Saturday, June 30, 2007

DSC_2227 - VorsprungedJust filling time till the American friends start emailing with "oh my gawd, awe you awright?"

So after watching Doctor Who (whodathunkit, and I meant that in reference to the plot twists and much tie-age of loose ends, not the watching of it, though that too), flicking through other channels brought me to digital news. Big blazing Breaking News banners (live and direct from the yard of Clarence Gillmoreton and Son's Scrap Metal Merchants where a 1983 Ford Siesta is currently being crushed at the end of a hectic week, here, in the breaker's yard, yes, I did just explain that joke because I wasn't sure who would get it) tell me that something's happening. Of course, they do tend to wheel them out for the opening of a Tesco's, but unless the supermarket has started offering store-roasted hot chestnuts it probably wasn't that.

A few seconds of waffle merged with the looped Viewer Video (odd name for a viewer) and endlessly repeating captions, and I discern what's happened. Car bomb, Glasgow airport, Scotland abandoned (insert joke using the word 'tell' here). More details follow. Turns out suicide bombers drove into the front entrance of the airport and blew up their car. The anchors admit that no one appears to have been killed and the only confirmed injury was a man on fire, who has police kneeling on him, presumably to smother the flames. The anchors are looking slightly upstaged by the dramatic captions by this stage, which seem have resorted to giving dictionary definitions of words (coming up in the next half hour, Boggle and Sodoku).

A couple of interviews later they switch to an American security expert who says how he'd bring the country to it's knees (no comment on whether that would be in a London park at 3 am), at which point I flick through the other channels to see if there's anything else on. You may noted it was an event so serious they didn't pull Doctor Who for it (though I imagine even the Queen would be asked if she wouldn't mind holding her last words till after the closing titles). They didn't even pull the completely rained-off Wimbledon coverage. ITV carried on showing The Mummy (surely a torture tactic in itself) and Channel 4 ploughed bravely on with the 100 Most Warmongering Film Lists featuring the cast of Rentaghost or something of that ilk (sorry, Rentatalkinghead was it? Oh).

So what happened? Two people drove a Jeep Cherokee into a concrete block outside an airport while waving a can of petrol about, somehow managed to set light to it, then jumped out crying something which is reported to have been (as relayed by a baggage handler who'd just nipped out for a smoke) "Allah, Allah, Allah", although could equally well have "Owie, Owie, Owie - no one told me burning petrol was hot", then tried beating up the policemen who came to extinguish and arrest them. So the sum total of their achievements as infidel striking suicide bombers was to destroy a car, a lumpenly ugly, hideously inefficient, nightmare to drive of a car at that, set fire to part of a canopy, oh and to cause travel disruption during the local school holidays (which is traditionally the job of the French, and could probably be done just as well by a curious mouse). Oh, and someone, somewhere may have broken their leg, although it's not yet know if it was caused by a terrorist or a policeman standing on it.

So they:
- Wrote off a car, which to be honest isn't terribly hard. They could at least have done it a more entertaining way; don't these people watch Top Gear? As for the car they choose, if they wanted to upset capitalism, why not a Porsche Cayenne? If they wanted to upset the country, it should have an E-type Jag (isn't that the worst part of The Italian Job?). As it is there'll probably be some small celebrations that such an aberration has been taken off the road (though it could probably manage that quite happily on its own, American cars being what they are).
- Melted some plastic, which may marginally increase the risk of cancer in those downwind.
- Didn't quite manage to kill themselves, which as suicide attacks go is mildly inept.
- Paid the government a fair amount to do so through the tax on petrol.

Yay them. Yep, that's really socking it to the man. To use a grossly inappropriate phrase, they've not exactly set the world ablaze. One pictures the arresting offices as addressing the duo as "daft wee buggers". As it is of those on television the chief complaint was being made to stand in the rain.

I'm guessing there was a translation mix up and they didn't quite get that terrorism rather depends on instilling terror in a given population, as opposed to eliciting mirth, condescension, derision and dismissal.

But in other news, Gordon Brown's parting act at the Treasury? To cut the budget for English hospitals, but only English hospitals. Now there's a man who knows how to instil fear in a populace.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

DSC_2804 - Stack and StoreIt's been a while, hasn't it? It must have been if IAF's done 3 posts since my last one. So what to tell? Although I suspect the questions really should be "what is there to tell?"

I'm actually not sure where I to start, or even if I ought do so. Rather than being thoughts bounced from the news or elsewhere, or echoes of other parts of the internet (though in fairness I've only forward I've seen for months - exempting those not quite good enough from my father (the fogcam being among the more memorable) - was a clip of baby panda sneezing, and I'm not quite sunset-kittens desperate yet) this blog has become like an extended game of "I went shopping", only not restricted to shopping, and not run in alphabetical order, and possibly about as fun as the downwind traffic jam of a Bank Holiday heath fire which normally leads to such games.

And I've already completely forgotten where this post was going. So I'll cheat and do something I can remember doing, despite it being of the "and then I did" variety (and ill use of the last word if ever there were one).

So a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, in the land of Summer, in the city of Sun (told you it was a long, long time ago), I met someone. Well, ok, so we arranged to meet at a certain time, he said he'd have to go to see a man about a house first, so he'd be late, so I relaxed a bit, rearranged the time and left late thus losing my safety margin completely, then had a text saying the viewing had been cancelled, so were we still on for the original time? Given I'd just missed the fallback train by seconds, I said no, stick with 12. A text comes back saying he'll see me at 11. I breathe deeply, think calming thoughts, and then remember I have an mp3 player now and stuck waiting for the next train might be a good time to actually use the thing. As I discover Amy Winehouse does have a purpose after all, I also realise that the exasperating text message was sent before the one I replied to, but such are the vagaries of the system that it arrived afterwards. How long will it be before someone invents first and second glass text messages (though if they work on the same principle as Royal Mail post the only difference will be in the price paid).

Have I mentioned my funky new mp3 player before? It's not actually all that funky, having a blue screen which lights up with a welcome message for 15 seconds, despite telling it not to and a distinctive command structure, in which the volume control is the same buttons as skipping forward and back, so one has to get it into the volume state, then change the level while hoping it doesn't revert and take to the song before. The file browsing system is awkward, not helped by the truncated names, which, having been entered by me, tend to say helpful things like "Athlete - V&A 01 - El Salvador.mp3" and thus come out as "Athlete - V~.mp3". It's that extraneous .mp3 which irks; that's four characters of unimportant information blocking anything useful leaking through. And for some reason it doesn't list the directories in alphabetical order.

I would list the myriad other design quirks but the battery has run out already (it did so on the train home, leaving me distraught at the thought of... having to do what I normally do, and thus stare out of the window, or possibly stare into the window and so at the reflection of that reasonably good looking guy across the carriage while pretending I'm fascinated by the glimpsed terraces); this either means that it has really a poor power consumption, that the Chinese TOMO Super Heavy Duty (makes it sound like a bin bag) battery wasn't very good to start with (should have been using Mega Sexy, like my mother's birthday present one, which I set up) or possibly that learning to use it while in the back of a dark car, and so with the light on the whole time, mullered the charge.

But it was a present, not linked to Christmas or a birthday, and more to the relative who won it in a raffle not having a computer, so the negatives can never get it a less than zero score. And because it came with one track pre-installed, which gave me literally minutes of entertainment as I tried to work out how to use it, and then wonder if I'd broken it, what setting I'd managed to put it on and whether it was skipping. I don't know what this music is called, nor can I play it to you, as it appears and 01.mp3 high in the hierarchy and beyond anything apparently accessible by USB (and I haven't the wherewithal to work round this). But I do know that traditional Chinese music - all drums, twangs and skillums (it's what they sound like) - in range of non-Western keys and interesting plays in the rhythm is not really the best thing to have as the first thing coming out of a player aimed an Anglophone market. It's quite nice music, once one gets used to it, but it does tend to make anything it's played on sound broken, or at least as if the file is corrupted (you know that noise some CD players make on meeting a data CD? It's a bit like that).

Anyway, this gets away from the dangers of an mp3 player, which is that the shuffle function can be both cruel and dangerous. Cruel in that the selection I have on there is a series of albums chosen for their dissimilarity: Will Young, Skunk Anansie, Avenue Q, Classical, Amy Winehouse, Madonna, Athlete. It's only one gig, I'm using about half of it, and this selection was chosen to cover as many moods as possible. Cue the most unfortunate segues ever known. From Zadok the Priest to Sorry to The Internet is for Porn to the middle of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto to that one where they shout 'chorus' to All Time Love to Twisted (Everyday Hurts) to Special.

Oh, and did you know classical music is inaudible in modern life? Sitting on a quiet train and pretty much any pop, rock, whatever song can be heard, but anything tinkly or brooding vanishes. It's not a matter of fluctuating volumes on the tracks, but simply that some pitches survive better against background noise, and classical music tends to only passes through those, whereas pop has them as a near constant. I imagine a lot of filling in goes in our brains once we can hear the ever present beat of the song, whereas classical is far more varied in structure throughout and between pieces, and so finding and predicting the recognisable bits becomes far harder.

Another 'oh', musicals, especially childish singalongable ones which make use of genuine muppet fur are not really suitable for private but in public consumption. Trying not to sing, dance or mime along to 'If you were gay' while being asked if I've got my Young Person's railcard on me can prove quite hard and potentially disastrous.

It's just so hard not to sing. I can't sing, but then all the cast are singing in whiny New York accents so it'd be harder to tell, to me at least. And it's just so god damn jolly. And catchy. And tempting. And insidious.

Anyway, enough of the fringes of my musical taste (I was being indecisive, so couldn't pick which Radiohead album to put on there [ditto Muse, ditto many other things], and thus managed to fail to put any on). The train arrives I get on, the train arrives and I get off, a train arrives and I get on, that train arrives and I get off and lo, I came to be at Green Park and very shortly the RA.

As I'm early and there's no sign of the other party, I do all the stuff one traditionally does upon arriving, including go up to buy a catalogue. Except it turns out I obviously looked so ineffectual that I got offered one that had been handed back and thus did not have to pay. Yay me for looking pitiful.

I wait in the courtyard, he appears, and after a not as awkward as it could be greeting, we go in, with me in traditional tour guide mode and so forgetting not to lose him. Browsing and conversations about art, the temperature and the RA ensue. He kindly doesn't point out my ignoble attempts to sound like I know what I talking about, thus somehow coming to the conclusion that Seurat is a place in France painted by Monet, no, I think it was Manet. I realise that other than confusing artists and towns, most of things I say are variations on what was said with my brother and co. Although the trompe l'oeil stuff is less convincing when seen across a sparsely crowded room, rather than the shuffling sauna of the preview days. Incidentally, in an echo of the SIL, his taste in art is not like mine.

He spends an inordinately long time going round the architecture room. Actually, it's about the amount of time one probably should spend on each room, but usually doesn't have the energy to do so; pacing becomes very important. Somehow we manage to maintain concentration into the closing stages, thus allowing me to notice things missed last time. I like Foster's souk, though not the compromise tower. The man playing golf in the photographs room isn't. The blinding Light is Love in the final room makes far more sense once one has learnt how to look at it (askance and moving); last time I think we all just abandoned it while trying not to cry.

After this food is proposed, and I think the ambivalent acquiesce was mutual, which does make decisions slightly hard to come by. I suggest the £3 pizza place on Goodge Street, he has to recharge his Oyster, so instead we walk into Soho at my suggestion (his mother has forbidden him from passing further east than Liberty's), ostensibly to seek out a suitable cheap cafe. Instead I find myself in Hanway Street, having successfully navigated diagonally through the place through being more intent on crowd beating than scanning for available food. Cheap pizza it is.

A margarita and tap water for me, the same but with coke for him. We chat, interrupted by an electrocade of calls and messages for him. As he doesn't know where he is, or what to do, I drag him to the Building Centre, where I try not laugh at his knowledge of London. Thence through the British Museum, as a squiggly short cut, and so southwards, discovering another branch of the pizza place on Drury Lane (he saw, I was too busy trying plan overtaking people ahead), ever southwards spotting very GWLable items along the way, but not quite having the confidence to say "do you mind if I just do something slightly odd but which will take longer to explain than to do?", I skip them. A couple of instances of leaving him standing at lights later and we walk out over Waterloo Bridge, where I strove to improve his London knowledge.

Southwards still, having Gormleyed, and so managing to let him walk right past a naked and rusty man without noticing. Cue grabbing him by the shoulders (he's a good size for easy manhandling) and rotating him to face the statue, and rather too long waiting for him to stop asking what he's supposed to be looking at before twigging. After he's suppressed the giggles (embarrassment from not noticing, or because there's a slightly surreal naked man in front of him, now helpfully circumcised by the London crowd?).

Off to the Tate, showing him and explaining the redfriars stubs, as he failed to recognise them at the RA. Up to the members room to think and gawp, as we mull over what to do next, then realising we haven't much time to do anything, and so going to South Ken via Southwark. Parting soon after, having passed assorted people known only to him, including the buskers (who I'd swear were playing the music from Tetris on a flute and drums), and doing so only marginally more awkwardly than the greeting (he tried being young and cool and I... was me).

I then explored eastwards until Knightsbridge, taking the tube back into town, from where I head home, having wandered ceaselessly with clear intent.

And somehow through out all that I managed to avoid mentioning who the he was. He is of course is Azuric, child of the indeterminate blue. But as I'm not quite sure what to say about the experience, I repeat what I've said elsewhere (please forgive the formatting and references you won't get).

And now in a change to some listings, the next paragraph will contain mildly effusive praise. You're delightful to be with. Not only are you kind, patient and humorous, but you have the gall to be intelligent and good looking too (you're right, it couldn't be option two). Confident, inquisitive, attentive, if a little unobservant, you come across as much more adult, more mature, much more likeable than your blog has sometimes suggested (and so by inference if I was willing to meet the perceived you, you can work out how wonderful it was to discover the improved version). A nice guy (as I somehow managed to put repeatedly in an earlier email to [Omega]. Admittedly I also said - I suspect you may hate me for this - "Tries to be 'street' but ends up just sweet", which along with calling you cute [hey, you are], managed to send him off into completely unintended territory. If the Australian gay mafia [presumably a subdivision of the Evil Gays] try to matchmake us I can only apologise).

Of course, the publishing of this is artfully done, being on the eve of him leaving the country (although by the time I finish this he'll have flown out, terror and storm cells permitting).

Think that's it for now, except for today's random sentence that lost its context:
Dave Gorman's endless procession of socks (lot of blue).

Along similar apropos of nothing lines, I've very recently discovered smoked salmon and redcurrants. Not individually (that would just imply very odd things about my life so far), but combined between slices of decent stoneground. Do I need to add wholemeal, or are we all of the ilk that assumes such things? Do they even make stoneground white bread? And isn't it odd to discover those rare people who think bread means white (I know this sounds very white middle classes, but I listen to Radio 4 too, so I probably am, despite what customs people think)? Especially when you've just suggested banana sandwiches as about the only things the hosts claimed to have in the house were bread and couple of overripe bananas. Like white bread and pretty much anything but butter, they don't mix. And suddenly I remember school holidays, which were the only times we were allowed white bread in the house. I've no idea why there was a ban for the rest of the time, but it took me years to figure out how cunning my parents must have been to convince both children that white bread counted as a treat, thus negating the need for any actual treats. But then I remember them convincing us that pasta was special too. Either the eighties were very, very different (which given my grandmother probably never realised that tinned spaghetti on toast was just carbohydrates layered on carbohydrates; it's in a tin, in the same sauce of baked beans, and baked beans are a source protein, so it follows that spaghetti hoops are too) or my parents had the complete measure of us. I remember broken party rings [iced biscuits] used for birthdays too (we only bought them because they were broken, being too expensive unless reduced), and this being a treat. But actually, thinking back to the Waitrose with the sloping floor (which was the only supermarket in town, and would be small by today's scales, despite being the biggest in the area for a large chunk of my childhood), I think it all was quite different.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

DSC_3727 - Five FinsI'd forgotten how much one can fit in a weekend. My brother helpfully decided he and she were going to my parents' on Friday evening, causing mild divers alarums, which led to decision to stage everything in the garden, which led to the discoveries that smothered grass will not revive in 3 hours, that removing 4-months' worth bindweed only exposes what hasn't grown there instead and that shingle cannot be moved quickly, quietly or neatly (it'd crept from the path to a huge bank under the bench). Oh, and the discovery that if they don't turn up till I could have been watching Ugly Betty (I know it's rubbish, but it's dreadfully silly and therefore fun rubbish) then it's probably going to be getting too dark to notice anyway.

They appear to be greeted by my still muttering mother (she felt very put upon; but then she seeks out reasons to dislike the SIL [the evil papal cucumber hater], and probably last played host to anyone who is not pre-existing family back when people thought microwaved meringues were a good idea, microwaves still being rare novelties to the non-ocean-going populace. The earlier rants included some comedy misanthropic lines which she would have lambasted had they been said by anyone but herself; I won't repeat them here because while typing I'll either dissolve into giggles or lapse into depression at the thought she might mean it. But she ignores my father's comments that there might be some point to the visit, some news perhaps [the possibility of the result of holiday survival had already occurred to me, albeit in a "Oh God... but... oh" way], so I think it was just the autorant she does before she sees anyone).

I'm dispatched to make drinks, this time with lemonade that doesn't taste like Sodastream (stale sugar solution weakly carbonated; the first bottle had been sitting in the fridge in the garage probably since the summer before last). After much chopping and completely forgetting about the usual collection of herbs (and cucumber; I'll pretend that was being considerate), I end up wondering how I can get the liquid out from under that much head. I also ponder the possibility of baking the jug and serving it as Pimm's soufflé (just comically mistyped as 'souggle' - far more apt). Serving the guest of honour first I managed to decant some liquid but little of the overhanging head, although no fruit either. I take that out, return to make my brother's driving-back drink, run that out (master of efficiency at work here), then back in again to pour the rest of the Pimm'ses, which by this time has subsided and so only the SIL's ended up without fruit, thus managing to be a slight that wasn't intended (like nearly breaking her cheekbone, and mine, in greeting earlier) - it's something people in the family might notice and people on my mother's side would umbrage over, but I've no idea what the SIL extrapolated from it. She would have had some had she had another glass, but oddly she didn't. This might have something to do with the unreported but fairly recent discovery that the label design on the bottle suggests it may well have been inherited hence the slight taste of brown jam (which would have been less masked in those glasses without fruit, which would have be... oh). Which thus explains the lack of "Yay Pimm's Yay" so far.

So we sit to eat, with the usual Heathrow approaches of a help-yourself family meal on a too small table, the potatoes ending up on nearby furniture alongside late seedlings and the only causality is the invention of citronella ham. My brother makes panicked looks and not quite funny comments about the creak and lurch let out by the table. I try to silence him with a glare but it doesn't really work when lit by candlelight and streetlight. It's cheap furniture on an uneven slope, as loving built and painted by me, and then less lovingly painted again a couple of years later when I couldn't get some of the nuts undone so painted over them and it's those that probably let out the crack. Anyway, it never quite fitted together in the first place thanks to the kit-makers being wholly unaware of Pythagoras.

Conversation is made, nearly as well as the bench. My brother and the SIL alternate who is making leaving signals. My mother carries on regardless. Eventually they depart in car that makes similar sounds to the bench [so there!]. My mother asks after they've gone why they came so late and had to stay so long, why couldn't they have left an hour ago? I decide that explaining that she would not stop talking for long enough for them to get up and go would only lead to another hour of 'talking' and then it would all be my fault.

The next day breakfast is grabbed through the fruit-flied clutter and we head off for the distant coast, radio squawking traffic reports incessantly (and BBC Radio Bristol - don't ask how we were picking them up - leave there 'traffic' signal on way past the actual report). It's always nice to hear of 4 mile queues on an unavoidable bit of route while sitting a solid traffic jam which is mentioned on no radio station. Phone calls to say we'll be late, are followed by finding the widely reported chaos cannot be found, although driving through the relevant town was like to how it used to be before they built the allegedly root-of-all-evil bypass.

Get to the club, offering apologies, trying to placate the site-sharers (or possibly owners; it gets complicated) over an unknown stupidly parked car (was it the hatching, the signs or the presence of the large doors that confused you?) while not having the time to get involved. Get changed, go out on rib, be glad I'm in dire need of a haircut and so not having time to seek out some sunscreen means only my nose will get burnt. Loiter not doing much, play round in rib not being quite as effortless as I'd like and struggling not to slow down for the corners (although never badly enough that the wake shunts the stern). Hanging around the first mark ever alert for the spectacularly stupid, indulging in ill-worded radio communications (which were accurate but not logical; I didn't send either, just heard and misinterpreted), haring off belatedly to move the leeward marks as the boats are still struggling out to the windward mark, whereupon I got taught that there are two ways to move marks; the proper weigh and re-lay way, and the cleat the line to the back of the boat and hammer across the bay way. The latter is rather quicker, although it is strange to be able to see chain apparently floating.

After a bit of exploring the handling (i.e. trawling round, then haring round and trying not to brake for the corners, which caused someone else in the boat to demonstrate what happens when you turn at full speed, which I think counts are bombing round) we tied up to a speed limit buoy and dozed for the rest of the race. I don't think one boat capsized, which given there have been instances where nearly the whole fleet has been flattened was pretty fortunate. After that we pack up the course and head in, stowing everything away while trying to remain polite to those who insist on discussing things while I'm impersonating a leafcutter, with one of the race marks sprawling above me.

Then the traditional clambering out of a wetsuit, cursing the entire racing fleet who have doused the changing room before me. And so the joys of working out the results while people pester for them (if I'm still typing the times in how can Sailwave already know the adjusted times? It's even better when they try to evoke sympathy or defame their competitors while not actually officially making any complaint; if anything's likely to make me mistype their time as 1:33:05 not 1:13:05, it's that. Leave us be, otherwise we might notice that you haven't signed off and so disqualify you [I was overruled on typing up one of the crews as Helm: A. NAME and Crew: ILLEGIBLE]), and then having them all depart while we find out that the bosun's marooned us with his freshly cleaned floor.

Then came driving back, via fish and chips and an aunt's, with the shock discovery that there's a world at the end of her garden - a lot of trees had been taken since I saw it last.

Then the next day came London and a preview day at the RA's Summer Exhibition with bro and co. Liked the photography room, despite some things elsewhere looking like they ought to be. Liked the architecture room. Liked a couple of trompe-l'oeil-ish pictures (bag, loo). Not sure I approve of painting over books, especially with the wrong titles; that was another trompe-l'oeil thing which turned out not to be. Didn't feel as exciting as last year's but that's because it was less new. This year I could recognise the same artists, recognise some of the same ideas and not overspend quite so much time early on.

After that my brother and his girlfriend went one way, I another, possibly because they were making pizza many hours hence, and the invitation was of the sort were someone realised they've been discussing plans in front of you, so invites you, but really hasn't thought about it and is assuming you won't be there. So I wander, sucking peaches in Green Park (apparently my mother can tell when I speaking with a peach stone in my mouth, even over the phone), then meandering until I reach Pimlico, getting the Tube back up to somewhere more reasonable and dawdling back down to Waterloo again. The highlight of which was noticing the signs on two neighbouring shops "British Sex Shop", which makes one wonder how British sex differs, next to "Celebrity Dry Cleaners", which not only conjures up images of gaunt females having the plastic surgery dissolved off them, but allows for the amusing pragmatism of having a dry cleaners next to a sex shop.

And that was that weekend.


Friday, June 08, 2007

DSC_3744 - Self ReferenceToday's post will be about (yep, first lines are always the hardest) Monet at the Royal Academy. If like me you usually find the room devoted to sketches and preliminary work the most fascinating part of any exhibition, you'll probably like the Unknown Monet exhibition. Gone are the Smarties-in-glycol waterlilies and florid smog, except for the last room which contains a wide array of since-replaced and renamed London bridges (which took some explaining to the Americans wanting to see them). Instead the walls are covered with earlier works and sketches, largely depicting the Normandy coast with Honfleur (where the lock gates had broken), Deauville (where the tide forbade) and Le Harve (where we wished we hadn't bothered after the third lap of the mopedcade) vying with chunks of shore which seem like Durdle Door and Ballard combined or like the slumping chunks round the Mulberry Harbour (yes, I am covering for not having quite recalled the name of the place yet).

You will of course have to have a high tolerance for boats, preferably a liking and the tendency to note the bits he hasn't got quite right. You may also wonder how someone who must have spent so much time by the sea could repeatedly get it slightly wrong, with boats being hauled through the surf, if a near calm could be called that, without any splashes or ripples, or a brilliant reflection not matching the partially lit subject. But then in a later room Monet's print of one of his own pictures, while more ragged than the professional printmaker's, manages to convey the standing waves around a coast far more clearly than the latter's print, which is solely concerned and thereby consumed by the surface ripples. Which won't make much sense if you haven't seen the prints of the Savage Coast.

The self-reproducing prints were part of Monet's promotional system. It's odd to discover, or be reminded, that rarely is fame accidental, and that management of reputation and renown is not a recent invention. Which sounds immensely facile given the prevalent knowledge of defamed post-mortem hunchback kings, Shakespearean slander and even the existence of the word 'Machiavellian', but it's easy to think of refinement of such as modern ills.

And while you're there, don't ignore the cluster of computers; his sketchbooks, which are shown on touchscreen monitors (how very Tomorrow's World; how very usable, except when they make the link too small and so it disappears beneath a futilely bouncing fingertip, or when I short the signal by letting other fingers brush the screen. And where have I learnt to put two fingers on the screen and spread them apart to zoom in from? Because it's something I expect to work, although it didn't on these screens, which restricted options to a single left mouse button).

I've just realised I'm breaking with tradition by posting before an exhibition closes; the Monet is on till the tenth.

After a couple of apples in the courtyard (try to be around the Champman dinosaurs at quarter to one; you'll see why if you wander around them), we headed west, past expensive shops full of cheese and cheesecloth, the long familiar Stockpot, and the back of the galleries, whereupon - er, I realised that should actually be 'east' above - we decided to see what's in the National Portrait Gallery for once. Greer, Mudoch, Caine, Moss, and Chirac lambasting Blair in a corridor (there's a section following Blair in the build-up to the Iraq war, which is quite good, although presumably published aeons ago in the Times). Then upstairs for tea, at scandalous prices, which aren't that ghastly for London (be warned: service is not included except in the end bill [regardless of how miserable the waitress is]. And the sandwiches are dainty), but are when in the knowledge it's cheaper in the basement. Yet the basement only gives a view of pedestrians' legs, whereas the restaurant gives a view of Nelson's legs. It may also come with the view of some familiar shoulders.

Continuing in the tradition of the blurry back views of both Chris Martin and David Gray with miscellaneous children, I have a shot of both Alistair McGowan's extremely well-tanned elbow (that'll be what one gets for using a zoom while shooting from the ribcage) and a far wider shot of most of the room with dark cluster representing Ronni Ancona's hair, with a tanned temple protruding beyond it as McGowan explains something in his deep, carrying voice (is it eavesdropping if the eaves are rumbling in resonance?). I would report what the conversation was about, but I was more concerned with attempting reflection free photography of the view (remind me not to wear white). So I haven't much to say about them, except that Ancona looks better, far healthier, in life. I didn't bound up and ask for autographs, as, er, were I being cruel, I might comment that their work is only fractionally less patchy than his hair*, but I'm not, or should not be, so I'll leave it as I'm just not the autograph-seeking kind.

* Although that's true of much comedy. I suppose it's the air of forced jollity bathed in mildly frantic despair, which pervades much of their work, that I dislike. It's too orchestrated, too pessimistic, assuming the joke will flop and so over-acting to compensate, striving to get a laugh on every single line, including the stage directions. There's no confidence in it, no assumption of some minor morsel of intelligence on the part of the audience. They don't seem to trust themselves to be good.

So after the famous faces, and watching the National Gallery workers sneak onto the roof for a smoke, we adjourned to Oxford Street, going our separate ways to fill separate needs, which in my case was replacement pair of linen trousers. H&M once more, despite the last being from there and having been worn through, as it was over the course of several years, and they're cheaper than anywhere else (and they're cut so the skinnily misshapen don't end up like a cross between Tintin and MC Hammer in them). What's it say about the shop that there are at least three different ranges of linen trousers and the blacks were down to about 3 or entirely absent in each of them? The choices were 31 or 32. Fortunately, despite wearing a recent GAP 33 the 31 fitted better, so I'm happy, or possibly suffering from anoxeria absent-mindia.

I also intended to buy some shorts, but got bewildered by the range of not quite right khakis and beiges, and then discovered they were all 34s and 36s. Now, what's that say about the shop that the unsold extra-large sizes end at a 36-inch waist? As someone who was once ravaged by a wayward 48-inch waist Spitfire wing kit in M&S (I was in a hurry, it was hanging on a low shelf, so sprawled across the floor, and suddenly I was being dragged back to its lair, flailing to escape and expecting to have lines of sucker marks across my arms), I suspect they're breaking some discrimination law (although given the dearth of gangly armed shirts in any shop bar M&S, which does them in navy striped, blue, pale blue, four types of blue check and white, I suspect there is no such law).

After the excitement of expanding my non-suit, vaguely respectable trouser collection from a solitary of pair of greenly tinged, smally stained, lightly scuffed, slightly shapeless M&S things to the above plus the further above, I wandered off taking photographs while fielding phonecalls from someone who thought he was being helpful by relaying information between two people who'd already arranged things between themselves.

And then south, shortcutting through Soho yet again, realising rather too late that it might not be suitable for all audiences. She who shall not be named was complaining about the people standing blocking the pavement, wondering why all the pubs in the area seemed immensely popular yet had strangely gendrally ['tis a word] imbalanced clientèle, and then upon the sight of a rather gropesome kiss between a man in a leather cap and a man in terribly short shorts (er, clichés are apparently very now) was heard to utter "oh".

So into, and through, Covent Garden, having achieved a bare minimum of getting-lostage (I always forget Long Acre) and browsed the early arrivals for the Malayasian fair: It might not start till tomorrow, but I'm sure they'll sell you something if you ask them very nicely.

Southwards still, through the missing ranks of watermen, and over Waterloo Bridge (another renamed bridge, it being nearly built when a pragmatic parliament decided they needed to commemorate the battle), scanning rooftops for errant figures, an occupation that not only emphasises the amount of clutter around, but makes bluntly modern buildings seem considerate through acquiescing to the temporary forms, rather than the guerilla pomp of more decorative structures. It's surprising how differently the buildings react to a human shape; the towers of the National Gallery suddenly shrink, becoming mere boxes, whereas others seem intent on grinding the figures into the sky (whereas others still appear to be grinding themselves into the sky; the clay on the fly tower obviously has not been getting enough water, as the bit where no grass sprouted has started to flake off).

After short bout of bemusing helpfulness (directions, photo, local knowledge - always getting asked) while discovering that even in June easterlies off the Thames aren't that warm, we depart, Gormleying along the way.

Worth the wait? There are earlier others still to come.


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