Saturday, November 12, 2005

LR - London - RW Lost in GothamA plague on all your hosen*.

I indulged in a little lunchtime shopping. I went out to buy a hat, as I've only got one and it was what might be politely termed mushroom (and I tended to look like one in it too), which after a few years of wear and insufficient washes was starting to go the same colour as actual mushrooms go after a couple of months in the back of the fridge.

So an expedition to Oxford Street in the rain. From observations there, I can safely proclaim that faded black denim is definitely back in. Either that or everyone else was wearing 8 year old jeans as well (why do the least flattering, most disliked clothes always outlast all the others? And why am I too miserly to buy new trousers when I've got a perfectly good pair, albeit a pair with 4 under-used inches round the waist).

So I went hat hunting. I stormed out of Next in disgust, not only for their superb lack of taste or imagination, but because they started playing infuriatingly jazzy Christmas songs at lunchtime on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Gap is better, but I leave after the shop tries to kill me. For some reason the barriers round the stairs started descending, which caught the "sale" sign. This was on the top shelf, and consisted of a piece of printed board clipt into a hefty weight to hold it upright. This falls over onto the top shelf, out of sight of the innocent shop investigating reductions below. I heard a clunk, then a rapidly accelerating rasping clatter. At this point my subconscious kicks in, and I step diagonally backwards. A blur and a flutter followed by thud which travels through the fabric of the building.

On the floor are three separate items laid out like a memory test for the very young; the sign, the clip and the weight. I look around and fail to see any staff. The partially lowered barriers trundle back up into the ceiling. I walk away, not quite as dazed as I might have been, but still a little bemused. I do an uninterested tour of the shop, then return to the spot. The sign has been reassembled and is sitting on a different shelf. There's a noticeable dent in the floor. But there's no sign of any member of staff, so I can only conclude that the shop is a battleground between mischievous little elves and the long suffering fairies, who magically maintain everything as it always has been.

Then back out, then in to some shop simply because I'd never heard of the name, and it was playing the Chemical Brother's Galvanise (I defy anyone to move while that song is playing and not find themselves in time with it at some point). So while I liked the music, and quite liked the lighting (once upon a time I had to... don't ask), I even liked some of the clothes, just not at those prices. £29.50 for a t-shirt? I know there are places where one can pay considerably more, but then I'm used to dividing that figure by 10 and adding fourpence to get the normal price for t-shirts. Admittedly these do tend to go a bit odd and fall apart if one microwaves them, but I suspect that's more the excessive microwaving that the t-shirt.

So then out, and into H&M. Home of the £2.99 t-shirt, which I guess makes them the modern C&A. So where would they fit on the and scale of shopping? It used to run C&A, M&S, A&N (House of Fraser). Beneath M&S? Yes, because it's poorer quality, but it is cheaper, and a damn sight more wearable. But better or worse than C&A? Well, C&A was like M&S but cheaper and more cheaply made, so it was cheap as well as dreary. So somewhere between the two. But as C&A is no more (except, oddly in the rest of Europe, which does cast aspersions on the taste of the consumers therein) this probably isn't important.

So I walk in, wander round, get weirded out by the manikins (it doesn't happen in any other shop, so it must be something to do with the positioning and lighting, but I invariably nearly apologise for nearly walking into them) and see a red hooded top that looks remarkably like my poor pinkish clay one did several years and holes ago. I'm very tempted to buy it then and there just for sheer regression purposes (and it has drawstrings too, so I can do my Kenny from South Park impression [sans the hair] but this time actually know why yanking the hood tighter brings immediate laughter to those who had Sky). But I'm not seventeen and at college, and how many hooded tops does one guy need? So tempting though, just for the expected feelings of youth, warmth and happiness (which will vanish if I see a mirror).

Further on I'm dismayed to discover that the price of their basic t-shirts has gone up. Until I realise it's a cunning ploy to trick people habituated to the usual positioning of the shop to buy more expensive t-shirts, and that the £2.99 ones are round the corner. Admittedly the more expensive t-shirts come in a nicer range of colours (is very pale pink really the best colour for winter? But one's skin will end up matching it, albeit as an average of pale blue face with a red nose).

So, having intended to get a replacement black t-shirt, for am I wearing the original black one, hidden under a jumper, as it's starting to look like work of a Topman designer (slightly too distressed, although I think flakey is definitely an highly personalised look), I end up getting one yellow and one orange one. I've now realised that the yellow one is exactly the same colour as the study at my parent's (and my childhood) home, which is also the same colour as the front door of my grandparent's house, and the inherited book on Shakespeare which is sitting in my brother's bookshelf beside my elbow, as well as being suspiciously similar to the colour of both Selfridge's and half of Midhurst (thanks to the Cowdray estate).

And because I'm wearing it now, under a brown cardigan (the label claims it's a tang; I thought that was fish), I've also come to realise that it is the same colour as part of my first ever school uniform (which was a very fetching brown with yellow stripes). I've also just remembered that I already own a t-shirt and a top this colour, but both are definitely of their era and both where bought on the assumption that I'd grow into them, which never quite happens as I intended (the shoulders grew, the rest didn't, so if I wear them it looks like they're still on the hanger).

And the orange is that curiously muddy orange which happens to the same as that muddy orange t-shirt I had years ago, and which was originally bought so I could be a Viking (it was big (and tunicable), I wasn't. I did grow into that one).

And I thought it was worrying when over the summer I was very tempted to be a checked shirt I really liked, until I realised it was the same colour and pattern as the one I was wearing in that photograph where I was just a small, smiling mass of blonde curls on a trike (And why did the blonde have to change, but not the curls?).

It's bad enough that my brother has a new phone, and it looks oh-so-early-eighties. I know fashion recycles, but does it have to recycle stuff I can just about remember from the first time round? I refuse to be so old that my memory is full of ideas which are so outdated that they can be rediscovered. That and I know what's coming next, and widespread day-glo was never a good idea. Do you think clothes which show wear you are hot but not yet sweaty will ever make a comeback?

Bloody hell. I just realised that some of you out there might be too young to know about the horrors of the past. In which case, I strongly urge you on all matters concerning geometric prints to just say no. Just remember the dwarf with learning difficulties.

After the two t-shirts came the woollen jumper. I would have bought one last year, but for some reason H&M saw fit to make them in such a shape that would allow accurate indication of syllables in charades without any encumberment. This year however the sleeves-as-gloves look is obviously in, so I can wear them without having to invest in wristbands. I very nearly didn't get on as the options were bright red, dark green, or black, but the only black jumpers were round necked. Except for the one dumped between the piles, which just happened to be a medium. Ok, so I look like my brother with it on, but worse things happen (well, technically can happen if one believes there being an infinite number of possibilities for everything).

Oh, and a tip for the distracted hat buyer: when trying on jumpers, do try not to wear artistically adapted t-shirts. The line of brown mock bullet holes is not really a good look, and it gets somewhat worse when the middle of these start crumbling.

And then I found a half-zipped high-collared jumper (look, I know that's getting complicated, but if I said it was just like my Fatface one, then while being accurate that wouldn't really help you visualise) in the same slightly orangey-red as the hooded top. But it's five pounds more than the hooded top. Drat. But it is more versatile than the hooded top (I probably should have realised that once I'd started thinking in terms of when I could wear it, the battle would be lost).

And it was then I remembered I was looking for a hat. I was intending to go for stripy, but all they had where mixtures of not very nice colours. So I went for the slightly orangey-red one, with the little tag I intended to cut off [but didn't because it allows me to put it on the right way round]. But why that red? Because, up until the adventurous foray into mushroom, my hats have been red. It's been that way ever since I was very small. It's like colour-coded toothbrushes (although oddly, my brother's toothbrush was always red). Except of course, I'm not called Roger, nor I am a French detective (I would suggest Googling, but Linux tends to confuse the results. Roger Red-Hat was a character in a book that taught children to read. The other characters where Billy Blue-Hat and the slightly odd Jonny and Jennifer Yellow-hat [plus a unhatted Indian family], who all lived in the Village with Three Corners [which oddly I've always had mixed up with that "my hat it has three corners" song]. The French detective is le Chapeau Rouge, a character in a series of books aimed at teaching children to read in French).

Anyway, so I went shopping and I bought two t-shirts, because I probably should have done some washing instead, two jumpers because one is like one I already own, and the other was the first thin woollen jumper I've seen in ages with was trying to inflict Argyle on the world (Why are the worst patterns named after bits of Scotland? Argyle, Paisley, etc. [et cetera in this case meaning I can't think of any more but if you can, then I'll just imply I'm already aware of those]).

I am concerned that I managed to spend £50 in H&M, which is known for being cheap. I suppose I had the reddish jumper down as being 5 pounds less because an earlier item the same colour was, and the world's finest (in one sense, but possibly not the way one normally expects) merino wool jumper was another £20, but cheap for a merino wool jumper (and M&S's are just as thin).

I'm tired and rambling, and therefore am in (or "and im" as originally typed) the perfect mode to begin my review of Friday evening at the Tate. Firstly, after a quick, cheap and fairly mediocre haircut (have hat, need more hatable hair), I headed Tatewards and into Rachel Whitbread's, she of the not-so-empty-house, turbine hall installation. Many boxes, each made from the mould of many cardboard boxes. It's like walking through a world built of sugarcubes (fairly apt for the Tate. So what did Mr Lyle do with his money?). All of the boxes are translucent, and so there are great similarities to the boxes of light bursting through the walls on the gallery side of the hall (well, there would be if the lights in the light boxes were on).

And I've never been in Tate Modern when it's been raining; you can hear it hissing, gushing and gurgling through the walls, apeing that sound installation of a few months ago (although all the sound means is someone messed up the design of the drainpipes).

So the installation is a mildly entertaining diversion, mostly because of the people within it, but I wasn't really sure where it was taking us. Most art tries to control the viewer, but this seemed just indifferent.

And I must be fairly tired; it took me far too long to figure out that Whitebread was not the artist's surname.

Then up to the exhibitions. Photography or painting. Photography finishes earlier, and I'm going to be dragged round the paintings at least once before they finish, and to be completely honest, modern photography on a huge scale just appeals far more than stylised tigers in stylised jungles. So Jeff Wall it is then.

All his images, except for the room of black and white, are presented as transparencies on huge lightboxes (another occurrence of boxes of light. Did I mention walking past the lit up National Theatre as well?). I'll skip adding my usual comments on each individual piece, as I later discovered the free booklet says much the same things. And I'll state at the outset that my view is skewed by the information contained within the pictures. Grand landscapes may have artistic merit and may make cultural nods to other artists, some of which I appreciate (and some I miss completely), but I'll always be drawn in to the details; the building structures, the different wharves for piles of different colour minerals, the angled ship being half-sunk under the weight of the unbalanced cargo, the contrast between epic mountains and grossly industrialised rivers, the unabashed blocks of houses punching at regular intervals through the wood. It all fascinates me.

And then there are the incidentals; the far off Canadian flag in Steveston (it's worse than Where's Wally?), the uncontrollable Harry Potter poster, the happened upon reflection in a television of a better view than the one shown. All rewarding in that "I looked longer and harder than Chris Morris and this is what I found".

Oh, and a guy that looked like Chris Morris (The Day Today, amongst other things) but a bit older, possibly beginning to be balder, and whose accompanying friend/probably wife (bedecked in every pattern going) called him Chris, was going round the exhibition at the same time. But having concluded that it probably was him, the "oh it's him, or is it?" novelty wore off and I went back to the pictures (and they went round quicker). Anyway, what should one say to someone who is technically a complete stranger, but is familiar to me from his work, although the stuff I remember was a while ago and I've no idea what he's been doing since.

Googling suggests it was his wife (due to the fact he has one, and she looked like pictures I've found), and she is called Jo Unwin, comedy-actress/writer. And in comedy-actress I'm including her appearance in The Bill, for fairly obvious reasons.

Anyway, that was another incidence of "famous people are just people". Although I'm not sure whether it ranks up there with being emailed by Matt Barbet (wonky nostrils, ears and dress sense, and in this flattering picture, lips too). But Matt Babret doesn't have his own Wikipedia page, so maybe it does.

Getting back to Jeff Wall, I'm still surprised at just how easily images can be melded together. I know technically it's possible, and that every single day I am confronted by examples which show it; it's just that somehow I never quite connected obviously photographic, right down to the grain, with the massively edited. It makes no sense, yet I didn't think of it. I expect it in films, yet am surprised when it happens in a single frame. Odd.

Anyway, for the most part I'd happily heap superlatives upon him. And then come the black and white images. Whether it was an effect of the display, or whether it was due to the lack of backlighting, these images just didn't appeal. Black and white can be simple and powerful. It's easier to take a good photograph in black and white (the Toffee-Crisp wrapper on the church steps effect). Yet his weren't. They were complex shades of grey which fade to black at just the wrong point, leaving a cluttered yet undifferentiated image. They can't have been very good, because I was more intrigued by the effects occurring within the reflection of the lighting (perspex polarises, so depending on angle, apparently white lights come out green, purple or blue. Which reminded me of trying to view slides on a lightbox; partially polarised light turned the reds black). Although in fairness there were problems caused by reflections of lightboxes in different rooms, which wrecked any chance of seeing the images as a whole.

After the photographs, I decided the tiger could wait until another time, and wandered southwards towards Southwark tube station. So when I found Borough High Street, and followed it to Elephant and Castle (I thought they were meant to be redesigning the area around it, or was that only for traffic?), I realised I might have gone in slightly the wrong direction.

Then back to here, and discovering that QI is as much a hazard to cooking as (the very Day Today-ish) Broken News is.

And after that action packed day (walking is an action, just not a very exciting one), I've managed to achieve very little today, and now I've got to decide if I want to hike halfway across town to go to something which I'll have to leave 3 hours (or knowing what the others are like at standing around outside waiting for people, 2 hours) after I get there, unless I wait for the thing to finish, in which case I'm stranded for an hour, and then take 4 times as long to get back as it does to get there.

I'd like to go, but it just seems like such a waste of time for so little gain. Said he who's just spent a silly amount of time typing when I should have been out buying food I now want to eat but don't have.


* I of course do need trousers, just didn't even attempt the despair inducing process of trying to find just jeans, or whichever trousers I wanted. It's always easy to find things splattered in acid, or emblazoned with lewdness, but if I ever want normal, dull, mundane run-of-the-mill I find the mill won't be doing anything like that for the next 5 seasons. Especially not in 32.

Day-glo? Dwarf with learning difficulties? Hmmm maybe i am too young...although, i do remember shell-suits and a hideous one-piece purple bodysuit my sister used to have. But, in the fast-paced, fickle and superficial world of fashion, aren't "horrors of the past" what was out last month?

I randomly came across the Matt Barbett email post the other day, one of the funniest posts i've read! I cant believe he actually emailed you. His nostrils aren't that bad...poor guy. Does he present Breakfast on BBC News 24 as well as BLN?
Dwarf with learning difficulties: It's part of a joke to which the punchline is "It's not big and it's not clever". But as I only heard it last year I'm guessing you're not too young.

MB: Well what can I say? I have the power. As for presenting things on News 24, who the hell has time to watch television in the morning? Apart from you obviously.

And sorry if I've ignored your comments in the past; Hotmail decided you were persona non grata (sure I misspelt that) and so the emails Blogger kicked out on your behalf have been wallowing in the spam (along side things telling me to "Become a Proffessional Negro". And Australia's like "WTF Mate?"*).

* Ah the power of email forwards. Check our albinoblacksheep for more details.
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