Shift Run Stop

September 24, 2010

Last week I was a guest on Shift Run Stop, “a free comedy podcast full to the brim with games, geeks and special guests. Brought to you by Leila Johnston and Roo Reynolds”.

Leila and Roo have been asking me and Trev to pop along for quite a while, but it’s just been too difficult, what with Trev now living in Tristan da Cuhna.

So just me went along. And talked and talked and talked. I don’t get out much and I don’t see many people, so they just couldn’t shut me up. They’ve managed to edit it down to a listenable half hour. I think I went on for an hour and a half. Still, at leats they’ve done the decent thing and edited out the bit where I was rude about Peter Kay. In case you’re thinking you’ve missed out on something big there… well, you haven’t.  Read this though, by Stewart Lee, officially the 41st Best Stand Up Ever (unofficially, the Best Stand Up Ever.)

Find out the truth about Don Draper. Find out about Marti Pellow and the kids in the basement. Oh, and that bloody Five Star thing crops up yet again. Also, the time we worked with Charlie Brooker. My tips to aspiring comedians (I know, I know, just ignore anything I say. What do I know). And other bits.

Anyways, here it is to hear here.

Thank you Leila and Roo for inviting me along.

Roo and Leila being serious

Certifiable achievements

September 10, 2010

When we are young we are given certificates if we do something well, even up until a degree (when we are still, effectively, kids). Maybe they help. Maybe they give us the encouragement we need. Maybe, like Steve Martin in The Jerk, posing with a fancy cocktail by the side of a swanky man in a swanky magazine, maybe they help us “be somebody”.

And then it stops. As adults I guess it’s just expected of us to do as well as we can; in life, in work, in play. Every now and then someone may say “well done!” but there’s no badge, no piece of paper.

Perhaps a wage is the adult form of approval. If so, I have let standards slip since my young days.

What da ya want for nothing? A rrrrrrrrrrubber biscuit?

Here’s some of my earlier, certifiable achievements.

1- The swimming certificate.

That’s not too bad. An Endeavour Award from The Swimming Teachers’ Association of Great Britain and the Commonwealth! Signed (well, as a 9 year old I would have taken it as a signature) by Henrietta, the President.

I was also given a sew on badge which my Mum sewed on to my trunks… no picture, I’m afraid.

Well done me! Now let’s take a look at the back of the certificate:

Hmmm. That’s specific. I can’t remember now just exactly what I did to achieve this award, but going off the Examiner’s Remarks it could have been anything from a full length of the pool to sticking my feet in the disinfectant tray. I suspect the latter. Still, it’s nice to see “tenacity” being used. It was only about a year ago that Jim, one of the players on my pool team (cue sports here, not swimming pool), paid me the compliment (I think, I hope) of calling me a “tenacious fucker”.

2- The singing certificate.

My Mum can sing. My sister can sing. My Dad played the piano and was also the church organist. I was expected to sing too. And, when I was 10, I entered some kind of singing competition. Here’s my certificate:

Sound work generally. Ha! Who’s going to tell a 10 year old they were awful? Even Cowell wouldn’t stoop. The song was The kangaroo. “The kangaroo is bouncing on his big fat tail/ he bounds across the hillocks da da da da da…” Yes, I’ve forgotten the words.

Years later we (me and Trev) resurrected this song for our first live tour. I was the kangaroo, and we had a huge fat tail made. The song had a pause in it, sort of like this; The kangaroo is bouncing on his… (pause) big fat tail! I would keep coming in too early and Trev would chastise me. I’d leave a longer and longer pause, but never long enough,and Trev would taunt and chastise me the more. Then, when I would leave the longest pause acceptable to a paying audience, Trev would jump in ahead of me, taunting, chastising, berating; demanding to know where I was.

We performed this on the first night of the tour. The show lasted three hours. We had to cut stuff. The kangaroo song went.

At this same festival I sang another song. One I can’t remember and for which I have lost the certificate. Some sort of classical piece. I remember one thing; I came third. Out of three.

3- The flower arranging certificate.

Let’s end on a high.

It’s the same year. 1973. I’m 10, possibly 11. And it turns out I was good at flower arranging. I got two first class certificates. One for an arrangement using only one type of flower (sweetpea’s) and the other for a miniature arrangement. Sadly, there’s no pictures of these winners. But they were good. I promise.

Maybe I should have taken note of these early signs. I wasn’t cut out to be a swimmer or a singer, though this hasn’t stopped me joining Note-Orious, the choir to which I now belong.

But perhaps I should have been a florist.

Wayward at the Hayward

September 3, 2010

I guess I’m willfully awkward at times. No one likes to be told what to do. Do they?

I’m such a softy I usually do do what I’m told (Yes, I know! I just typed do do, trying to slip an element of subversion into an arty post, trying to be anti-authoritarian, but hey, la-di-da). I do. It’s true. I’ll always obey Prince Charles. I’ll listen sincerely to a priest. I respect all police officers older than me.

But when it comes to art galleries telling me this and that I get furious. I can’t help it. Fucking art galleries. Yes! Swearing! That’s just how mad I get.

For my Birthday I was bought membership to the South Bank Centre. Thank you my darling.

Now I’ve got the thanks out of the way on to the business. Fucking art galleries. Fucking Hayward Art Gallery.

My year long membership entitles me to free entrance to all exhibitions at the Hayward. What’s the chances I see the year through without being arrested?

Fucking Hayward Art Gallery.

Sorry about the swearing, but really. At every fucking point! Every corner! Don’t touch this! Don’t touch that! Take a picture here! Don’t take a picture there! Touch this! But not that! Take a picture of this but don’t touch it! Touch this but no photos!

The crazy thing is, everything at the Hayward, at the mo, begs for interaction. Ok, we don’t have to go mad, like the ‘Jaravistes’ racing through the Exhibition Dada in Paris in 1957 and smashing up Man Ray’s ‘Object to be Destroyed, but please, stop putting up signs of do’s and dont’s. Let us use our little judgement, and, if the worst comes to the worst, you have enough ‘Hayward police’ to come along and gently persuade us to discontinue our artful explorations.

Art galleries; particularly modern ones full of modern art and installations and suchlike; they should make us interact. Invite us to peer, poke, prod, touch, feel, try not to break.

Upstairs at the Hayward is Ernesto Neto’s The Edges of the World. This is quite good fun. It’s a kind of wooden skeleton thing covered in stockings. You walk around, push your way through it, poke your head out of the top of it. It’s like being trapped in a 1970’s tights shop. It’s kind of more fun for kids, possibly, than adults. It’s lovely and stockingy, and you can take pictures. But I’m not going to show you pictures when I’ve been allowed to take them!

Downstairs was far more interesting. Yes! It’s The New Decor- Artists and interiors. I liked this a lot. Here’s what it is, described by someone else who can talk about art:

The New Decor is an international survey with over 30 contemporary artists whose work elaborates on the common vocabulary of interior design. By reconfiguring and reinventing the familiar objects of domestic life such as chairs, tables, beds, lighting, wallpaper and flooring, these artists look beyond design and function to create provocative sculptures and installations. By drawing out the social, historical and personal stories which are embedded in the everyday objects that surround us, the artists aim to open up the discussion about interior space in different parts of the world, and in different social contexts, with interpretations ranging from the absurd and the horrifying to the lyrical.

Southbank Centre leaflet.

Sounds exciting doesn’t it? And it is. I loved this exhibition. But I was threatened and overwhelmed by the amount of ‘Do not touch’ notices. How can you not touch a chair, or a carpet, or a bed, or a table, or a door? A door handle? A door covered in about 50 handles? How can this be? Some things cried out to be touched.

There was something by Elmgreen and Dragset. Now- Elmgreen is from Denmark, and I know, from my own Denmarkian art adventure, that all Denmark artists like their work to be touched*.

This jokey couple had made some doors, at right angles to each other and then connected by a chain; the thing being you couldn’t open them and get them to do their proper job because… oh, I don’t know… I don’t even know which way they opened. Did one pull the other? Does one door open when another closes? Are they opposing each other, causing both to remain constantly shut? What was/ is going on? When is a door not a door?**

But we weren’t allowed to touch these doors. If the gallery stops us from touching a door, then is it still a door? It’s been deprived of its job, its purpose… but shouldn’t it be the artists who are encouraging us to find out these things? If the gallery takes over, why even bother with the chain? Am I making sense? It drove me mad!

And no photography allowed on this floor.


In my desire to break the rules in an easy-going way I was thrilled to see this sign mid-way between the first (no photographs) floor and the second (photographs allowed) floor:

I was dumbstruck! (Not that I’d have spoken out loud; let’s not forget I’m in an art gallery). Art for males only! Is that acceptable? Is it allowed? Aren’t there rules, signs? Protocol? Surely a ten minute toilet swap every hour on the hour, monitored by wardens?

So, no photography allowed and art for men only. This is where I can truly be my subversive self. I can defy all, I can be banned from the Hayward. Get ready ladies! I’m going to show you, not just art designed exclusively for men, but a rare glimpse inside the men’s bog at the Hayward Gallery.

Marriage by Elmgreen and Dragset

* Ok, I don’t know. it’s not fact. But the Danes are cool- Brentian fact.

** When it’s ajar.

Who is Roy?

September 1, 2010

Straight off I’m going to disappoint you. And me too (though I’m prepared for it). It’s not Roy, it’s Roys. There was me thinking that everything in the Norfolk Broads belonged to Roy. When am I going to learn the correct use of the absence of apostrophes? Maybe I knew. Maybe I was just fantasising to myself. I wanted Roy to own everything. I wanted Roy to carry on acquiring. I wanted Roy to be the most disappointing Bond Villain since that guy with the diamonds in his face. I wanted Roy to be Wroxham’s own Darth Vader.

But no, it’s Roys. The Roys Brothers. They started it all over a hundred years ago. You can read their version of events here.

I’m talking of Roys of Wroxham- The World’s Largest Village Store. That’s their self-proclaimed title.

I have no idea what it means.

Truly no idea.

Oh sure, Roys tells a fine tale, but here’s the truth. It starts in Wroxham and it spreads. First through the Broads and then on… to the Potteries, the Fens. Anywhere in England, which, like the Broads, has some kind of daft name to make it sound friendly and welcoming, but once you’re in there, you’re trapped.

It’s a fact that maps of Britain bought in the potteries/Fens/Broads all have London scribbled out. Manchester too. It’s not done subtly. There’s no photoshopping, nothing clever. just blue biro going round and round in circles like a drunk spirograph until all is deep blue and the paper thinned and holes and tears are all you see.

Like in my last post, this is the land of Hobbs End from In The Mouth of Madness. You can get in but just try getting out. You won’t.*

And behind it all, trapping you at every exit, is Roys. You don’t believe me? Here are ten pieces of undisputable photographic evidence.

*Actually, you will. The Norfolk Broads are lovely really.