to answer for. Now used by city developers the world over as a paradigm for how to regenerate a city, before the Guggenheim Bilboa was a working class industrial town fallen on hard times. After the Guggenheim opened (and EasyJet provided cheap flights there) suddenly Bilbao was famous, a hot tourist destination (even I went there) and most importantly, bought in lots of money.

How much of this money benefits the locals is a moot point and as the European Urban Knowledge Network points out, 'the cultural needs of the city may be different from those of the business and tourist industry'. Okay, it's a great building and local cafes and hotels are probably doing really well because of it, but why it was plonked in Bilbao is something of a mystery.

In recent years there's been a flurry of 'edgy' galleries opening in decidedly 'unedgy' English coastal towns. And as with the Guggenheim, the question begging is who exactly benefits.

Bexhill's magnificent modernist building the De La Warr pavilion re-opened a few years ago as a contemporary arts space. Previously, Bexhill was seen as a place to go and die, consisting mainly of retired, white, middle England people. And whereas it's great to see the pavilion open again, it's a moot point to wonder whether any of the locals will be going to watch Patti Smith perform there in April, or see an exhibition of John Cage's little-known prints and drawings (also in April). The locals are presumably bemused by 99% of the stuff shown there (but at least it gives them something to do and moan about). Late last year Laurie Anderson performed her only UK concert there; Bat for Lashes, Speech Debelle and Kings of Convenience have also played there; previous exhibitions include Joseph Beuys; Will Self has given a book reading.

It does seem almost perverse having the gallery in Bexhill. Okay, it gets half a million visitors a year, but no one under the age of sixty is going to move there (and certainly not just because of an art gallery); there's not much else to do in the dilapidated town, and it is a hassle to get to from anywhere else (such as London).

The Towner gallery, Eastbourne's award-winning but stupid-sounding new contemporary art museum recently had an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe's photography; the £4m Jerwood gallery is opening this year in Hastings, Sussex (a stone's throw from Bexhill); as is Turner Contemporary, an art gallery 'inspired by JMW Turner's spirit of enquiry' , to open in 'decrepit and deprived' Margate, birthplace of Tracey Emin. In Folkestone, Quarterhouse, a 'sleek, new' £4m performance space has recently opened.

This is all great, I'm sure. But aren't we in a recession and in the midst of cuts left, right and centre, and isn't the arts meant to be first on the chopping board? As Bilbao is going to find out sooner or later, one art gallery cannot transform the fortunes of a single town, and to rely on it to do so is foolhardy.

Perhaps because of their isolation, their magical natural light, the spiritualism of the sea and cheap rents, there is a fine tradition of thriving artistic communities in English seaside towns. Folkestone has definitely seen better days but has a vaguely striving artistic community called the Creative Quarter (though it's more like a hill of mainly boarded up shops). St Ives, although the heroin capital of the UK, has a Tate gallery and a fine artistic heritage, with sculptor Barbara Hepworth and painter Ben Nicholson among the famous artists who lived there. Southend-on-Sea has the Focal Point Gallery and Chicester the Pallant House Gallery. Then there's places like Brighton and Whitstable, which have a pretty arty vibe to them.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

In the Golden Fleece

There's Otto, a 25-year-old stockbroker from South Africa with his fiancé. And Ash, the Asian actor with his glass of red wine. Pedro, from Majorca, Spain, lived in Germany for four years, KL in Malaysia for a year, then his sister died and he came back to London. Very well-read and very handsome. He gets me to read The Lotus Eater by W Somerset Maugham (from Collected Short Stories volume three).

Wayne was born in Paris, grew up on the Ivory Coast and South America, spent a lot of time in New York, his parents live there and run a coffee import business, now here in London studying economics and accountancy but looking more like a beatnik than an accountant. He went to Ethiopia and said it was ‘aggressive’. He asked me about ‘playing the field’ (assuming for some reason I knew all about it) and I replied the field is a vast wasteland with skimpy vegetation, and Wayne liked that. He should have been the most interesting person I’d ever met, considering his upbringing and travels, but he was in fact extremely dull.

And finally, Francesca, from Barking; half-Maltese, pale and passive. She walks and talks like silence. In her white coat she moves like a ghost. To others she was Fran, to me she was always Francesca. She confides in me, 'I have no friends and never go out.'
'I don't know. People think I'm no fun.'
She says she needs three kinds of men: a heart man, a mind man and a body man. I say I need three kinds of women: black, white and Asian.

I wouldn’t have had half of my friends or girlfriends if I didn't smoke. Whether at work or on a course, outside a pub or restaurant, cigarette smokers are always the coolest, most interesting people to meet. They’ll all be huddled outside, come rain or shine, sitting on the steps, or sheltering under the arches, smoking and talking to whoever else is smoking. That doesn't mean I'm advocating it though. Cigarettes'll kill ya in the end.

– London, 1999

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Celebrity Diseases

Some time ago the Guardian Saturday magazine had Leonardo DiCaprio on the cover as a 'Top 50 Green Hero'. I'm sure the Ecologist magazine had him on the front some months before too. Every worthy cause needs a celebrity nowadays to make it more credible, sexy, worthy – and important. Aid agencies, charities and worthy causes hold meetings discussing what famous person would suit them – remember Helena Bonham Carter for Oxfam (what a disaster!)? Then there was Greta Scacchi posing naked with a dead fish to promote sustainable fishing. It's hoped Stephen Fry can cure the world of bipolar disorder and solve global warming with his chin alone. Incurable disease charities probably sit around praying someone famous will get their disease so they'll add muscle (and money) to their cause. Not even necessarily money but recognition – like when Michael J Fox (or even Jane Asher's brother-in-law) was diagnosed with Parkinson's, the Parkinson's Disease Society must have leapt for joy. You can't buy that kind of publicity. Most famous people are more than likely to put me off their particular cause, charity or disease – especially if I don't like them. I've gone right off cancer since Kylie, Jade Goody and Patrick Swayze got it.