Trying out Alfie’s Voice
… that’s not Lilly Allen’s little bro’ you understand. It’s Bill Naughton’s eponymous hero – handy word, that – of his book and movie.
Now here’s a tip for you. If you’ve got a bit of the hump, do something a bit new. Not maybe completely new, as it might be hot-air balooning … now why did that pop up ? … oh yeah, but I’ll come to that later.
Well yesterday I fair had the hump, I did. To do with what’s coming up at a meeting this evening. More to the point, what I’m going to bring up … if I can be arsed. I swing from obsessing about it, to thinking: why give a fuck ? No-one else does. What’s it all for ?, kind of thing. I’m about as popular there as if I walked into the Cowley Road mosque chomping on a bacon sarnie and swigging a can of Kestrel. Which we’ll also return to.
But Cowley Road does come into this. What I did was I went to the ‘Oxford Arts’ group from that Webthingy ‘Meetup’ that’s all the rage nowadays. It was a ‘Pre Edinbrugh Fringe’ do at the East Oxford Community Centre. It was a couple of years since I’d been there. The barspace now has the ‘Catweazel’ banner permanently up. That’s what I used to go for. But then, well – see above on bacon sarnie. Now Catweazel is what they call an ‘Open Mic’ space. Sociologically speaking, I supppose is the term … it’s quite interesting. You could sit there and feel a bit, you know, timeless, well not exactly timeless but looking around you couldn’t tell when you were across … easily … the last three decades (except, of course, that no-one would be smoking). It’s very ‘alternative’, if you know what I mean: middle-aged geezers in handknitted pullies playing acoustic guitars and singing ‘protest songs’, peace songs … straightup, no kidding. There was one of them, and this is what he sang:
‘We built the atom bommmmmb … Where did we go wronnnnnng ?
Where did we go wronnnng ? We built the atom bommmmb’
Repeated, again and again for, like five fucking minutes.
His missus runs the ‘Magic Cafe’ (that it’s name, no really it is) down the Magdalen Road. You’ll likely see her, and a fair few other of the regulars this Thursday or next down the Cornmarket marching up and down with the Social Workers Party (I’m a big fan of calling things what they are), The International Workers League, a few other trotcults, a bunch of general do-gooders, not to mention a contingent from the local muslim community. They’ll be chanting ‘Israel is a terrorsit state’.
And, of course, the Catweazelers are all zealots for the new state religion, that’s recycling, Global Warming and all the rest of it …. oops sorry, it’s not Global Warming no more, it’s Climate Change. Nifty shift that was, that they made. Cos of course, that’s what the climate does, it changes. And woe betide you if you question it! They tell you you’re in cahoots with the oil companies and they call you a ‘Climate Change Denier’ … which is a bit of a brass-necked bloody nerve even for the alternatisitas, them being chummy with geezers many of whom are actual Holocaust Deniers.
Anyway, I’ve been getting a bit aeriated about this. So, back to last night.
It was a two-woman show, both monologues. The first one was wearing a red dress and red shoes, which, yes, you’ve guessed – it referenced Dorothy. But if she’d actually seen The Wizard of Oz she seemed not to have got any of the point of it. She didn’t even make anything of ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’, no the show was all ‘personal’.
She opened the show by asking the audience ‘So what kind of day have you had?’ … expecting, of course, the usual Ukanian bollocks of ‘Fine thank you’. So, to see how she took it, and because it just comes natural like, I said: ‘Pretty crap’. Which kinda of threw her, because these ‘alternative’ performers and their audience are really as interactive as the audience at a Radio 4 comedy-show … you know, so knowing when to laught that they no longer even need to dork holding up the ‘LAUGH’ sign. That’s why I never see zombie movies. Why bother. We’re in one.
So she started about her childhood and her parents and the meanings of the word ‘good’. She told about going to church and collecting the money and telling her mum how that was the bit she most enjoyed and her mum hitting the roof and saying how enjoying collecting money was bad and naughty. So that was quite touching and well-observed. And had it been the end-of-year show by the Sixth Form round about 1966 I’ve no doubt it would have seemed all radical and cutting-edge and a bit subversive.
But then she started going on about her pony and how she loved riding and then how important it was to her to win at badminton. Now I wasn’t getting this, and realised I’d got lost somewhere. Then I twigged … it was Badminton, which apparently is a place where they do horse racing or jumping or some such thing. Now you can call me narrow-minded as much as you want, but I really couldn’t care a flying fuck about this posh bird’s tale of her and her horses. So I just drifted off through all the rest of it.
It seemed to me that it was a good example of what I like to call the ‘Tracy Emin Fallacy’, ie ‘I’m an artist because I make art. My art is all about me, nothing but me. And I’m so important as to be a fit subject for an artwork, because I make art.’
DIGRESSION ON AESTHETICS AND TIME
On the subject of art: About 5 weeks ago I went to the private view of the Degree Show at my old artschool. That was a mistake. It’s one thing being at such an event when all your mates are there and you invite guys from the rest of your life. It’s quite another when the only poeople who know you are the tutors and maybe a couple of people from your time who maybe turn up, but this time didn’t. I’d revisited it a couple of weeks previous to the show. Going into the darkroom brought it all back – how that was just totally the happiest time of my life. There’s something about a communal darkroom, watching each other’s prints come up in the dev, the smell of the chemicals, the enveloping, womby glow of the safelights, that is like nothing else that I know.
I was ever so pleased that one of the porters (is that what they call them? gatekeepers, whatever) remembered me … we’re talking 25 years !. He’d been the one who’d told me of the best praise any work of mine has ever received: There was a group show in the shopping underpass at Aldgate; late of the night when the wine bar closed the yuppies (remember them) would come out and spit at the pane where hung my piece. They knew what it meant. They knew what its target was. Then it got taken down …. too ‘political’. What struck me about the work on show at last June’s show was – as with the audience at Catweazel – that there was nothing there, not a thing, not a hint, that would tell you what year, or even decade you were in. In fact I asked the porter: ‘If you were up there, in the show, and you didn’t know what year it was, would anything there tell you?’. ‘No’, he said – knowing exactly where I was coming from.
Anyway, that’s taken a bit away from last night. Blimey! You’ll be wondering what I’m smoking. Not at all, I’m trying to get myself both distracted from and focussed for this evening!
SO, BACK TO THE PRE-EDINBRUGH FRINGE
But the next performer! Well, compared to her the first one was a Josephine Baker (and if that name is unfamiliar, Wiki – you’re in for a treat, and a reminder as to what real performance is). For a start she couldn’t project, so I only had the vaguest idea as to what it was all about. It seemed to be to do with a mermaid and a witch and it was all underwater. And then, after five minutes the lazy besom started reading from the fucking script ! Now this wasn’t advertised as a dress rehearsal, so I feel it’s not unreasonable to expect the performers to have actually learned their lines. Especially if you’ve paid money, OK only a fiver, but still a fiver is a fiver, and converts very nicely into a pint of Far From’s best cider plus a pack of Nobby’s Nuts.
So she droned on and on. I was tempted to intervene, ask what she was babbling on abour but thought I’d probably then get barred from the Arts Group, and that would be a shame, this early on. So I just took out the i and did the crossword. And still she droned on, and I’m trying to see how many pages of the script are still to go. Finally she finishes. And, of course, she gets applause. That’s one of the things about these dos. The audience is just so utterly cravenly polite and flaps their flippers like a team of trained seals.
Then the first one comes back and thanks the audience and says they’d love some feedback and any ‘words of wisdom’. Which, an naive person might well have thought would be the opener for a general open discussion. But, of course, it wasn’t.
I did later say to her that I thought the Dorothy could have been done more with. The Wizard opener with Dorothy’s parents, small farmers in the Mid West, having their mortgage foreclosed (never been sure what that is, but is bad news) by the bank. Then there’s trouble from their neighbour, who later appears as a witch, and who looks like a stereotypical Jew who could have figured in a production by Josef Goebbels. But then, as the politics of the alternistas is of the view that being anti-capitalist means been for small business against the corporations and the banks, I doubt they’d get it.
And no doubt the performers will do the same thing at Edinburgh and the audience will clap and there’ll be few perfunctory discussions. They’ll get a few lines write-up by some poor sod with a degree in journalism, slaving away as an unpaid intern trying to get a finger-hold on the greasy pole. And the folks who watch TV for 3 hours every day will feel that they’re ‘artistic’ for sitting through this garbage and everyone will be happy.
The thing to ask about any artwork is: What’s it all about? What’s it for ? What effect does its maker want? But the only answer you’ll get about that kind of bollocks is on the lines off ‘pershonal work … self-expression’, as if that’s enough. Which for some folks, of course, it is – the twats ! There’s a marvellous line in Robert Hughes’ *The Shock of the New* which goes something like this: ‘Did any work of modernism ever save the life of a single Jew, or a single Vietnamese? Almost certainly not. But its pioneers thought that it might. That we can’t is our loss’.
Apparently the East Oxford Community Centre is going to be turned into new housing. I’ll miss it. Here’s another tip. If you’re well-bladdered of an afternoon, it’s very handy for its khazis – that’s why I’ll miss it. Mind you, be careful on a Friday. The gents is full of geezers washing their plates. Why they wash them when they’ve been wearing shoes beats me. Cultural, I suppose. Or multi-cultural.
‘OWS THIS FOR A DECONSTRUCTION !
Which reminds me. In a few weeks the lamp-posts of Cowley Road will be decorated with some quite pretty lights. ‘Winter lights’ they were called by the person who foisted them on the We’re-So-Multicultural Oxford Council. But, of course, she knew damn fine that they were Eid lights. And of course she made a big deal about the Daily Mail making a fuss about it. But of course, what the Council didn’t realise, but I’m sure that she did is that Eid moves through the year. I think the followers of the Nazarene call such a ‘movable feast’. Now you couldn’t make that up, now could you? Especially as she’s a ‘Pagan’, she told me this at an Oxford bi meeting a few years ago.
Even more unmakeupable is the lights themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re quite pretty: a crescent Moon and four stars. Now as the lights first appeared in 2010 and as that was the fourth centenary of Galileo publishing his astronomical discoveries and as two of them were that the Moon had mountains (ie was not a perfect sphere) and that Jupiter had moons (he scoped four of them) – it does occur to me that someone was playing a joke. But as no-one else seems to have noticed it, that’s probably wrong.
And finally, that takes me back to where we started. Which some of the mystically-inclined amongst us would make a thing of. No. It’s just a way of, you know, winding it up. Not that I’m winding you up, I hope you don’t think. Though I can’t quite say how, it does take us back – to hotair balloons. A couple of days ago I went to Anthony Giddens’ textbook Sociology to look something up. On risk, it was, re the Precautionary Principle, which relates to this evening’s doings. Now as such books go, it’s not too bad, though that’s not saying a lot. Mine’s the 4th edn. It has this fetching blue cover, of a sky filled with balloons, hotair balloons. It was months on from when I first had the book that I twigged: Hotair balloons, of course some say that’s what sociology and the like are – full of hot air, if you get my drift. But then hotair balloons do take you up and you can see stuff that otherwise you couldn’t. So sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover.