Saturday, July 31, 2004

Being Pretentious

Jen's friend Lizzie was stopping with us for a week and I was happy to haul the poor girl around with me on my never-ending attendance of the latest free gallery event, movie or lecture. The first night she stayed with us we went together to see a brilliant Indian movie at the National Portrait Gallery. While the story itself was an unremittingly sad and emotional one of a poor family – the almost wholly female audience at one time couldn't keep their sadness contained and in one moment sighed, sniffed and knuckled away tears together in a testament to the exquisite emotional tension created – there were moments of extraordinary emotion, especially between the brother and sister, that made my heart ache for my brothers and sister. At the death of the sister I thought I was going to start bawling. Terrible form really.

In direct contrast to the film's virtuoso performance on my heart strings on Thursday, Friday I got to exercise the cynical and disdainful muscles of my wank-o-meter. Monica, Lizzie and I went to the Victoria and Albert Museums Village Fete and, although billed as the coolest event of the museum's calendar of often painfully cool events, it was preciously boring. Being quite a devotee of the museum, and even having been lucky enough to work in their marketing and press department, albeit for a short while, I am particularly aware of the V&A's niche market – wealthy, pretentious and very 'dahlink'. The fete was interesting for about 20 minutes and the crowd was painfully fashionable, luvvie and overly concerned with enjoying themselves because they were 'there' and it was 'wonderful', but it just lacked soul. The most fun had by the three of us was the good old 'stick your head through the hole and put your face on someone else's body' stand. The people you could become were two super models,

a pair of Rasta,

a tattooed man and a cyclist - weird combination but it worked. With the digital camera clicking away Monica and I provided a little light entertainment by getting carried away and having diva fits and being fawning photographers in turn.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Selling Cars

I was a real groupie the other day, for the first time since I left Perth. I usually prefer to listen to live music cabaret style, with a table of good friends, liquid refreshment and no risk of a head-banging fan landing on my newly polished toenails! (my toe nails are ugly enough as it is). So I am a reluctant gig-goer at the best of times. One thing I do like to do, though, is support the bands that contain people I know and tonight I was finally invited to a friend's brother's gig. Walking into The Standard was like walking into the Grosvenor in the good old days of 2000 – plenty of boys with perfectly messy barnets, plenty of girls in perfect alternative outfits and the smattering of normal people who are usually old chums of or related to the band. I was introduced to Kate's brother - red-headed like his sister, he sported a flawlessly coiffed seventies mullet in deep copper. I was impressed with the grooming. Then I noticed that the crowd had a soothing seventies mullet atmosphere – the fans were sporting the same hairstyle as the band. Very impressive.

Once on stage I have to give The Shots top marks for pure entertainment, repertoire and variety. They were tight, talented and very, very marketable. A few weeks ago, while gate-crashing another event, we got talking to a woman who managed a talent agency for musicians. Matt, Monica and I started picking her brains for the secrets of the pop music industry and one particular part of the conversation intrigued me – commercials. This woman was talking about discovering a track that could be used for commercials because there was big money and a lot of exposure for such a song and it's band. This made a lot of sense to me at the time.

Fast forward again to tonight and The Shots on stage. While a little indulgent with the guitar solos they have all the elements of a band with longevity – toe-tapping 60's style rock homage's, flawless a cappella chorus', rock stars screams, crisp 1 second silences, strong vocals and a real variety of songs that stood out from each other while forming a rounded set. Kate's brother graduated dux of rock guitar college - while the other guitarists played their guitars, he danced with his guitar, using all the kicks, splits and jumps with a kind of absorbed trance that convinced you his heart was more into the rockier tunes. The other guitarists were a elfin brunet who lurked prettily in the middle of the stage and the other vocalist, a brooding and dark boy with a gorgeous voice for crooning. The four-piece was rounded off with a blond drummer who looked for all the world like he just wanted to surf, dude.

I sat there, my foot twitching during the 60's style tunes (I adore dancing to 60's music) and my head rocking during the rock tunes, thoroughly enjoying myself when they launched into a song that literally screamed out 'this could be a brilliant single' and struck me as a shining example of what the talent scout had described as the song for a commercial. My mind made the connection and suddenly I thought to myself 'wow, I want to buy that car ...' I am not sure The Shots would appreciate being associated forever now with a song that could sell a car but maybe I could persuade them to send it in and they could buy their own car on the proceeds.

Free Smiles

I left a few songs into the headliner's set and headed for the tube, absorbed in my own reverie and itching to get home. I settled on the seat next to the window and stared out onto the platform. As the tube moved off, it kept pace with the passengers moving along the platform to the exit, and my pensive stare was obviously too much for one stylish young man. In a gesture of familiarity that is usually unwelcome in London, he tapped the window and smiled cheekily at me. A freely given smile with no hope of a return is all too rare in this town apart from babies and, lately, cute men from Blackhorse Lane ...

Friday, July 23, 2004

Miss Claire's Feeling for Boys

Thursday night was another sharp reminder of just how nostalgic I can get. I was out at the thoroughly antipodean Slug and Lettuce in Fullham for the first time in almost five months.

Since then I had moved to Old Street and started going out to bars where my accent was the only Australian accent in the place. My subsequent move to Leytonstone placed me even further from the Kangaroo valleys of South and West London and deep in the Indian and black end of London. Being back in the bosom of London's Australian population was a shock for me on Thursday. Firstly, they just don't make boys like they do in Australia.

My nights out in Old Street were nights when I was the same height as the crowd and too many men were disregarded because they were just too short. The only men that topped me were the black guys. Try to make your way through the crowd at the Slug, though, and you are nose to nipple with chests I took for granted back home and was all too happy to oogle again. I was out with Jacinta and some of her friends who were coming through London and this meant the addition to our usually exclusively female group of some muscle-bound footballers. After the thuggish and usually deceitfully slick advances of drunken Brits, the straight forward mating call of the Greater Drunken Australian Footballer is refreshingly hilarious.

The thought processes are basically 'like to drink beer, like to hug girl. Will drink beer while hugging girl. Happy.' While I deftly dodged the dripping beer I did not try to dodge the bear hugs – especially from the blond who kept on hugging me with his shirt off. A girl can never get enough of a good thing. At the end of the night this selfsame blond declared me a 'top bird'. Thanks dude. I am unsure if that is because I snuggled him or whether, when I discovered he had an absent girlfriend, I took a polite leave of his offer, but I haven't been declared a 'top bird' by a soddeningly drunk Aussie boy for ages.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


I digress though! (don't I always when I talk about men?) The part of the evening that stays with me the most, however, beyond the shameless eyeballing of chunky six-packs and broad shoulders, was my catching sight of what was being played on the big screens in the pub. They were playing a DVD on Taj Burrows – champion surfer and native of Yallingup, the town I have holidayed in each summer since I was born. I miss Yallingup beyond anything else in Perth – I often go entire weeks waking up each morning in a haze of sadness because I dreamt aching dreams of rolling surf, sweeping headlands and endless empty beaches. As each shot of Taj surfing panned out to embrace the familiar bush covered dunes and arching line of pristine sand of Yallingup bay, I took the unexpected step of physically dealing with my frustration – I stamped the ground and moaned 'goddamnit I want to go home.'

My last photo of Yallingup beach before I left Perth.

Cave's House gardens in Yallingup.

I am so homesick right now it is like my skin barely contains a raging collage of beloved faces, places and moments that crashes against its container with a fury fuelled by stress and loneliness. As in Thursday in the Slug, sometimes I can barely breathe for my longing to step into that crisp Perth air, see my parents faces, hear my siblings drawl, laugh with my friends. I can only find an escape in immersing myself in my passions – clinging to an entrancing book, gorging myself on exhibitions and lectures, monopolising the most interesting people at a gathering. I organise events to the point of never having a night free so I have no time to whine inside my head. I deflect my now constant need to belittle England in general with comparisons with Perth, by discussing only the very best of my London experiences. I find that dealing with the loss of a life I never hated is harder than I ever expected.

And yet I still have those incredibly smug moments when, whether it is comparing the armor of Eric Bana and Brad Pitt from the movie Troy and sniggering to myself because our Eric is obviously built far better than their Brad, gazing enraptured at Jack Vettriano's latest exotic exhibition, or being verbally guided around Antarctica by the lively writer in residence of the American Science Programme, I sit back and mutter 'Still, I'm in London ...'

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Miss Claire's Feeling for Water

Monica and I went for a walk around the lake the other day in a surprising haze of warmth and sun. We stopped to watch the ducks up-ending themselves in the water to graze the reed-lined bottom. As one bird rocked his head down and his bottom up my entire body felt, for a moment, the phantom sensation of the water gymnastics I used to conduct while floating in the ocean back home. I realised then that I have not been swimming for almost a year now, and I was feeling the lack.

One of the first books on modern England I read was Alan Coren's Golfing for Cats, in which there is a chapter on the horrors of the British Health System, including a little moment where an arm needs to be amputated to rid a patient of his splinter. I have been literally terrified of the pools here since Monica recounted a tale that seemed to dwarf the splinter episode. Her father stubbed his toe in a public pool here and contracted a blood infection that nearly cost him his leg, as the doctors here were not diagnosing it correctly. With a hysterical mother on the phone Monica sought medical help from the doctors in Perth, and with their pointed questions they managed to discover the problem and her father still has his leg. Incredible story, one pool-shy, hospital-shy Claire!. And the less said about the ability to get to nice beaches the better, I feel, for my sanity and yours.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

There are two kinds of art baby, good ... and bad

Now, I am going to do a little bit of shameless promotion here – I would write a huge post filled with my own thoughts on the Jack Vettriano exhibition, but I am disinclined to repeat what has already been put succinctly by my fellow fans. So if you want to read a really excellent review of a fabulous exhibition – with illustrations – go to Monica's blog for her post. The rest of the blog is well worth a look too ... and not just because I star often and, I feel, rather fabulously!

I first saw Jack Vettriano's work when my brother's girlfriend bought him a print of the Singing Butler, and became a real fan when I walked into a little gallery in Woodstock in Oxfordshire last year and saw a whole room of his prints and bought a signed copy of one of his books. Our entire household are huge fans of the Scottish artist and all our thoughts come out in Monica's essay on the topic. What I will say is that Vettriano has a sense of narrative that echoes my own. When I entered the exhibition I went around first without the catalogue, just absorbing each picture and story without the titles. I spent a lot of time in front of this picture

which I immediately decided was a moment during which the woman was lying on the phone to another lover. I was deeply satisfied when I picked up the catalogue and was proved right – Vettriano really is a extraordinary storyteller.

From amazing art to stupid art – let me take you from Vettriano in St James Park to modern Britart in Shoreditch. My fabulous Skegness buddy Richard is a culture vulture like myself, and he has been invaluable in finding some excellent things to do on a shoestring budget in London. We decided to spend a day in Shoreditch at some of the glowingly reported modern art shows. Now, the company was brilliant all day – Kim and Richard in the morning, Fi in afternoon – but the art was definitely below par.

Let me set the scene. Shoreditch is East London, and East London is gritty London. Shoreditch is edgy, cool, dirty and ugly. Shoreditch also has lots of empty warehouses turned into painfully cool modern art galleries with no numbers or signs to identify them, just discrete silver buzzers with the name of the gallery written in size 8 font graffiti style writing next to the buzzer. If this is not silly enough, the art inside was more than enough to set my wank-o-meter overheating. In the first gallery Richard and I decided to waive the programme and make up our own explanations for each obscure installation. We spent almost 30 minutes being as luvvie, pretentious and outrageously over the top as possible, looked at the programme and had outdone ourselves – we had managed to get at least one element of each explanation right. Top marks all round.

The second gallery, reached after strawberry beers in a brilliant German pub on Regent's Canal – the Canal that I never knew was in London – was actually very good. Then I was deserted by my gallery buddies and I went to an avant-garde music festival with Fi, once again in a deserted factory with minimalist signage. I think the cool people like to hide from the world lest the non-cool people discover them and dilute their wonderfulness. Anyway. Placard was thankfully free so all I wasted was an hour of my time. The look of the event was perhaps the best thing I had seen that day, all you had to do to participate was bring a pair of headphones. The musicians then playing straight into computers and we just plugged our headphones in and listened – when you weren't jacked in you were watching a dim, silent room of 150 people bopping their heads silently in front of a group of musicians jamming in silence. Truly bizarre. Each group performed for twenty minutes and I stayed for three sets. The first set was a dialogue between two Irish DJs interspersed with live guitar solos that would be of the type of music (ie rock, folk, irish etc) that had just been mentioned in the conversation. Then there was a couple of men making wind sounds – I nearly fell asleep! The last set was made up of three noises – incense being burnt underneath a sensitive mike, a mike sitting on the throat of a gently gurgling 3 month old baby and a man writing a poem on a piece of paper with a crayon hooked up to a microphone so you could hear the scrape of wax on paper. Yes. The cutting edge of music ladies and gentlemen.