Small Object of desire #26 – Heroes

Uh, there’s something rising in my belly….it’s burgeoning….uh, huh….it’s here! I need to quote Bonnie Tyler. Bear with me, it will make sense in the end. 

Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods ?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed ?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I need a hero, I’m holding out for at hero ‘till the end of the night  
He’s gotta be strong and he’s gotta be fast 
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero ‘till the morning light
He’s gotta be sure and it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life, larger than life

Why my plaintive cry? Because I saw something on telly the other night that made me hold my head in despair. One of my heroes has sold his soul to a turkey twizzler. I’m looking at you, Marco Pierre White.

I’m sure he doesn’t give a monkeys for who I am or what I think but it’s still my prerogative to bemoan his falling. He follows hot on the heels of Iggy Pop with the Swift Cover insurance ads and Johnny Lydon in the Anchor Butter ads. I was dismayed by their selling out in such a shameless and cheesy way but their capitulation to the lure of a fat dollar didn’t hurt quite so much as Marco’s. I thought he was a hero that was gonna last ‘till the end of the night. 

I should put my former adulation in context. I live with a classically trained chef so I get to eat and learn about lots of yummy food. Yes, I am something of a foodie and I love looking at food porn. Although I knew about Marco Pierre White way before I met my chef, (having worked for years in the fine dining industry), I gained a new level of appreciation for what Marco represented to chefs and British food when I met my chef. 

This is the man who was dubbed the first celebrity chef, the enfant terrible, of the UK restaurant scene and the Godfather of modern cooking. He was the first British chef to be awarded 3 Michellin stars (he later gave them back) and the youngest chef in the world to do so. He trained Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay, even made him cry (‘People say I made Gordon Ramsay cry,’ says Marco. ‘I say, “Gordon had two options: he chose to cry”’).

His influence has had a long reach. He called Jamie Oliver a ‘fat chef with a drum kit’ – I had to laugh at thatand dammit, his rock-star style and originality in his seminal book White Heat made cooking sexy. For many chefs the world over, reading White Heat was akin to a religious experience. Ask any chef who really cares about food and they will wax lyrical in their hero worship of Marco. They don’t think he sold out with the Knorr stock cube ads because they all agree that while the cubes can’t of course replace making your own stock, they work when you’re in a pinch. 

It’s debatable but I reckon he was the single most important factor that allowed British cuisine to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century. He’s no longer the enfant terrible of the kitchen, more the affable uncle. He’s gone from this:

and this:

to this:

Mmm, frozen food packaged with lots of steroids and goodness knows what else. He claims that “Ever since I was a young boy I’ve been an admirer of turkey and particularly Bernard Matthews, because he is without question one of the great farmers of the last 5 decades.”

Who the hell wrote that script? I found this disingenuous given that he once said “As a TV chef, you dilute your currency.” Does he really, truly believe in what he’s selling. Really, REALLY??? His former self must be turning over in his grave. Remember the whole brouhaha over Bernard Matthews turkeys and bird ‘flu and the conviction of two of its employees for using baseball bats to play with the birds? I can only say that my heart will never be the same again. 

But why should our heroes be forever preserved in the aspic of their rebellious younger selves? In the same way we reserve the right to change our minds and mellow as we grow older, they have the right to do so as well. If Bernard Matthews showed him the cold hard cash, who can blame him for taking the money and running?

Still stings though. 

 

Small Object of desire #24 – Goat Racing

Small Object of desire #24 – Goat Racing

You read that right. It’s the annual Oxford vs Cambridge Goat Race today!

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A race taking place on the same day as that other similar sounding one on the Thames, the one where a bunch of muscly young men from two of our most august educational institutions go head to head in boats.

This one sounds so much more entertaining. It’s the kind of thing I didn’t know was an object of desire until I heard about it on the radio today. Put a smile on my face when I was feeling more than a bit gloomed. I defy you not to smile too. 

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But it isn’t just cocking a snook at the jocks on the river. 3 years in the making, it was started to help raise money for Spitalfields City Farm. When I was growing up in Accra, it was quite normal to have goats in our city back yard. I hated them. They smelt to high hell, passed hard black pellets everywhere and that infernal bleating just drove me mad. So it’s good to see them being put to good use for a good cause. 

And just in case you haven’t quite had your fill of caprine fun in Spitalfields, HERE’S I GOAT!!!

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Small Object of desire #23 – Home Sweet Home

 Who lives in a house like this?

The Crooked House, Sopot, Poland –  Polish architect Szotynscy Zaleski  was inspired by the fairytale illustrations of Jan Marcin Szancer and the drawings of the Swedish artist and Sopot resident Per Dahlberg. 

The Piano House, An Hui Province, China – The escalator to the building is inside the violin. Genius! 

The Torres Galatea, Figueras, Spain – Otherwise known as the Salvador Dali Theatre Museum. The museum’s tower, Torre Galatea, was named for the surrealist artist’s deceased wife, and Dali himself lived there until his death in 1989. It sits next to the parish church where Dali was baptized in 1904. He is buried in an unmarked crypt in the museum’s main exhibition hall.

The Kettle House, Galveston, Texas, USA – Hard to find information about this structure but the story goes that it was built in the 1950′s and that it is the top of a silo turned upside down and roofed. It was allegedly built by a guy who used to build oil storage tanks.  According to locals, nobody lives in the Kettle House but a man comes to do maintenance on the property every so often and then disappears for long periods of time.

House Attack, Vienna, Austria – Erwim Wurm’s work is a sculpture installed on the Museum of Modern Art’s (MUMOK) external façade. It’s a single family house as a symbol of the everyday. The installation was accompanied by Erwin Wurm’s exhibition “Keep a Cool Head”.

Mammy’s Cupboard, Natchez, Mississippi, USA – A restaurant located in a black woman’s skirts in southern USA. Who knew? Political incorrectness aside, it IS an eye-catching building. 

Korowai Treehouse, Papua New Guinea – I first saw these guys on the BBC’s excellent series Human Planet. The word ultimate gets overused quite a lot but I think this is the one time I can use it with impunity. This has to be the ultimate in treehouse building and surviving without the luxuries we take for granted in the West. 

Nautilus House, Mexico City, Mexico – Designed by architect Javier Senosiain of Arquitectura Organica, it’s a blend of modern architecture and contemporary art. The trick would be to make like a snail and carry your house with you wherever you go. 

Casa Milà or La Pedrera, Barcelona, SpainFirst night in Barcelona, I was dragging my little wheelie bag from the underground to the pension when I came across this Gaudi building. 

The Mushroom House, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA – This one simply because it makes me laugh. 


Small Object of desire #22 – Storytelling/Digital Art

Lynette Wallworth is an Australian artist whose practice spans video installation, photography and film. Often working in series or meditations on one theme, her measured pace gently insists that patient observation might lead to layers of understanding between ourselves, others and the natural environment.

It’s worth watching the video in full. 

The words ‘digital or conceptual art’ can sometimes put the fear of god into me. I fear that what I’ll see is simply the so-called artist shoehorning their dysfunction and received notions of cultural shifts into a framework called ‘art’. I want art to illuminate life in general not the neurosis of the particular maker. That’s not to say the neurosis of a particular artist can’t be art. I think the point I’m trying to make is that art shouldn’t be selfish. It should always endeavour to transmute the personal into the universal. If it doesn’t do that, if I can’t feel a corresponding shift in myself when I’m experiencing a work of art then it feels like nothing more than an exercise in onanism. I guess I’m always trying to figure out why the artist thought the work was worth sharing. This is simply my opinion. I’m sure someone somewhere can slap me down with a well argued retort. 

Anyhow, a couple of days ago, I had to go and deliver a storytelling workshop in a school for children with severe learning disabilities. I’d worked with people with severe learning and multiple disabilities before but never in this full on way. I was anxious to ensure that my time spent with the kids gave them something useful and fun to latch on to. So, with my Google detective hat on, I went hunting for ideas to make my storytelling as multi-sensory as I possibly could. 

There’s tons of stuff about storytelling techniques online but an absolute paucity of anything to do with multi-sensory storytelling or indeed, the kind of storytelling that you can do with children with severe learning and multiple disabilities. 

But in my search I stumbled across the work of Lynette Wallworth. She is not only a great storyteller but her work also seeks to bridge the gap between one person and the rest of the humanity. Somehow, she blends her own preoccupations into themes that consider the world on a grand scale. She manages to transmute several ‘personals’ into the universal. In the process, she makes wonderful and engrossing art.

She’s one of a kind. 


Small Object of desire #21 – ‘O’

Not your O face. Not the Story of O. Not O for orange.                                              

 It’s however an essential suffix that you would be well advised to add to your surname if you want a fighting chance of becoming a big kahuna Hollywood star. Let’s consider the evidence:

Robert De Niro – formerly Robert of Nir

Leonardo DiCaprio – formerly Leonardo of Capri. This one covers all bases with both the surname AND the forename hefting the weight of that very desirable vowel.

Danny De Vito – aka Danny of Fast. Also allows you to beat the odds of becoming a big star despite your munchkin stature. 

Benecio Del Torro – Bullish, this one. Again, note the deployment of those cheeky double O’s. 

Al Pacino – This O allows you to play yourself at all times no matter what role you are playing. We will love you for it anyway. 

David Caruso – Take off and put on your sunglasses at will. Always keep them handy. Mangle the iambic pentametre of natural English speech beyond precedence. You are anointed by the magic ring of O.  

Ralph Macchio – Karate Kid. Enough said. 

Quentin Tarantino – formerly the love child of a toff and a tiny spider. 

Vincent Gallo

Marlon Brando

Danny Aiello

James Franco

Jean Reno

John Leguizamo

John Turturo

Mark Ruffalo

Jay Leno

See what I mean? I could go on and on and on. 

It is not, however advisable and definitely not desirable to change your surname by deed poll to any old thing ending in O in the hope that you’ll get noticed – Oreo, Speedo, Photo, Piano, Jello (unless you’re a Dead Kennedy), Bambino, Albino, Concerto, Armadillo – are just plain daft. And ridiculous. Not to mention desperate. 

You have been warned. Choose your O with care! 

Small Object of desire #20 – Etymology

Grotesque. This is the one that simply sits on your building going ‘grrrr’ to ward off bad, bad things in the same way you would ward off vampires with garlic or a crucifix…

…and Gargoyle. This is the one that you use to serve bad, bad things tea when they have breached your defences.

Now you know. 

I may not look like a typical one but behind this glamorous and urbane exterior beats the heart of a bona fide geek. And I’m kinda proud of it. I’m a geek for all things etymological, among other things. In fact anything to do with where language comes from and where it’s going gets my pulse racing. Is that sad? Well, it’s certainly true. 

So when I discovered the difference between a gargoyle and grotesque the other day, I was beside myself with…not quite glee but I could certainly feel the old grey matter shifting in its axis. 

I’m not sure exactly when I can casually drop these words into conversation but that’s not the point is it? Just knowing gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I could probably crowbar them into a poem one of these days!

Grotesque n. The word grotesque comes from the same Latin root as “Grotto”, meaning a small cave or hollow.In art, performance, and literature, grotesque may refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as empathic pity. More specifically, the grotesque forms on Gothic buildings, when not used as drain-spouts, should not be called gargoyles, but rather referred to simply as grotesques, or chimeras. Since at least the 18th century (in French and German as well as English) grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, fantastic, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks.

Gargoyle nA gargoyle is a carved stone grotesque with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building. Preventing rainwater from running down masonry walls is important because running water erodes the mortar between the stone blocks. Architects often used multiple gargoyles on buildings to divide the flow of rainwater off the roof to minimize the potential damage from a rainstorm. It comes from the French word ‘gargouille’ which means throat. Same root for the English words gargle and gurgle. Onomatopoeic, eh? I like that kind of thing.