Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Funny Art Foundation?

This morning I was reading about an exhibition of humorous modern art, which has sparked a debate about whether art can be funny. It reminded me of one particular evening, many years ago, on my art foundation course.

(A brief bit of background on my foundation course at Mid-Warwickshire College circa 1987: it was, undoubtedly, the most disastrous thing I’ve ever done in my life. It started badly, as I’d cut my own hair badly and was covered in hives after becoming allergic to a virus. So much for first impressions. I also had a feud with another student that led to my becoming an outcast. Then, finally, there was the course itself. At 18, all I wanted to be was a comic strip artist. I was totally focused on this. The lecturers were all abstract expressionists and surrealists who thought comics were crap. This led to me attempting, half-heartedly, to adapt to their thinking and failing. Add demotivation to extreme laziness and it became inevitable that I was going to drop out.)

Anyway, the flipside of the foundation experience was another student who was revered by the lecturers as a prodigy. I forget his name now (possibly Paul something), but he’d got the whole modern art thing right. The zenith of his work, for me, was a performance art piece that he staged for the lecturers and other students one evening.

Picture this: a large branch, some may call a bough, from a tree resting in a large pool full of mud. Now imagine the prodigy naked, his skin plastered in feathers perched on the bough. The 80s video camera, at least the size of a small car, is rolling. He shivers and mimes a tentative preparation for flight, momentarily lurching forward and then rocking back.

Unfortunately from where my friend Amy and I were sitting, we could see that a twig on the branch was poking his balls every time he rocked. Then he repositioned and the errant bit of wood was working its way up his arse-crack. We were both fighting a massive fit of the giggles as everyone else was sitting there taking it all terribly seriously. Every time he rocked, we had to avoid each other’s eyes and cover our mouths as the twig poked deeper where it shouldn’t.

The performance reached its denouement when the bird-man finally did jump from the branch and mimed dying in the mud. I suppose the message is “we all long for freedom, but we’re also all doomed to fail”. This serious subtext was lost on me, however, as I sat hyperventilating, desperate to suppress my laughter.

So can art be funny? I’d say only when it isn’t trying to be…

Monday, January 28, 2008


I was humbled yesterday by our neighbour, who I spotted hauling a load of bags back from church. I offered to help and found that she was collecting clothes for inmates (detainees?) at the local Immigration Detention Centre nearby. I knew that conditions were scandalous in these places and made a note in the ‘Guardian reader’s outrage’ lobe of my brain without bothering to do any more about it. I do this with most things that trouble me morally, yet never anything practical or even symbolic about it. Yet the congregation of the local church in a staunchly Tory area are mobilising to help. I feel ashamed of myself.

It’s possibly a hyperbolic analogy, but I suspect that there were people in the communities around Nazi death-camps who were morally – but passively - offended about what was going on nearby or just chose to ignore it for the sake of a quiet life.

What I find most shocking about what my neighbour told me was not that entire families, including babies and pregnant women, are kept in appalling conditions. It’s the fact that the detention centre is run by a private company. Someone in a boardroom somewhere is making a fat profit from keeping families – people who have committed no crime – in squalid captivity.

So what am I going to do? Well, I’ve just joined Amnesty International, I’m giving clothes to the church and researching which organisation I want to join to campaign against these centres. It’s not much, but it’s better than my usual complacency…

Friday, January 25, 2008

After Conan Comes Mr T

"Work that butt, fool!"

After having King Conan as a trainer at the gym, I now have Mr T. Jan appears to have gone back to the Czech Republic, so they came up with Neves as a replacement. He's a short black cuboid of muscle with a stutter and he's caused me a world of pain over the last week or so.

He basically decided that Jan was 'going too easy' on me and that I needed a more rigorous, challenging programme. As he showed me through my new circuit of the gym I began to realise that the man was a vicious sadist and I was politely submitting myself to a self-imposed cycle of torture. It's strange how, as a man, one goes along with the alpha personal training male while inwardly thinking 'you're deranged if you think I can do this and a number of your jokes are highly inappropriate but I'll smile sheepishly anyway'.

I'm now expected to go round practically every machine in the gym. The worst machine is the one that exercises your arse. You have to lay on your stomach and push your leg outwards and upwards like a stroke victim going for a swim on dry land. This exercise is necessary, according to Neves, so I can 'have a butt that your wife is going to love'.

Anyway, the next time I went to the gym, I thought that maybe I'm being too negative and Neves has the measure of my capabilities. I did everything in my new programme. Afterwards I could barely move my mouse across the mouse mat and I ached for 3 days like I'd been cage-fighting with Jabba the Hutt.

It's enough to make me nostalgic about Jan!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Decline of Western Civilisation Part Deux

Sometimes I do think that Al Qaeda may have a point when they rail against the decadence of western civilisation. Not that I think that a caliphate would be a good thing either, particularly for women, homosexuals or anyone who enjoys freedom of expression. However, occasionally, I am given pause for thought. I had one of those moments this morning, walking from King's Cross. I passed a newspaper kiosk and caught a glimpse of a porn magazine tucked into one of its racks. The name of this illustrious periodical? 'Arse Wrecked'.

One assumes that the title is a reference to anal sex, of course (and not, for instance, actually a medical magazine aimed at people who suffer with piles). Now I'm no prude, but how bankrupt and debauched is a culture that can produce a commercial publication named 'Arse Wrecked'? Jesus, if this is freedom of expression, I say bring back Victorian hypocrisy and repression...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

First Capital Disconnect

I sometimes consider myself to be a little bit unlucky. Indeed, to paraphrase Shakespeare: "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They piss us about for their sport."

Take this evening:
  • I cycle to Kings Cross from Charlotte Street and congratulate myself for reaching the station in time to catch the 18.36 to Welwyn Garden City
  • Find, to my chagrin, that all services in and out of Kings Cross are suspended due to "massive signal failure". I'm told to make my way to Finsbury Park, where services are now terminating and departing.
  • I count myself lucky having my bike with me, as they've closed the tube station at Kings Cross due to overcrowding (no doubt due to the masses of people trying to head north via the underground).
  • Start cycling up Caledonian Road to Finsbury Park, passing kids on mountain bikes trying to destroy a bin by ramming it with their vehicles
  • Get to Holloway Road, thinking that at least I'm getting some extra cardiovascular exercise, and my fucking tyre gets punctured
  • Cursing like a Tourettes sufferer with piles sitting on a spike, I trudge up the Seven Sisters Road to Finsbury Park
  • Get to the station and find police turning passengers away. A copper tells me that no trains at all are running from Finsbury Park. He has no suggestions for what the fuck I do next
  • I see loads of people still getting into station, so nip past police and get to platform
  • The announcer seems as confused as everyone else, but tells us that there IS now a bloody train running from Kings Cross - rendering my cycle ride and walk entirely pointless
  • Fold up bike, train eventually arrives and I join the crush of people desperate to get home. Despite the train already being rammed, we all make it onto the carriage
  • Finally - two hours later - get home
Now, what infuriates me is not this country's crap transport infrastructure, it's the muddled communications and sheer cluelessness of First Capital Connect. I wonder if they're planning to form a partnership with Virgin Media?

Wired at Work!

Wires and chargers are taking over my life. It’s like a snakepit of cables on my desk at work, with headphone wires, charger cables and leads for USB devices tangled together like an electronic version of the Gordian knot. It’s no different at home, where I have two stack-and-stores full of cables and chargers for various devices around the house, probably half of which are phones that we don’t actually own any more.

I suppose it may indicate a geeky addiction to electronic consumer goods (as they call them in marketing), but I have a feeling that everyone except the most ascetic individual is experiencing the same thing.

So what’s the solution? Well, we now take wireless internet and bluetooth for granted (gone are the days when I had to run a 20m cable from the phone socket to my bondi-blue iMac upstairs!) and there’s been talk of wireless delivery of electricity to devices for a while. Ah, imagine it – an entirely wireless household!

I suppose the other solution is to simply own less stuff, but I’m not quite ready for that at this precise moment!

BTW: Fuck me, isn't the Apple MacBook Air breathtakingly beautiful?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

TV Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is on Channel 4 in a Ghoulish Chicken Cruelty Experiment and I Hate Him Even More Now

Against my better judgment, I watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall abusing chickens and patronising poor people in Hugh’s Chicken Run (Channel 4) this week.

As one could easily guess, Hugh thinks battery-farming chickens is a BAD THING and sets about persuading the hoi-polloi in Axminster, the town near his River Cottage ‘holding’, that they should give up their £2.50 supermarket chickens. Of course, it came across as the Lord of the Manor attempting to be matey with his serfs, but then that’s what we expect from Hugh. You’d think Channel 4 would steer him away from interacting with the public. His dalek-like Old Etonian speech patterns seem even more irritating when they’re directed at ordinary people.

But that’s not the concept on which the show has ghoulishly been focused.

The premise – or gimmick, if we’re honest Channel 4 – is that, because Hugh wasn’t allowed access to any intensive chicken farms, he builds his own to demonstrate just how awful and cruel it is.

Now, you may think this is a bit like Simon Wiesenthal creating his own Auschwitz on his allotment to show us just awful and cruel death camps were. Or Amnesty International torturing Big Brother contestants. Or animal rights activists donning the hunting pinks to pursue a fox. Surely if you’re against cruelty you don’t actively engage in it?

However, all morality and common sense (not to mention a few thousand chickens) are sacrificed on the altar of sensationalist ‘good television’. Now I notice that Jamie Oliver has imported a chicken abattoir into a TV studio for Friday’s crusading 9pm slot.

I have a suggestion for a sequel to this demented nonsense:

‘Hugh and Jamie’s Bargain Bucket’

The two TV chefs are locked naked in a cramped man-sized KFC bucket for a month with only chicken feed to eat and a grille underneath them to shit through. If they survive (obviously Channel 4 will hope that one eats the other, in order to show just how awful and cruel cannibalism is) the people of Axminster can then decide whether to have them executed in a replica of a US-style gas chamber (to show just how awful and cruel capital punishment is) or just stone them to death (to show just how awful and cruel biblical punishments for being a cunt were). Either way, that’s one series finale I’d definitely tune into…

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Virgin Media Broadband Problems Continue

Following on from my last post: broadband went down again on Sunday and hasn't been reconnected since. I rang up the call centre again and, although they've apparently sorted out the billing problem, they've now lost my modem registration so that they can't reconnect.

I did ask why they obviously had that information on Saturday when we were briefly reconnected, but had now lost it, but no answer was forthcoming. I now have to ring them again from home tonight to read out the registration number on the bottom of the modem!

Now add the phone call yesterday into the mix, where I was assured that my connection was OK and there was technical issue, so would I read their 25p-a-minute support line again...

The confusion and witlessness are exasperating.

Still, here's a photo of Richard Branson's arse. Which is what Virgin Media is obviously talking out of.

Monday, January 07, 2008

More Virgin Media Idiocy

Long-standing readers of this blog will know that I have a long-standing hatred of Virgin Media, having been repeatedly let down and inconvenienced by the Frankenstein's Monster of entertainment and communication providers (see this, this and this post for starters). You'll be glad to discover that absolutely nothing has changed - the fuck-ups continue.

Our broadband access went down on Friday night and, having tested the wireless router and modem, restarting laptops and all the usual solutions, it stayed down. OK, network problem maybe? Whatever the problem, it was still down on Saturday. I had work that needed to be done, so I had to tramp into the freezing Saatchi offices in London. Once there, I found the Broadband helpline number (25p a minute!) on the Virgin Media website and the 'technical expert' couldn't help (after £2 of prevarication).

Eventually my offices were too cold to continue working, so I went home. My wife was beginning to suffer from Internet withdrawal , so she rang the helpline again. After £3 worth of 'help' she was told that we'd been cut off because our account was in arrears. In actual fact, we're in massive credit because the idiots charged me twice for 6 months.

I now ring their normal customer helpline and discover that, even though I've rung and complained about umpteen times ever since we moved house, they still haven't closed the broadband account for our old address. Which was why they'd been charging me twice. They'd stopped the direct debit but their system now showed me as defaulting on payment.


A very nice woman in the call centre appeared to have sorted it out and reconnected us. Then the broadband went down again yesterday. Utterly maddening - and, of course, as a consumer, I have no way of getting recompense for their continually dire performance.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Crack Squirrel Sighting

Body tensing like a furry spring, eyes filled with whatever passes for insanity in the rodent world, the creature crouched and then leapt in a zig-zag path across the pavement and then in front of my bike. Yes, I was cycling along the Euston Road and encountering my first Crack Squirrel.

Crack squirrels are an urban myth started in Brixton, where apparently squirrels rove red-eyed and demented, tiny grey hoodies ready to strike, due to ingesting rock cocaine that had been buried or abandoned by dealers. I always dismissed the idea until I witnessed the bizarre behaviour of that tremulous tree-rat yesterday.

The squirrel was leaping about - not just scuttling - and had a look on its face that reminded me of Pete Doherty emerging from rehab after a month of cold turkey and finding a dealer taunting him with a needle that's - always - out - of - reach. After I braked abruptly and narrowly avoided hitting the thing, it jumped under a bus, survived to emerge on the far side, then scampered under another car. At this point, I lost sight of it after that. Did it survive? I hope so. Had it really nibbled on a 'rock' discarded in the graveyard of St. Pancras Church or was it going crazy for some other reason (perhaps it had just heard that Leon Jackson was at number one?) Sadly, without its flattened corpse and a drug testing kit I'll never know...

Wahay! I'm off my nut on crack!