Friday, 30 January 2009

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!

Patrick McGoohan has died. I am very sad. There was The Prisoner, of course. And that was fabulous. But he did so many other things through the years. I loved him as George Bernard Shaw and I'm old enough to remember him as Danger Man.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

But no bottle of rum (Wrong kind of pirate)

The body of a Somali pirate who drowned after receiving a huge ransom has washed ashore with $153,000 (£100,000) in cash.

Renaissance Faces

Passed by the National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing and saw that this exhibition was still on for a little while yet. Slightlyfoxed gave it a good review a couple of months back and I really enjoyed it too. The paintings I liked the best were some I knew well:

Christina, Duchess of Milan, (a Princess of Denmark and the niece of the Emperor Charles V, thus the great niece of Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon) painted by Holbein for Henry VIII, which clever woman said at the time "If I had two heads, one should be at the King of England's disposal." That she was painted full length was, apparently, most unusual. That was a privilege reserved for male sovereigns. The guide tells you that but doesn't hazard any guesses as to why the custom was forsaken by Holbein here. If Henry wanted a full figure portrait, the better to appraise the physical attributes of a potential spouse, Christina's mourning clothes (she had just been widow by the death of her husband, the Sforza Duke of Milan) would surely have spoilt his fun.

There's another Holbein, Lady With a Squirrel (and a Starling):

which is charming, and Holbein's famously cryptic The Ambassadors:

There are a few portraits by Titian and by Antonis Mor and sculptures by Leone Leoni of ugly, charmless King Philip II of Spain (a first cousin of Christina of Milan), which manage to convey the sourness and the pomposity of the man and show the birth of propaganda in the way they are contrived to glorify him.

There's so much there and Slightlyfoxed has described some of the other good stuff. I'll just mention one more, Moroni's The Tailor:

He's a cutie. And not a noble or a monarch, so unusual that he was the subject of such a portrait. How comes a mere tailor to be wearing a ring with a big red gem set in it on the little finger of his right hand?

There's lots to see and only a few more days to go. Very stimulating stuff, well assembled and displayed. Prompted lots more questions than it answered but that's OK. I'm not an art historian, so I liked being gently introduced to the history of the portrait as I moved from room to room. There's a chronology that's clear but the arrangements are thematic, guided by the purpose of the portrait as a form at different periods.

The Lost Post

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Sudden Death

Somali pirates receive an enormous ransom in cash. Then their boat sinks and both pirates and ransom go to Davy Jones' locker. As we say in Scotland, Nae luck...

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Sámi Magic Drum

When I was at the BM to see the Babylon exhibit, I also happened across the Sámi Magic Drum. It was a delight! Such a splendid little exhibit, all spun from the one little artefact that was owned by Sir Hans Sloane and has been in the museum since it opened 250 years ago. It was made in the 1600s and is magic because of the totemic paintings daubed on the reindeer skin that stretches over it and because of the way it was used in Sámi ritual. It's charming. I always wondered what happened to Rudolph when his glow had gone.

(drum size not as pictured, unless that's a tiny Sámi shaman)

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


Finally tottered along to the BM to see this exhibition: Babylon - Myth and Reality. Bit more Myth than Reality but that's OK, nothing much but lumps of clay with cuneiform scribbles all over them and some sandy ditches remain of the glory that was Babylon. Doesn't have much original artefact on display but it has lots of imagery based on legend and approximate history, with some reconstruction based on archaeological finds.

The legendary stuff is fun but it's not originals by and large: copies of Brueghel's Tower of Babel (see top), Rembrandt's Belshazzars's Feast (see right) and other depictions of that old testament hullabaloo that were new to me, Blake's Nebuchadnezzar (see below).

There were several absolutely marvellous original panels from the processional way that led from the Ishtar Gate down to a channel off the Euphrates. I was particularly interested in Mushhushshu (see below), the Babylonian dragon, many images of which adorn the Ishtar gate. Its name means "furious snake" and it has the head and tongue of a horned snake, a lion's legs and feet at the front, the claws of an eagle at the back, and a serpentine tail. And it had scales. I want one of those! There are those who think that it's the Behemoth of the Book of Job.

I learned lots of other stuff. The biblical legend of Nebuchadnezzar being banished to the wilderness for 7 years where he became bestial, conflates two kings. The exhibition suggests that this may be a reference to a later king, Nabonidus, who abandoned Babylon for the oasis of Teima and abandoned the worship of the great god Marduk for the henotheistic worship of the moon god Sin. I also had never twigged that Nabucco is the Italian for Nebuchadnezzar. But, then, I've never seen the opera. Explains why it features The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves then, of course. I am a simpleton...

And other stuff: the Hanging Gardens, the Whore of Babylon, the prophet Daniel (although not this camp one!), the Writing on the Wall, further artistic interpretations of the Tower of Babel (above), the damage done by the war and by the US Army building a base of operations right in the middle of one of what is now, belatedly, a World Heritage Site. Go and see for yourself. It runs till March. Only £8. A Credit Crunch bargain!

Mr Grumpy

Just watching Above Suspicion on Skyplus, new Lynda La Plante thing, filling the Jane Tennison (of blessèd memory) gap. Quite liking it, in a genre way, since my expectations aren't that high and she's doing different things with her female protagonist this time.

Two parter, end of Part One, about to move on to watch Part Two, and then there are a series of trailed scenes from the upcoming episode. Now, if I liked Part One and watched it all the way through, you might put money on me watching the second half whatever, but ITV has decided to show me how the plot unfolds through Part Two, just in case. Presumably they think that spoiling the suspense of the narrative by showing me what happens next will whet my appetite.

Arseholes, say I.

OK, finished my rant, watched the rest of the show and very much enjoyed it, despite all my protestations about the plot being ruined. Of course, might have enjoyed it considerably more had ITV not told us whodunit in their trailers. Will watch the next one but it's not Prime Suspect.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Sunday, 4 January 2009

'How 2008 was for me' Meme

Have been ignoring this self-absorbed meme till now but wtf, bored... 40 questions about your year to prompt a review of the one just gone as another one starts. Questions as answered by several online friends.

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?
--Locked myself out of my own house and had to get help from the police to get back in. Emergency locksmith cost £400. Did a good job though.
--Attended a Buddhist funeral. It did the job and I hope all the Buddhists I know live forever so I never have to attend another one. As funerals go, it was a good one.
--Danced on stage, dressed in Cardinal's robes and hat, to defy Benedict XVI's proclamation that the gays are killing the planet. It wasn't me, Gov! It was my partner, Queer Royale, wot killed the rainforest and Warmed the Globe, honest.
--Had an eight course meal in the best restaurant in Prague, on Valentine's Day.
--Went with my entire family, three generations, shopping for a gold cocktail frock for their fifty two year old son to wear to a drag ball.
--Visited Blackpool, and Liverpool too.
--Ate gin pie!

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and did you make more for 2009?
I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you.
Actually, there's one thing I've been procrastinating over for years and I have promised myself I'll take care of it this month. I need to contact a lawyer to help me with it so I'll wait till nearer payday because of the likely expense.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Baby brother for my godson and namesake. How his dad, an old friend who looks like a potato, manages to have such lovely babies defies the laws of Genetics.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes, my much beloved aunt died suddenly just into the new year. Then one of my very best friends died very suddenly just before Christmas. The Grim Reaper is a bastard.

5. What countries did you visit?
Czech Republic, Germany, The Azores, Scotland.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
I can't think of any important thing that I need.

7. What date from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
--St Valentine's Day in Prague: a perfect day!
--Celebrating thirteenth anniversary with my partner by doing some very fine dining at Bacchus in Hoxton and returning there to celebrate our civil partnership anniversary in delightful company, a couple of months later, just before Nuno Mendes closed for good to move on up, to Mayfair.
--5th of November! Waking up to confirmation that Obama had won! Hooray, someone with a brain and a conscience will be running the US for the next four years!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Going to the gym daily for the past six months. Losing almost 20kg of unwanted flab.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Failing to seduce Brandon Flowers.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing worse than toothaches. And there was the heartache over Brandon Flowers of course...

11. What was the best thing you bought?
New iPod, shiny silver and altogether better than the old one. Six times as many songs and hours more battery power.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
My dad's tenacity and cheerfulness in the face of rapidly declining mental and physical health.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
Benedict XVI. Eurovision audience who voted for Russia. Julie Bindel. Jeremy Clarkson. Prince. Robert Mugabe. Sarah Palin.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Paid in bonuses to useless bloody bankers.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Brandon Flowers.

16. What songs will always remind you of 2008?
--Grace Jones' La Vie En Rose (saw her at Meltdown and she was breathtakingly good):

--M.I.A.'s Paper Planes (Readers Wifes' favourite at Duckie)

--Fettes Brot's Emanuela (I first heard it in Berlin in June but it's three years old)

--And, of course, The Killers' Human (Brandon, lovely Brandon...)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
Happier. I'm alive and healthy. In defiance of Armistead Maupin's dictum that you can't have a good man, flat and job all at the same time, I am happy with my lovely partner, our house in the middle of this great city, and a fulfilling job that doesn't stress me too much (currently...)
ii. thinner or fatter? Thinner, much! Yay me! Weight loss programme went into reverse over Christmas / New Year though but I only beefed up by about 4kg in a month. I'll soon exercise that off!
iii. richer or poorer?
Poorer, like everybody in the Western world, but I'm not selling the Big Issue so I'm not going to whinge.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Random acts of kindness. Staying in five star hotels. Eating in swanky restaurants. Spending time with my friend who died just before Christmas.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Hissing at people on the tube. Judging other people harshly. Worrying (about the day that never came). Raiding the fridge late at night.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Wandering through empty London to eat gay turkey in a gay restaurant with Queer Royale. Lovely. Then home for Doctor Who (an OK one but not a great one). I had a mild toothache but was too drunk to care.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
Yes, with Brandon Flowers. I may be suffering from erotomania... He's not really my type but I melt whenever I hear him sing I'm on my knees, looking fir the answer.

22. How many one-night stands?
Don't be silly. I'm 52. I grew out of that decades ago. Best I would manage is a quick fumble in a dark room... Unless that's Brandon on the phone.

23. What were your favourite TV programs?
Battlestar Galactica. Boy A. Doctor Who. The IT Crowd. Mad Men. MasterChef. The Restaurant. Survivors. The Tudors. Wallander. The Wire. Lots of good tv in 2008, and thank Miss God for iPlayer! Lost went off the boil and Heroes was just irksome rubbish this time around.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Nobody whom I have actually met. Have taken an intense and instant dislike to Matt Smith. And Milo Ventimiglia but I hated him in 2007 too.

25. What were the best books you read?
Top Three:
--1. What was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn.
--2. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein.
--3. No Blade of Grass by John Christopher.
I have read far too few books this year and they had to be good to keep me interested! Read so-o-o-o many books on the philosophy and practice of education for my course though...

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
German rappers Fettes Brot. They are probably very unhip over there now (on Wikipedia they're called hip hop dinosaurs but then I'm also a dinosaur). I first heard Emanuela when I was visiting Berlin and I've listened to it more or less non-stop on my gym playlist since, and have sampled much of their back catalogue too.

27. What did you want and get?
Everything I needed. Plus trips abroad. And my niece found and bought for me a pair of black opera gloves that were the answer to my prayers when putting together an outfit for the drag ball. I love her.

28. What did you want and not get?
The face I had when I was 25. Brandon Flowers' taut butt.

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
In ascending order:
-10. No Country for Old Men.
--9. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.
--8. Wall-E.
--7. Sweeney Todd.
--6. Cloverfield.
--5. The Dark Knight.
--4. Son of Rambow.
--3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon).
--2. In Bruges.
--1. Mamma Mia.
The Winner Takes It All!

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Two long flights and a long sit in an airport. I am now a Silver Fox, apparently. I'd rather be a Silverback. They're sexier than foxes.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
That nobody would have died, nor have started to rust.
That Paterson Joseph would have been the new Doctor Who.
That Azerbaijan would have won the Eurovision Song Contest:

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
Uncle Fester in jeans.

33. What kept you sane?
Duckie. Daily gym. Lots of sleep. My good buddies. Plymouth gin. Lots of spinach.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Brandon Flowers.

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
The sudden fulfilment of all those forgotten prophecies of the death of international capitalism.
The London Mayoral Election (which was won by a poorly house-trained Labrador).

36. Whom did you miss?
See answer to Question 4.

37. Who was the best new person you met?
--Little sister's new partner. A big improvement on the utter shit she's divorcing.
--Garethwyn, fellow denizen of the RVT Activity Island. Cymru am byth!
--My new boss turned out to be fine and dandy too.
--As did the course leader for my Masters programme. She's a sweetie. Of course, I might change my mind about that when the last assignment is marked and returned.

38. Did you enjoy this year?
Absolutely and, as a good friend said elsewhere: And the bad parts made me appreciate the great parts all the more.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008?
Enjoy it while it lasts. As my dad is wont to say: Ye're a lang time deid...

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
We love this exaltation
We want the new temptations
It's like a revelation
We live on fascination.