Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Design For Life

In my recent rant about art school types, I forgot to include architects and designers, and I really ought to have done so, because I have strong opinions there, too. The best examples of really excellent design and really excellent architecture address function first, and then real creative genius can flourish as it addresses the challenge of delivering that function in an aesthetically pleasing form.

The iPod is an excellent example of top-notch design. Examples of poor design abound, not least in my gym. Oh, yes. I really like my gym. It's relatively quiet, has good facilities, and the spa area is a treat. It looks great, too. Well, it should do - it was designed by Philipe Starck. But they missed a few tricks. For example, the showers look great, but they have been designed so that the doors close by themselves. This means you get a beautiful vista of solid glass hovering from the ceiling, but it also means you can't tell whether a cubicle is occupied unless you crouch and have a look at the legs. Admittedly, this can have its appeal, but it feels a bit of an inelegant thing to do in such glamourous surroundings.

Also, around Canary Wharf (where I am currently plying my trade), the doors leading in to Cabot Square and Canada Square are massive, thick glass things: beautiful to behold, and bloody heavy! I have to push (or worse, pull) quite hard to get them open, and I'm not exactly a 98 lb weakling (not that I'm sure why "lb" means "pounds"). I feel for the little puny people who also have to use these doors. I'm sure some of them are not capable of opening them at all. Clearly the designers considered the look, but not the use. Eejits.

A feature common to the building in which I work and the gym is the hand towel dispensers in the loos. These are appealingly modern brushed aluminium things, and look great. I'm sure it would be churlish of me to mention that it's impossible to remove paper towels from them without ripping them in the process, and you usually have to grab several before you can make enough from the shredded remnants to actually dry your hands.

Is it really that hard to get these things right?

That's probably enough ranting for now. I haven't even mentioned my holiday. I didn't follow Frobisher's suggestion and wander around the dunes as Maspalomas with a towel on my bonce pretending to be Larry Of Araby. However, we did have great weather and a fabulous time. It's probably fair to say that I overdid it on the karaoke, but the establishments that had such entertainment seemed to be the ones where we had the most fun. If you are sufficiently bored that you want to varda some photos, I've put a few on Picasa Web for the moment.

That is all.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Art School Wankers

I read an article the other day by Grayson Perry about a young woman who, having received the appropriate sponsorship, intends to stage an art installation featuring nothing. I despair!

Some years ago, I had the misfortune to be the tenant of a guy who was finishing off his degree at St Martin's. He was an archetypal art school wanker. Seemed to think the world owed him a living, and that he was entitled to be supported whilst engaging in the creation of work that would mean nothing to anyone except himself. As a result, what he produced was self-indulgent rubbish that anyone could have done.

Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of modern art that I really like. For example, I thought that Marcus Harvey's Myra was a very powerful piece. And guess what? It took genuine skill and creativity to get it made. Who would have thought?

Good art seems to thrive in adversity. I used to be very fond of Marc Almond's music. Well, I would, wouldn't I, being a big ole jobby-jabber and all. I thought that his best album was Tenement Symphony, yet when I read his autobiography, it was very clear that it was his least favourite because of all the interference from the record label. Having heard subsequent albums in which his muse was completely unfettered, I reckon the label did a very good job of channelling the creativity and limiting the excess in a way that created a much better piece of work.

The greatest artists in history had patrons and sponsors, and lived on commissions. They knew better than to bite the hand that fed them, and they fulfilled the terms of their commissions but managed to sneak some of their own concepts and ideas into the work along the way. The result is much more memorable than the self-satisfied, hollow, arturbatory nonsense that is often on display.

I love the slides in Tate Modern. But let's not kid ourselves. They're slides, not art.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Porn On The Small Screen?

Apologies to regular readers who are taken aback by the sudden outsplurging of two whole posts in one day, but I knew there was something that I needed to give an airing to, and it's only just come back to me.

My Lovely Husband™ recently found both seasons of The Book Group on DVD, and treated himself. We enjoyed the show when it aired in NZ a couple of years ago, and it has been fun reminding ourselves of why we loved it, and catching up on the bits we missed.

Some highlights.
Rab: Ur you sayin Ah cannae read?

Clare: Tuh!

Rab: Whit?

Clare: Tuh! It's can-tuh. There's a "t" on the end: can-tuh. And on the end of won-tuh.

Rab: Aye, and there's wan oan the end of cunt, anaw.
I'd forgotten about that bit. Loved it. A bit I loved and remembered was this line:
Jean: I say tomayto, you say tomahto ; but you're wrong, 'cause it's tomayto.
Any road up, as the actress said to the bishop (when they were on a hiking holiday together), last night we happened to watch an episode in which Rab gets buggered by Anselmo, a professional Spanish football player who happens to have one of his legs in plaster at the time. As both men reach that moment, Rab's upper body flushes red. I got Lovely Husband™ to replay that bit, and pointed it out. He wasn't convinced, but a lot of people get that kind of flush as they come, and I don't know of any way of faking it. You can't just make your body spontaneously flush red all over like that, can you? So what I'm suggesting is that those of us who watched this on't telly were actually viewing two men apparently having sex (whether real or simulated), and one of them actually climaxing, but the whole thing being done in way that makes you assume it's all just acting.

Incidentally, other scenes sprinkled throughout both series really pushed the boat out. Like one where Clare is going down on Lachlan, and they are interrupted by Jean just as Lachlan comes. Clare turns around, and you get a glimpse of some thick, milky-looking fluid in her mouth. Then there's a scene where Jean sort-of accidentally ends up as a sex-worker who gets clients off by talking at them while they play with themselves. A few squirts of the same thick, milky stuff shoot into frame as she walks past "Smithy" to pick up her fee.

Just out of curiosity, did it raise the ire of Affronted In Saffron Waldon, or any of the other people who write to Points Of View?

Y Viva Espana!

My Lovely Husband™ and I haven't had a proper holiday for years. In fact, last time was way back in 2002, when we spent 10 days in Australia which, in true Cath & Kim style, we divided between Surfers Paradise and Noosa. So, we're both very happy that on Saturday, we're heading off to Gatwick and thence to Gran Canaria.

I've been to Tenerife a couple of times, and would happily go again. Lovely Husband™ was initially in favour of that, mostly because it rates a mention from time to time on Coronation Street, of which he is a big fan. However, he later changed his tune and decided that Gran Canaria would be a better bet, so we're all booked up. We've done the "allocation on arrival" thing, so we don't know where we'll end up. I've done that before, and it has always worked out really well, probably because I'm just naturally lucky. And telling myself and others that I'm naturally lucky seems to help ensure that it remains the case. As a backup, however, we have also taken advantage of our Handy Useful Network of Gays (HUNG - dontcha luvvit?). We have a friend who works for the company we're travelling with, and he's put a note on our account to increase the chances that we'll be allocated to one of the more gay-friendly parts of the island.

Cheap holidays don't seem to me to be as cheap as they were before I went to live in NZ (towards the tail end of 2000), even allowing for inflation. The travel companies seem to have become much more cunning about how the things are priced. You have to pay extra for transfers to and from your destination airport, for inflight meals, for various other things that were previously all part of the package (hence the term "package holiday"). They want to see a certificate to prove that you have your own insurance if you say "no" to their travel insurance. It seems to be no longer the happy go lucky system described thus by Peter Kay: "Got it off Teletext. Saw it, booked it, fucked off."

In other news, I am working on a new magic effect that is really rather gross. Not one that I would show to everyone, but one that I'm sure anyone who reads this blog would find amusing. It involves worms and crabs, and I call it Infestation. Make of that what you will.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Cultural Learnings

Doubtless, many people will object to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, not least the various official voices from Kazakhstan that have been raised in criticism over the last few weeks. We went on Friday (to the cinema, not to Kazakhstan) and watched it. And laughed a lot.

I think the Kazakh officials don't get the joke.

It isn't funny because Sacha Baron Cohen's character gives the impression that the country is full of sexist, racist, anti-Semitic homophobes. It's funny because most of the people he talks to are so profoundly ignorant of the rest of the world, and of other cultures, that they accept what he says and does at face value. We're not laughing at a bad parody of Kazakhstani life, we're laughing at people blindly and stupidly accepting that Borat provides an accurate representation of that country.

In places, the film is also chilling.

At one point, he was talking to one of the organisers of a rodeo. It was probably the most reactionary of his interviewees. Borat was rebuffed when he tried to kiss the interviewee on the cheeks, and the interviewee explained how "the only men who kissed other men in the US were men like this" (whereupon he did a fluttery-hand fairy thing).
When Borat explained that in Kazakhstan, such people were strung up by the neck, the interviewee laughed and said, "Well, that's what we're trying to do here." Frightening, but powerful. Oh, and when he said that, a women a couple of rows back from us applauded. My Lovely Husband™ turned around, glared at her, and told her to shut up.

Borat succeeds in encouraging the holders of the most vile opinions to express their prejudices in their most extreme form, and in a way which shows them up in the worst possible light. People laughed not because they agreed (with the possible exception of the clapping idiot), but because these vile opinions had been successfully held up to ridicule.

When he then went on to sing the national anthem of Kazakhstan to the tune of the US national anthem in front of the rodeo crowd, you had to hand it to him - he really took his life in his hands to make that movie.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sparks will fly

I love fireworks. My Lovely Husband™ loves them even more. I don't know what happened for Guy Fawkes Night the first year that we were together, but for some reason, it didn't come up. However, the second year, it did. And then we realised that we were as bad as each other. We spent a fortune on the things. (I mean well over $100 each.)

Given its relative proximity to China, fireworks in NZ are imported in huge quantities and at very low prices. They can only be sold for a few days before the 5th of November. The rest of the year, you can't buy them. Also, some years ago, a ban was introduced on rockets. Something to do with bush fires, I think. November in NZ can be reasonably warm and dry, and rockets aren't nearly as "safe" as they are in the UK, which is pretty reliably cold and often wet at that time of year.

Last year, my Lovely Husband™ missed out on Guy Fawkes Night here, because he was still in the process of sorting out his visa. So this year, we've bought some rockets. Oh, how his little eyes shone when he saw them in the shops! And tonight, I splashed out on one extra large rocket just for him. I took a picture of it, intending to spice up this entry with it, but Blogger isn't playing ball with me.

Thing is, for some time now, I've been harbouring doubts. I love fireworks. But they are so bad in just about every way:
  • They put lots of nasty chemicals into the environment.
  • Expended rocket shells interfere with wildlife. Or children.
  • Modern rocket shells are made from non-biodegradable plastics.
  • They are freely available to would-be terrorists looking for a supply of explosives.
  • A lot of them are made in sweat shops. Probably.
I've lived in London long enough to have been here when Guy Fawkes Night fell on a Saturday. The stench the next day was amazingly bad. I felt like I was in one of those 70s public awareness cartoons about smog, where the big smog monster attacks peoples washing lines.

What we are supposed to do is go to a public display. Obviously, this isn't nearly as much fun, since you don't get to light the things yourself, and that's the big thrill. And even if everyone went to such displays, we'd still be putting a whole load of toxic junk into the atmosphere for no good reason, and at ridiculous cost.

It's the kind of thing that the amazing Mrs. Pritchard would get rid of, if she were in charge.