Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Going for gold

Hollywood has been showing some love to its favourite sons and daughters.

Every year the media gets very excited about a little ceremony in Los Angeles where a handful of people get a lump of metal and get to revel in a spotlight under the watchful eye of billions. Yes, the Oscars buzz is quietening down to little more than a hum and the frocks and speeches have been dissected. Having seen only two of the Oscar-nominated movies I don't really feel in any position to comment on whether anybody was robbed in particular. I've not seen much of the Oscars coverage, and while I usually like all the over-emotive fawning which goes on, I don't think I've missed much this year. Helen Mirren predictably walked off with the Oscar for her role in The Queen as, er, the Queen. It seems that you get an Oscar these days for wearing a bit of make-up or a dodgy wig, because the greatness of Mirren's performance passed me by as I sat through the two hours of torture-by-digestive-biscuit that was The Queen. I really like our Helen and I suppose in this dullfest she shone a little but she was still utterly unbelievable as the biggest mother of them all. Like Charlize Theron (went fat), Nicole Kidman (wore a big nose) and Hilary Swank (taped her boobs down) before her, Helen won that Oscar for looking a bit ugly, in her case wearing a hideous wig and portraying someone who comes over as a droid in Jaeger. Judi Dench was way better in Notes of a Scandal but HEY. What I did love about Mirren winning was the way she held her Oscar aloft as she said the words 'the Queen' knowing full well that that would be the picture which took every front page and internet coverage. You could almost see the Getty images logo flash up as she did it. Way to go, Helen; I hope you get a cut of the money that image will earn.

Boohoo of the night was Jennifer Hudson, then former reality TV contestant who showed Beyoncé up for the plank of polystyrene that she is by stealing a movie and having very big lungs or something in Dreamgirls. As Hudson tearfully accepted her statuette, La Knowles beamed a rictus grin and wished she'd fattened up and played Effie instead of Deena. Tough break, B.

The small amount of BBC coverage I caught before leaving the house was more than enough. For some reason, Auntie had asked Kate Silverton to go and report on all the frocks. Kate, who is to reporting what M&S is to high couture, jumped up and down excitedly on the red carpet after possibly one merlot too many and burbled back to the camera as bona fide A-listers sailed past her. Clearly Kate has been pretending all these years to be interested in current affairs. Her inner Heat reader came bounding to the fore at the sight of so many people; I half expected her to do a celebratory streak when she finally bagged an interview with Helen Mirren. The looks on the faces of the anchors back in the UK, as Kate handed back to them after asking The Departed's producer Graham King if she could hold his Oscar, said it all. They looked almost relieved to be reporting on serious matters like train crashes and interest rates.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Like, whatever

I hate being late and I pride myself on my punctuality but if there's one thing I'm arriving at the tail end of, it's the whole Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie 'thing'.

In the time it's taken me to completely ignore absolutely everything they've ever done, they've filmed four series of a reality TV show, released albums, written novels and even fallen out 'for ever' before making up late last year. Of course, I have been aware of them staring blankly out of the pages of the magazines we get at work or online, but until fairly recently I haven't really had an opinion on them one way or the other.

My ignorance was halted last summer. One very hot day, I lay ill in bed with the TV murmuring in the background as my partner clattered plates downstairs to show his frustration at playing nursemaid. The day was a Sunday, the channel was 4 and the show which changed everything was The Simple Life. This double-bill was the first episode of it I'd ever caught and it featured the two heiresses as interns. They were working firstly in what looked like a pretty boring office, much like the one featured in, er, The Office. Paris and Nicole had been entrusted to improve office morale and do the fairly menial office tasks that every bored temp has had to do at some point or another. Of course, because neither of them were doing this job for real and had pots of family money to fall back on, they did the opposite of what any put-upon intern would actually do- i.e. exactly what they were told- and did what they wanted to do. This involved providing employees with lap dances, kissing booths, tequila shots and breaking the photocopier. At the end of their day as an intern, they were asked to grade their own performances. They jointly decided they'd been A+ interns while their line manager disagreed.

Watching the two women was a revelation to me. I've met plenty of apathetic people in my time and I've had my listless moments, but I don't think I've ever witnessed two people refusing to care in such a way ever before. Out of the two of them, Nicole seems to be the one who has some semblance of a personality. Paris, dead-eyed and motionless, seemed to float around as if her brain had been switched off or removed prior to the cameras rolling. Every facial expression, every word and ever movement seemed to take the maximum effort and was usually avoided in an attempt to conserve energy. Nicole, on the other hand, was full of one-liners and a roll of her eyes told a thousand words. I was shocked to find that I actually liked her.

Last night, the girls' latest pisstake out of the ordinary folk arrived on E4. Filmed when the girls couldn't stand to be within thirty miles of each other, the gruesome twosome now complete their tasks separately and the strain shows. The professional airheads have been given the task of taking it in turns to take the place of a wife in a busy family for a day. Whereas, in previous series, Paris managed to come across as relatively human with Nicole there to spur her into action, she now wanders around like a wounded gazelle trapped in a hall of mirrors, stumbling from room to room with a look of perplexity. Her faux pas don't seem funny any more; she now comes across as a mental patient concentrating desperately on rehabilitation before blowing it all by smearing shit on the wall in front of the inspectors. Nicole's segments show her in a meltdown of sorts, yet she's not suffering too much from the removal of her pseudo-Siamese twin. From tattooing toddlers with felt tip pen to taking the easily-led husband to a strip club, on the surface she's still having fun, despite the fact that her eyes betray the story of someone who'd rather be somewhere else. Now that they're talking, perhaps they'll make another series together. Chips are great on their own, but with fish they're even nicer. Er, I'm not quite sure where I'm going with that analogy, but I'm sure you get the idea.

There's a lot of talk in newspapers and magazines about how we celebrate stupidity these days, but when it comes to Paris and Nicole and their far-from-simple life, who are the idiots? Two someday millionairesses who make a living out of bumping into furniture while being filmed for the masses or the supposed intelligentsia sitting at home crowing about the death of earned celebrity and giving the oxygen of publicity to those they rail against?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Coffee republic

I never realised that drinking coffee, or rather where you buy it from, is a political act, but it is. I was in Stoke Newington on Sunday. I was there on the pretext of going for some lunch until I realised that there wasn't anywhere to go that I particularly fancied and that I might have well as gone to the pub round the corner, which I eventually did do. (I had sausage and mash, minutiae fans). Before hotfooting out of Stoke Newington and back to the polluted sprawl of Borough, I happened to notice that a building had a flag waving outside which said 'Occupied'. The building was large, shabby and appeared to be inhabited, and was what I now know to be the site of the Vortex jazz club, which has moved to Hackney. The building and the land it stands on have been sold to a developer for an undisclosed sum and is to be made into- yes!- flats, along with retail premises which may or may not be a café. The building is being occupied by a collective who want it to be preserved as a cultural space, which is fair enough. The crux of their argument, though, is that they are fearful that any cafe which might open on the site will be a Starbucks. Like a drunken uncle at a wedding who'll dance to Kylie to prove she's still got it, Stoke Newington is the latest in a long line of London areas to cling desperately to village status it lost about 100 years ago.

Starbucks, like McDonald's, is one of those companies which have been demonised to such an extent that only a murderous paedophile would be less welcome in most neighbourhoods. It represents globalisation, the death of independent trading and, to me, really boring design. I used to live in Crouch End, another very nice village wannabe in the midst of a million shitholes. For I don't know how long, coffee and smoothie consumption was monopolised by a small coffee shop which I won't name. It was cramped and scraggy, had disgusting toilets, substandard products and, my personal favourite, the arsiest, most sneering staff ever. When a shop closed down and a sign appeared telling the residents of Crouch End that a Starbucks was opening, the villagers were in uproar. Anti-Starbucks graffiti appeared and a campaign was started urging Crouch Enders to stick with the 'independent' coffee shop and shun the giant corporation which was looking to come here, dare to serve delicious coffee and then kill everyone's babies. The first flaw in this argument was that the coffee shop was part of a chain, albeit a much smaller one than Starbucks. The second flaw was that if ever there were somewhere which deserved to close down and staff be mercilessly sacked, it was that coffee shop. Starbucks opened regardless and I moved away. When I returned to Crouch End some time later, I couldn't help but smile as I saw that the independent impostor was gone for ever, replaced by a Costa. Both it and the Starbucks were rammed to the rafters.

We're in a tricky situation: we are desperate to retain our individuality in a world where everything looks the same; we want to stay in villages but still log on and order trainers from Japan; we'd like to go organic but still go on holidays to the other side of the Earth. So is Stoke Newington right to try and hang on to its clique of independent traders? Independent traders may offer a unique service but they can also rip off, inflexible and just as mean as the big conglomerates they rail against.

I guess when it comes down to it, the public will vote with its feet and its choice of latte.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Let it snow

It's white, it's falling from the sky and it's causing excitement wherever it goes. No, not cocaine, but cold, wet snow.

Today in London it is snowing. There are probably few people in the UK who weren't aware of this fact, thanks to the blanket coverage it's been receiving on all the channels this morning. When I got up I peered out of the Venetian blinds and saw the snow on the ground. Given that every newspaper, website and TV broadcast had been foretelling the snowfall as if it were the arrival of the apocalypse, I was expecting to look through the window and see nothing but impacted snow straining at my window waiting to envelop me in a frosty duvet. Instead I saw a bit of snow and, on the B road which thunders past my flat, most cars coping with it quite well. To hear Fiona Phillips on GMTV talk, you'd think the entire world had been taken over by huge 50 foot monsters made out of ice and snow. As she excitedly read out details of every road closure, airport problem and dead sparrow across the country, her eyes darting manically across the autocue like a sparrow searching for a worm, I couldn't help but wonder why everyone seems to lose control when it comes to a bit of snow falling to the ground.

When snowfalls are reported on the news, they either show the same stock footage of a seriously snow-fucked road in Kent with cars nose to arse or they shove their least favourite reporter out into the wilds armed only with an inappropriate jacket and a garish scarf. I watched with glee this morning as the shouty weathergirl who can't stop saying "erm" attempted to give us a rundown of what was happening near the London Eye with cheeks pinker than a Yorkshire ham. She had her scarf shoved so far up her face I could hardly hear what she was saying, but from the look of the scene behind her, I could safely assume it was snowing that whole half a mile from my flat. Radio presenters are similarly enthralled by a bit of the white stuff. I can almost hear the rustle of mohair and mid-price denim as they move their hands slowly down to their genitals to touch themselves as they frenziedly count down the number of flights cancelled thank to the sky's snowy coughing fit.

It seems like the only way to jazz up a slow news day is to make it a snow news day, and by quacking about it in my blog, I'm no better than any of them.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Step back in time

This morning I went to the press launch of the Kylie fashion retrospective at the V&A in South Kensington, I love going to things like this because not only do you overhear the most ridiculous conversations, witness unbelievable levels of greasing up and get to watch TV anchormen fucking up a link, you also get to have a nosey at things you wouldn't normally bother going to see.

The exhibition consists of pretty much every famous outfit Kylie has worn over her twenty year career: that white hooded dress from Can't Get You Out Of My Head, her gross dungarees from her days as Charlene in Neighbours and, of course, those teeny tiny hotpants she wore for her video to Spinning Around. It's only when you see all of Kylie's outfits that you realise just how much of an influence she's had, not only on fashion, but on popular culture. Most of the dresses, suits and, er, furry cardigans were instantly recognisable and as well as sartorial iconography there were all her single covers, gold and silver discs, awards and even a sneak peek at her dressing room, which was re-enacted as part of the exhibition space. On looking at it, I deduced that Kylie is quite untidy and is wasteful of lipstick.

Despite the fact that her music may fall in and out of favour every few years, she can still make the headlines thanks to what she's wearing. Managing to stay on trend and relevant is no mean feat when everybody thinks your music is rubbish and nobody seems to care about you any more, but she has. You could argue that it's thanks to her style and deftness at choosing the right designers to work with has helped her stay in the public eye when her music has missed the mark. Kylie's music came secondary to the exhibition itself. There was a huge video wall showing her hits in chronological order but apart from a few horrified glances at the horrible hat she wore in the Got To Be Certain video, nobody paid it much attention.

After an hour or so, I was all Kylied out, my concentration broken only once by a young man who wanted to ask me questions for a magazine. Perhaps he thought that somebody wearing a flat cap and scarf indoors was making a style statement and was therefore worth talking to, but in actual fact I couldn't get them in my bag because the zip was broken. He asked a few questions and then went on his way. He was wearing a white leather jacket and I wasn't at all surprised to learn on returning to the office that the magazine he'd quizzed me for was of the pink persuasion. I gave good quote so hopefully he'll be kind in the write-up.

My last stop in the exhibition was the reception area, where people were knocking back glasses of wine at 11.30 am and fingering copies of the exhibition's printed guide, a nip at £19.99! I eschewed the chattering mass of liggers and made my way out of the Victoria & Albert and into the crisp Kensington sunshine, my curiosity sated. If I remember, I will put some photos up so that you can squint at a load of tatty-looking pint-sized dresses too.