The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

Enjoy yourself – it's later than you think!

Wonderful dream

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Source: Wonderful dream

With another round of ‘vote for me’ coming up when politicians suddenly find it necessary to engage with the man, woman and non-binary person in the street – how refreshing to have this view from the incomparable Richard Innes Mulvey. Also fitting as it’s the second anniversary of the taking of the Chibok girls in Nigeria. Where’s the ‘bring back our girls’ campaign these days? Is it out of fashion and/or not deemed to have enough political capital? Disgraceful and just shows how useless politicians are.

The Lone Sisterhood

M Oliphant

If you’re in Edinburgh and want to celebrate International Women’s Day in a typically Edinburgh kind of way – that is low key, understated, unfussy, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it – get yourself along to the Portrait Gallery on Queen Street. There’s a small but beautifully formed tribute to 19th Century Scottish women called Out of the Shadow. Ironically it’s set out in a small passage way linking two of the main halls, on the far side of the building away from the main staircase.

Of course there are numerous famous and not-so-famous wimmin celebrated elsewhere in the staggeringly beautiful building (go see, if you’ve never been) but this collection is marvelously inspiring and uplifting in a completely unflashy way. Which is apt because these women just got on with it. They didn’t need anyone saying ‘yes, you can’ and ignored anyone saying ‘no, you can’t’. Become a novelist, artist, mathematician, poet, political reformer? Why not?

You know the quote about feminism being ‘the radical notion that women are people’? I prefer the notion that people (not just women) are individuals. Of course movements, groups, organisations are important when you’re battling arcane systems and attitudes. But once you’ve won that battle what better reward than becoming your own person? It’s a luxury but it’s a luxurious gift from the lone sisters who went before us.

I’ll leave the final quote to Margaret Oliphant (featured in the exhibition)

Oh, never mind the fashion. When one has a style of one’s own, it is always twenty times better.

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/visit/scottish-national-portrait-gallery-23553/room-displays/out-of-the-shadow-women-of-nineteenth-century-scotland

 

Arty but definitely not farty…

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Question: What’s art history for?

Answer:

a) To give privileged kids a subject to get a degree in

b) To keep art historians in work

c) To provide everyone with a key to a magical world of colour, wonder and imagination

Up until a few years ago I’d give you full points for saying a & b. But c?  Maybe if you’d substituted ‘the few’ for ‘everyone’ that might have been nearer the mark. Which leads me to art history as television.

Is it entertainment? Is it education? Is it art? The joy is these days you can decide for yourself – choosing from a virtual galaxy of programmes available on YouTube, BBC iplayer, old OU broadcasts. From the pale males of the Anthony Blunt era whose measured, static presentation gives you the visceral pleasure of actually standing in a British art gallery while the rain lashes down outside. You can go on a trip with the positively bonkers Sister Wendy (who suggested that all those dirty schoolgirl jokes about nuns and candles did have some factual basis). And how about checking out Robert Hughes’ seminal The Shock of the New which weirdly seems like the shock of the old now but it’s still thrilling; a bit like re-reading or re-watching A Clockwork Orange.

All this choosing for yourself is all well and good but sometimes we all need a little guidance, a little nudge. Waldemar Januszczak‘s last installment of The Renaissance Unchained airs tonight on BBC4 and if the first three are anything to go by there should be some nudge, nudge, wink, wink to go along with the nudge in the right direction. If this all sounds gimmicky – it’s not. Waldemar’s love of his subject shimmers like the Venetian satin he told us about last week. And in a series about art it’s wonderfully free from artifice. His trademark opening soundtrack of flat-footed pad-pad-padding over piazzas and cobbled streets – telling us he’s everyman schlepping his way across Europe in order to send us back that precious postcard.

Not for him zipping along the autostrade in a sporty little number and slipping effortlessly into the local lingo. No posing about in linen suits and brushing away a floppy fringe as he gesticulates in front of a Caravaggio. Waldemar is big, sweaty and wears his East European heritage as proudly as his flashy death’s-head bling ring. Best of all as he isn’t a stereotype we don’t get the stereotypical point of view. Proving that you don’t have to be that unremarkable kid from the privileged background to get access to that magical world a thousand years plus in the making.

Tonight is Hell, Snakes and Giants – can’t wait!!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0717ld7

http://www.waldemar.tv/biography/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deadpool – dead good!

Deadpool

Once upon a time superheroes on screen were of the camp ‘Kerpow!’ variety. Strictly two-dimensional with no nod to the post-war shadows that gave them their birth in print. It wasn’t until 1978 with Superman convincing the studios that men (and women) in lycra saving the world could make an initial $55 million gamble pay off in the multi millions. It’s a marvelous triptych of a film in three parts starting with the crystalline beauty of Krypton, moving to the Edward Hopper inspired landscape of Smallville before the familiar 2D characters are made part-flesh, part-cartoon in the glorious technicolor finale set in Metropolis. It set the standard below which so many in coming years would fall. Including all the others in that particular series.

Batman – of course – was always a more complicated guy with nastier adversaries. But in common with the Man of Steel the first in the re-boot series (this time in the 80s with a scenery-digesting Jack Nicholson) was always going to prove the law of diminishing returns.

Hollywood muddled around for a few years, losing its superhero way until the perfect storm happened with comic book geeks coming of film-making age; the advent of CGI and the cinema money-men advising that all the spending power was with young men. Plus there was the curious phenomenon of geek-chic. People whose only experience of hanging around musty-smelling comic book stores with even mustier-smelling socially-inadequate guys being done vicariously through The Big Bang Theory. People whose only tactile pleasure of the genre was handling the decidedly chic-less Marvel satchels, mugs, key-rings and ring-binders cluttering up the supermarket dump-bins. Superheroes were being seriously devalued.

As a result Batman got darker and darker (coupled with the real-life tragedies of an actor’s death and a cinema massacre) until he disappeared up his Buddhist Master’s timeline.  Time for the existential kick-back with Watchmen, Kick-Ass and the excellent, no-budget Super. Well, we all need a bit of deconstruction – don’t we? But that soon got the whiff of possessing the T-shirt that had been through the wash quite a few times…

So it was with more than a tad of apprehension that I approached Deadpool. I mean – how knowingly arch and genre-referencing can you be? But from the playful anonymous opening credits (‘some English dude playing the villain’ to the real talent being in the writing) to the slo-mo visceral gore which is just a bit slower and a bit gorier to underline – yeah, we know what we’re doing and we’re doing it better – this is genre rebuilding and reassuringly good stuff. Billed as a love story – it actually is – it works on so many levels with layers and layers of references not only from recent popular culture but from classic literature and fairy tales. The most obvious are Frankenstein (Deadpool as victim of a medical experiment / becoming the housemate of an elderly blind woman) and Beauty and the Beast. But there’s also Rumpelstiltskin (‘What’s my name?’) and the heroine being encased in a glass casket a la Snow White. It’s intelligent, funny, violent, with scatter-gun pop-culture references aplenty (remember the Spin Doctors anyone?) but most of all it’s got a massive big romantic – and vengeful – heart. If you haven’t seen it already – do yourself a favour and go see!

Also while you’re at it – check out this Guardian article on the (pan)sexuality of Deadpool and various other comic book characters. I particularly loved the Tank Girl references!

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/feb/11/deadpool-the-pansexual-superhero-who-has-never-had-a-non-heterosexual-experience

 

 

 

 

Happy Festive Families!

WaltonsWell – did you manage to survive the ridiculous Christmas bubble where people – through an accident of birth and not through any choice of their own – are forced together to make merry and perhaps even make conversation with other? Most people manage one day of festive torture when the pressure is put – witch-trial-like – on some poor individual to stage-manage the perfect day by providing food, presents and refereeing/counselling services and then getting tut-tutted at when she lobs the empty bottle of Bailey’s at dirty Uncle Billy’s head? I believe there are some people who attempt more than one day of this Big Brother-type set-up but then I suppose that is why we have pubs, shops and A&E!

Families have always been something that can drive you off the edge. They are endlessly fascinating though because – even if you’re lucky enough to be an orphan or choose to cut loose from your own – you can never escape. You will be subsumed into someone else’s at some point. And pick up a book or watch a film – your surrogate clan will be there. From Game of Thrones to Eastenders; from The Godfather to I Claudius; from Star Wars to Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart dynasty – we can’t get enough.

Personally speaking I like to keep with the fictional and give the real people a miss. As they say – ‘you can choose your friends… ‘

 

The Rachel Revolution – Chapter One

The Rachel Revolution

The French embassy in Abuja.

Mark checked the safety catch on the small handgun tucked into the waistband of his trousers. He would have preferred to be armed with something more substantial but this was a children’s party. Little kids of all colours jumped and hopped and danced in that funny disorientated way that little kids do. Some were dressed in mini versions of traditional Nigerian dress, others were kitted out in suits and evening dresses. Mark had never really had much to do with children – he could take them or leave them but he had to admit they looked cute and funny. Plus he was getting paid pretty handsomely for providing the security at the birthday party of the French Ambassador’s six-year-old daughter which had to count as one of his easier assignments. Still, he couldn’t shake a dark feeling that kept trying to invade his thoughts. He…

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The New Normal? (Looking out for a hero)

Paris Peace imageDoes it seem that this big bad world can’t get any worse? Have the deepest pits of depravity been well and truly plumbed? It’s a living visceral nightmare with wall-to-wall shootings, beheadings, burnings, bomb-blasts, lifeless floating bodies – any horror you can imagine – and more besides.

Was it always like this? Or is just more extensive news coverage?

Back in the 1980s – being young and depressed – I thought this surely had to be the worst of times… imminent nuclear destruction, the Cold War... How could I ever think that in the future I would look back and feel nostalgic? True – there was the Ayatollah, Gadaffi and various hostage-takings but the middle-east wasn’t even the secondary story-line in our western thinking but rather an opening scene in one of the Timothy Dalton Bonds. Africa was a poor starving child who needed help but we could stick some coins in a tin and feel better about that. Any tangible mortal danger to ourselves was the occasional explosion carried out by unwashed people in flares and long hair. These usually happened across The Channel or in London though so if you stayed indoors in your northern town you were OK. Except of course being in Manchester in 1996.

A quick skim through the history books should have made me feel better. Wars, torture, genocide. Yeah, that was in the past – we’ve got to be getting better, right? Wrong! And don’t try dragging out the old ‘imagine no religion…’ either. Religion doesn’t cause wars or conflicts – it’s just the window dressing. Some people will always be greedy and aggressive and find it necessary to push the less greedy and aggressive around. (I always suspected those unwashed people in flares and long hair were less ‘freedom fighters’ and more weed-smoking petty criminals desperate for a life less ordinary – these days it’s robes and beards but they’re still the same people) Every country, every race, every religion has – and has had – its bad guys. And when you have bad guys – you have to have a hero to take them on. From Spartacus, Beowulf, Boudicca and Joan of Arc to Superman, Batman and Captain America we’ve always needed someone to take on the bad guys and make it better. And even if they are hugely flawed themselves, at least their intentions are good.

If this all sounds horribly western and euro-centric – I’m sorry – I’m a child of my upbringing. But at least I can recognise there’s something wrong when the media here concentrate on the week-long anniversary of the Paris attacks rather than an on-going situation in Mali.

The call has been for artists of all descriptions to carry on doing what they do and show that creation is better than destruction. We can offer up our own take – however naive, small or personal – on how to save the world.

For myself – as much as I’d like to strap on armour and drive a chariot over the goons who want to slaughter their way into the history books – I know my limitations. Instead I’m mobilising my characters from The Rachel Redemption to take on the bad guys. This time it’s The Rachel Revolution and I’ll post chapters up as they’re written. It might not save the world but at least I’ll have tried.

https://sonyanemecdotcom1.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Bob Blackman’s Tray

2015BOBBLAC_2ASometimes you will find something different on the Fringe. Sometimes you will be visited by an enigmatic man wearing a pin-stripe jacket and a red balaclava who will sit silently in the corner of the room and use thought-waves to will you to his show. That show will name-check people like Charlie Drake, Bernie Clifton, Roger de Courcey... and will feature the ‘funniest men in Newcastle-under-Lyme’.

Apart from the thought-waves Bob Blackman’s Tray is astonishingly below the radar so the tiny Three/Free Sisters’ Staff Room (fast getting a reputation for class acts) at yesterday lunch-time was sparsely occupied. Never mind – those of us who were there can boast in future about the experience or else wonder if it was some kind of acid-spiked dream.

There’s Richard Drake (wearing the balaclava) who provides segueways of an existential nature – a bit like Peter Cook’s E L Whisty but with a Northern accent. The totally wired component is the other bloke who takes on the guise of Johnny Sorrow – comedian from yesteryear – and Trevor Never – outraged indoor bowls fan with a grudge against Kirklees Borough Council. Physically he’s like a cross between Bez from the Happy Mondays and the ‘Committee’ MC from the Wheel Tappers & Shunters Social Club for those who remember or who have maybe studied UK social history.

I don’t want to give too much away but imagine a working man’s club run by the Theatre of the Absurd or an end-of-the-pier at the end-of-the-world show. It’s like Vic and Bob before they got on the telly but with less props. It’s a glorious vinegar-soaked valentine to northern comedy. It’s Frank Randle, the Crazy Gang and of course – Bob Blackman. It’s delightfully unhinged but never steps outside itself with Johnny providing some cracking lines and Trevor showing how a convincing meltdown should be done.

For all those who thought cult comedy had disappeared – don’t despair Bob Blackman’s Tray is here. Well, in Edinburgh until tomorrow…

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bob-blackman-s-tray

Not Disabled… Enough! – Romina Puma

2015NOTDISA_J8There’s no doubt about the contingent of Italian comedians being an absolute revelation at the Free Fringe this year. By yesterday I had already caught the (both brilliant) shows of Giada Garofalo and Luca Cupani. Could the third person in the triumvirate really be a triumph? No worries – Romina Puma absolutely was!

Romina describes herself as ‘work in progress disabled’. She has muscular dystrophy, a progressive condition which means – as she tells us – things she can physically do now she probably won’t be able to do in a years time. So while Romina is recognised as being disabled by some parts of ‘the system’ for others parts she’s ‘not disabled enough’. A prime example being the government’s disability test which she describes in all its farcical detail – ‘sorry, muscular dystrophy isn’t on the system!’

The running theme of ‘not being… enough’ is well done with Romina taking us back to her teenage years and thinking herself ‘not pretty enough’ and then up to more recent times with an unsuccessful attempt at becoming an ‘undateable’ on the Channel 4 series. Yikes!!

The show really flies however when Romina expresses her wishes and desires – yes, usually of a sexual nature. Her tales of attempting to disguise her disability when trying to pull a guy is gloriously funny. And her piece about smear tests and vajazzles is comedy gold (I won’t spoil her punchline – you’ll have to go hear!)

Beautifully liberating stuff from a naturally funny woman. And for all those repressed people who have problems with themes like these being explored or perhaps you have a condition which limits your mobility or your outlook – you should take the opportunity to see Romina’s show – it will change your attitude and may even change your life!

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/not-disabled-enough

Daphna Baram – Something to Declare

2015SOMETHI_AUEHere’s the way I’d deal with immigration at The Fringe – I’d definitely limit the influx of white blokes in their 30s going on about not getting a girlfriend/domestic life does the funniest things. Instead I’d welcome with open arms savvy, ballsy, wonderfully witty women like Daphna Baram.

People who’ve seen the Divine Miss D before will have already checked and passed her comedy credentials. What’s great is that she never tries to smuggle in any dodgy old material. What she’s declaring this year is her take on becoming a British Citizen and taking the required test. Cue extracts from the test and doing a Q&A with the audience which is good fun and pretty eye-opening as far as the questions go. The whole exploration of British-ness thing is hackneyed-free with a really good routine about comparing a typically inept social invitation from an Englishman (‘did he actually invite me… ?’) to a no-doubt-about-it demand from a Jewish momma (‘you will come to dinner’).

We also get something in the way of personal disclosure with a very intriguing tale – about a potential marriage of convenience with a feckless, floppy-haired member of the English upper class – which has a jaw-dropping denoument. If it’s true – and I have no reason to doubt Daphna – it’s staggering stuff. Also heart-rending and blackly comic is her recollection of her very first client as a human rights lawyer in Israel – an inept terrorist who repeatedly failed in his attempts to blow up a bus-stop.

Well paced and well balanced – with the Q&A’s serving as light to the darker humour shade. Not that Daphna ever lets it stray into a laughter-free zone. On the basis of my visit I would stamp Daphna’s passport comedy approved with unlimited leave to stay!

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/daphna-baram-something-to-declare

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