31 December 2009

The witching hour

Billie Burke as Glinda in The Wizard Of Oz, 1939, dir. Victor Fleming
Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without The Wizard Of Oz, and, despite an initial panic attack that the big day came and went without me so much as giving a passing thought to the plight of Dorothy and co trapped on the other side of the rainbow, I've done a bit of digging in the schedules and have discovered that, thankfully, I've not missed this festive fixture, which will be aired on Five tomorrow at 3.50pm.

Letting your imagination run wild in the glorious Technicolor land of Oz should provide the perfect anecdote to a New Year hangover, although I'm not so sure that the two slots scheduled to precede the film fit that particular bill. Firstly, there's The Muppets' Wizard Of Oz, made in 2005 and featuring Ashanti, Quentin Tarantino and Queen Latifah among others; then there's one of those "making of" programmes, this one patronisingly (I'm sure) hosted by the shrill Angela Lansbury. Even doped up on Pepto-Bismol and Co-codamol, I don't think I could cope with those.

The Wizard Of Oz was made in 1939, so it turned 70 some time in the past year; one reason alone to check it out now if you haven't caught it in a while. Another, for me at least, is the recent resurgence in interest in the back catalogue of film director David Lynch, whose oeuvre is patchworked with references to The Wizard Of Oz, from Blue Velvet (Isabella Rossellini's character is called Dorothy and wears red shoes) to Mulholland Drive (the jitterbug opening credits mirror the jitterbug scene deleted from The Wizard Of Oz - although it appeared in the stage version I saw during last year's panto season and had me confused as long as it took to get to a computer and look it up on the oracle of the internet).

Wild At Heart, itself 20 years old in 2010, is littered with The Wizard Of Oz imagery, not least in the penultimate scene, when the Good Witch (played by Sheryl Lee, aka Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks) floats down in a bubble and urges Sailor Ripley not to turn away from love: "If you are truly wild at heart, you'll fight for your dreams."

Just like Dorothy Gale, eh?

Sheryl Lee as Good Witch in Wild At Heart, 1990, dir. David Lynch

24 December 2009

Cheerio-ho-ho for 2009!

Words & Fixtures is taking a short break for the holiday season, but would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone everywhere a fantastic festive foray.

To see you through the snow and baubles, here's a suitably Christmas-related picture; La Vierge et l'Enfant (Madonna and Child) by kitsch French artists Pierre et Gilles. (When we were stuck in Lyon last year waiting for the waters to subside, we found a really great little cafe where the barman took a shine to us and proudly showed off a portrait done of him and his husband by P et G. On another occasion, we stumbled across an establishment where everyone was absolutely ratted and screeching along to Edith Piaf. I like Lyon. Or Lyons.)

Anyway, this Pierre et Gilles installation - which features French actress Hafsia Herzi as Mary, decked out in a frock by Christian Lacroix, and which could probably be construed as virgin (sorry) on the inappropriate or controversial - was on show earlier this year in l'Eglise St Eustache in Paris. Me and the Exquisite Corpse gang mentioned earlier this week used to walk past this Chatelet church (it's the one with the giant head and hand sculpture outside) to get to Le Chat Noir, complete with a traditional zinc horseshoe bar and Turkish toilet for true French authenticity, then later in the evening ran back again to catch the last RER home.

Pierre et Gilles, La Vierge et l’Enfant, 2008-2009. Modèles : Hafsia Herzi et Loric, Robe : Christian Lacroix. Tirage pigment sur toile, 200 x 134 cm. Coproduction Centre national des arts plastiques et les artistes. Courtesy galerie Jérôme de Noirmont.

23 December 2009

Such a bookish girl...

It's my birthday, so I've been buying myself presents. No, I didn't wrap them up; that would be stupid. I got a nice stripy Christmas jumper (you get used to it, this Christmas shit), some angora over-the-knee socks, the Florence & The Machine album, tickets to see Blithe Spirit at the theatre, and The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland. Happy birthday, me.

Regular readers among you will perhaps remember that Douglas Coupland is my favourite author. What you may not know is that I have every one of his novels (plus Polaroids From The Dead, which is classed as non-fiction), except Generation A. I was pleased to just happen upon this one random copy of The Gum Thief knocking about in Fopp as somehow it had totally slipped my mind. So, just because I can, may I present each work in backwards chronological order. The covers of Coupland books seem to change with the seasons; these are the versions I have.

(I'll let you in on a secret: I haven't read them all. I like to drip feed myself so I don't run out.)

22 December 2009

Looking at art from all angels

Angels Of Anarchy: Women Artists And Surrealism was free at the weekend, for one day only, so I took advantage and ploughed my trusty steed through driving blizzards towards Manchester Art Gallery. You'll have to wait until after the festive break to enjoy the exhibition yourself, and pay up to £6 for the privilege, but it reopens on Sunday 27 December (then shuts again, briefly, on 31 December and 1 January) and runs until 10 January.

There are plenty of works and all media represented, by a number of women including Frida Kahlo and Claude Cahun, Dora Maat and Dorothea Tanning. There's a lot of phallic symbolism, melons of various shapes and sizes, and a whole lot of nudity. I don't quite know why naked bodies equal surrealism, but someone's obviously decided they do. There are dream sequences and fantastical scenes, queer landscapes and weird portraits, and Exquisite Corpse works (where an artist or writer draws or writes on a piece of paper, folds it over and passes it around a group so the finished item is a composite of everyone's crazy ideas - my friends and I used to play this on cold boozy evenings when we didn't have enough money to go out).

Somehow the show doesn't quite gel as a whole, and I do question this whole "women" thing. However, it does have its moments, and I very much enjoyed seeing the many photos by Lee Miller, including Portrait Of Space (1937), which was pictured above but which has been removed for copyright reasons. Intrigued, I've been looking her up, and have learnt that she she was discovered in 1926 in Manhattan by the founder of Vogue magazine, Condé Nast, who transformed her into a modelling sensation. In 1929, she went to Paris and hooked up with modernist photographer Man Ray, hanging out with him, Pablo Picasso, Paul Éluard and Jean Cocteau until 1932 when she returned to NYC and set up as a photographer herself. See the similarities between Miller's Nude Bent Forward from around 1930 and Man Ray's Violin d'Ingres of 1924 by checking them out in Google images as I can't publish them here any more thanks to my contravening copyright laws if I should.

Gosh, well isn't that a fucking dull blog post without images?

21 December 2009

Flash point

Bumbling around in the snowy dusk on my way back home from the Cornerhouse on Saturday, I decided to take a slight detour to check out CUBE artist-in-residence Andrea Booker's off-site installation; the SOS sign I was telling you about last week. Plugged in and slowly flashing away, it will be sending a subliminal message to drivers fighting their way along the Mancunian Way until 5 January. I was slightly underwhelmed, but now I hark on't, I must've seen it before as I seem to remember thinking it was a bit odd. And then instantly forgetting about it. Subliminal, indeed...

Entitled Apollo Theatres (for why, I can't say), it's up near the top of the squat white Art Deco-style box that used to house web company Moonfish and is currently undergoing a "rebranding" as part of the seemingly stalled First Street development to become EASA HQ; headquarters for the European Architecture Students Assembly 2010. So now you know.

This isn't my pic, by the way. It is neither snowy nor dusk.

18 December 2009

A short post about post

As I was cleaning my teeth this morning, I flicked the radio on and was drawn in by a chap talking about sorting mail and all the words posties have for different things - "flats" for A4-sized letters and magazines, "live mail" for first class post, "Granny Smiths" for customers. I would have liked to have heard more, but I do have to go to work these days, you know.

I've just had a shufty at the Radio 4 website to see if it's on Listen Again and it isn't, but it turns out I had happened upon the Book Of The Week: Dear Granny Smith: A Letter From Your Postman by Roy Mayall. Quite apt, I thought, this being the last posting date for Christmas for second class. Maybe I'll get it out of the library and add it to my festive reading list. Might make a good comparison text for "honorary Beat writer" Charles Bukowski's Post Office...

17 December 2009

Thinking outside the box

I was just clearing my desk to make way for the tens of thousands of Christmas cards people are currently handing out (why? Why hand a card to someone, when you can just say the words? Bah, etc), and as I picked up the flyer from yesterday's trip to CUBE, lo, I did behold that tis littered with grammatical inaccuracies.

CUBE are delighted to announce it's annual Open exhibition. Now in it's third year the Open receives submissions and interest from around the globe. This year's exhibition promises to showcase 'the best' work by both emerging talent and more established artists' who's practice reflects current trends and debates surrounding the urban built environment.
Tsk. I'll leave it at that. But tsk.

16 December 2009

What's your sign?

Popped over to CUBE earlier to check out the third annual Open show before it gets tidied away on Friday. Can't say I was blown away by it, but there were a few entries that stood out as being more than just a Blue Peter project (Paul Haywood and Maxine Kennedy's Salford Red 2007 paint chart being one and Norbert Francis Attard's colourful building-specific installations, including some in Liverpool, being another. Huh, perhaps I have an obsession with colour as well as books this week). Mr Words&Fixtures seemed to like Brian Rosa's Palimpsesto Urbano: Mexico City 2008-9; a series of urban landscapes showing the reappropriation of various materials (including old election posters, billboard ads and roadwork tape) as screens and shelters. But if Mr Words&Fixtures wants to tell you about it, he can do his own blog, right?

Downstairs is a special corner set aside for work by CUBEOpen 2008's winner and current artist-in-residence Andrea Booker. This is where the words come in: last year, it was her bright orangey-red SOS submission that caught everyone's eye. The three new installations are perhaps more subdued being white or clear, and use (I quote the blurb) "reclaimed and abandoned commercial signage salvaged from buildings in Manchester and Salford" to spell out a lit-up ONCE; SPILT MILK in glossy white (you might even say milky) enamelled letters, and a purposefully bent and damaged FRAIL. Apparently, "Booker supplants the original and intended message whilst retaining its connovative one, and in doing so makes a statement about social identity and displacement". Oh yeah. The exhibition also includes mock-ups of delapidated sites around the city which she aims to liven up (albeit temporarily) with her messages; keep your eyes peeled over coming months...

15 December 2009

Taking a philosophical viewpoint

I was flicking through the Guardian Review at the weekend and saw this great picture of Simone de Beauvoir. It's even better on the website, all saturated colour, so I thought I'd share it with you.

The piece it accompanies is all about women's writing: it's 50 years since de Beauvoir's famous "feminist" tome The Second Sex was published. I've not read this book, and I don't know if I ever will. I studied "women's literature" as a subsidiary course at university and, if I'm honest, it put me off the genre somewhat. I'm not much of a feminist, and I don't see why women's literature should be marked out when men's literature is not. It doesn't seem very equal or fair.

The other thing is that I've read three of de Beauvoir's works, and two I didn't like. It took me most of last summer to wade my way through The Mandarins (1954); it took part of this to decipher Une Mort Tres Douce (A Very Easy Death, 1964). Neither was all that enjoyable, although I loved Les Belles Images (1966), so you never can tell.

I can't give up on SDB just yet, as I'm constantly intrigued by her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, her position as a figurehead of French intellectualism and her importance in shaping the Existentialism movement (check this out for more on the far-reaching influences of that). Plus that is some very sharp coordination of lipstick to jacket going on there. Oh dear, what's a girl to do?

14 December 2009

Cover stars

Well, it's all about books on the blog at the moment, isn't it? I suppose it's timely: the run-up to Christmas is a traditional high point in the bookselling calendar. It's when all those godawful celebrity autobiographies and TV tie-in cookbooks find their way into the homes of an unsuspecting public. Sigh.

Still, it's not all bad in the book world, and to prove it, check out The Book Cover Archive Blog where the authors present a round-up of the decade's best book covers: some new for old (eg Camus, Steinbeck); some new for new.

This lovely picture-led blog runs alongside The Book Cover Archive, which "presents an archive of book cover designs and designers for the purpose of appreciation and categorization [sic]", and was brought to my attention (again!) by my library pal.

I've chosen to show this cover, by Stefanie Posavec, of Burroughs and Kerouac's Hippos (written in 1945, pre Beats, but only published a year ago by Penguin) because it was mentioned in The American Scene lecture I went to and blogged about last week , and I thought it was a nice little link.

11 December 2009

Librarian chic all sewn up

I'm quite a fan of voluminous handbags (as a cyclist, writer and professional tight-arse, I have various lights, locks, waterproofs, gloves, spare shoes and socks, notebooks, pens, elastic bands and packed lunch boxes to lug about wherever I go).

These literary creations, however, stretch the concept of a bag with volume just that little bit further. If you want to show your affiliation to a particular author while also making a fashion statement, this is your chance to get the intellectual look covered. Each piece in this limited-edition collection of clutches and minaudières (called, jauntily, "You can't judge a book by its cover") is individually designed and crafted by Paris-based Olympia Le-Tan.

They're not available until January, so just miss the Christmas list, but if you've got a bit of cash (well, $1,600) to splash, you can book (groan) your place on the reserve list at Browns or Colette now. The lovely Tilda Swinton and Chloe Sevigny have (Chloe has apparently ordered Moby Dick)...

I found out about the tome totes from my librarian pal's blog, where she links to more pics (including of Mademoiselle Le-Tan herself) on the fabulously divergent We Love You So site linking to the work of Spike Jonze, director of Where The Wild Things Are, which, coincidentally, is out today.

10 December 2009

And the Beat goes on

A version of the article below has been published in the Art section of online/offline venture theblogpaper under the heading And the Beat goes on. If you'd be so kind as to log on and rate it, it might be in with a chance of getting printed on that funny paper stuff and reaching an ever bigger audience!

The long and winding Road

Just over 30 of us push open the discrete double swing doors and dot ourselves around the lecture theatre - complete with raked seating and sound booth - that is hidden in the north wing of Whitworth Art Gallery. We are a diverse bunch, covering all ages from freshers to pensioners, gathered together for the penultimate talk in The American Scene series. The events have been designed to complement the exhibition of the same name, which is on tour from the British Museum until Sunday: for the Words & Fixtures review, click here.

David Morris, Head of Collections for the Whitworth, introduces RJ Ellis, Professor of American & Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham, and explains the connection between tonight’s discussion, Six Myths Of On The Road, And Where These Might Lead Us, and the prints hanging in the gallery next door. He describes the post-war part of the show as “perhaps the most striking” and paints a picture for us of the cultural context of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Artists like Louise Bourgeois and Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists were in full flow; the jazz movement was in full swing: not surprisingly writers were also going full steam ahead. Improvisation was the name of the game, and experimentation (drugs, sexuality, joblessness, travel) provided inspiration to the poets and authors looking for new ways to express the confusion (social, economic, political, emotional...) of post-war America.

And so the Beats were born, so-called because of the similarities of their free form writing to the free form artworks and music concurrently being produced. The Beat Generation was quite a crowd, but the most famous and fecund were William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and, of course, crowned King Of The Beats Jack Kerouac. The moniker Beatniks was later applied by ‘the establishment’ in an attempt to undermine the group by associating them with Communism (the Sputnik programme was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957; the year Kerouac’s seminal novel On The Road was published), just one example of how the group’s image was purposefully and systematically tarnished.

Professor Ellis (hereafter known as Dick) flicks up a photograph of Jack Kerouac, showing him wearing a crumpled checked shirt with tousled hair and a slight five o’clock shadow (the stencil by ~iamfox shown here is a reproduction of the portrait). The shot was taken (and cropped, losing Kerouac’s crucifix in the process) for Mademoiselle magazine and managed to successfully give the impression of a rebellious tearaway, whereas in reality he was unusually scruffy having just come down from his firewatch stint on Desolation Peak (as documented in Lonesome Traveller, The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels). The slighting of his character in such ways helped effect Kerouac’s decline, and just over a decade later he died at the age of 47 from cirrhosis caused by alcoholism.

This inaccurate picture is the first of six myths Dick presents, others being: that On The Road is the result of a drug-fuelled writing frenzy (actually, the fact that the book was completed in 20 days was down to Kerouac’s 100wpm typing prowess, and the novel is obviously well thought through and structured with obvious nods to literary influences such as Proust, Dostoevsky and Joyce); that the work was typed onto a continuous roll of tracing paper so the author didn’t have to stop and feed sheets into his Underwood (the “scroll”, as the original manuscript is called, is actually a number of rolls stuck together with Sellotape); that Kerouac refused to make revisions (there are deletions, additions and corrections throughout the original scroll) or accept editors’ changes (there is obvious collaboration between the author and his Viking Press editor Malcolm Cowley and copy-editor Helen Weaver)... I won’t reveal them all here; that might just amount to plagiarism and you might also like to catch Dick in action yourself some time.

Suffice it to say, On The Road is still a legend, despite the deconstruction of some of the myths around it. It is still an example of spontaneity, authenticity and automatic storytelling, but it was carefully edited, modified and honed to make it the great, readable and, ultimately, publishable, work that first came out. It might have taken 50 years for the 1951 uncut “original scroll” to be released (Penguin do a paperback version), but (to quote the Beat-inspired Bob) the times they are a-changin’, and aren’t we lucky to have two texts to study, not just one?

Check out what's coming up next at the Whitworth (and other places around town) on the beautiful new Creative Tourist Cultural Calendar.

09 December 2009

A proper slanging match

While in the kitchen rustling up a dangerously hot jerk sauce last night, I "listened again" to a programme that aired on Radio 4 yesterday morning. Mind Your Slanguage heard Rasta and performance poet Benjamin Zephaniah investigating the recent upsurge in street slang with a Patois slant; a very apt accompaniment to the Jamaican dish in progress, irie.

Photograph: Katherine Rose/Observer
The programme kicked off in Manchester Academy (the educational establishment, not the music venue), where street slang was banned in 2007. Students had apparently been unaware that the colloquialisms they used in conversation and the text speak they used in writing were inappropriate for classroom discussion and exam papers. Since the ban, results from the Academy have reportedly gone through the roof.

Banning isn't good enough, various defenders of the Queen's English would have you believe, worrying that the language, like the country, is going to the dogs. Most sources quoted in the half-hour slot (including the right honourable Ann Widdecombe MP) insisted, however, that it's simply a question of being able to distinguish between contexts and communicating appropriately.

We all have different voices for different situations - using business jargon for business meetings, for example - so knowing when and when not to use them is the key. It's all about, to coin a linguistic term, "appropriacy". "Language users are inherently sophisticated - most people know how to switch code," said Tony Thorne of the Slang & New Language Archive at King's College London.

Thank goodness for that; a blanket slang ban has been averted. Wicked. Slang makes our language interesting, throws up fabulous new words on a regular basis and gives us a brilliant arena for self-expression, as creative writers like Mr Zephaniah know only too well.

08 December 2009

Feline groovy

I'm so behind on my blog duties that I wanted to do something quick and lighthearted, and then I saw this picture in a back issue of that free Stylist magazine.

These candy-coloured kitties are showing as part of an exhibition called Colour at the Michael Hoppen Contemporary gallery in that there London. I can't vouch for it (so don't go making a special journey then blame me if it's crap); I just liked the pusscats - I imagine them living with the late Dame Barbara Cartland on a fluffy pink cloud.

The blurb for the show gives the dictionary definition of the word colour ("that aspect of things that is caused by differing qualities of the light reflected or emitted by them, definable in terms of the observer or of the light") and the scientific description (hyperchromatism, wavelength, luminance, iridescence and purity). Look at them, getting in on my words act!

Pastel Cats by Tim Walker, courtesy Michael Hoppen Contemporary(on show in Colour until 9 Jan), C-type print, 20 x 30 inches

07 December 2009

Rumble in the jumble

They're very with it these days, you know, museums and art galleries. No longer are they the stuffy spaces of yore; all low lighting and subdued murmuring, shuffling visitors and stewards hiding in the shadows. No, nowadays it's all about chi-chi launch parties, and trendy workshops and lectures, and touchy-feely interactivity with the exhibits, and free cake with your cappuccino.

Perhaps it's because they need to keep up with all the trendy young things that have been busily getting in on the curating act; influential establishments like Tate Liverpool (getting on a bit now with its coming of age this year) and Tate Modern in London (established 2000) or upstarts like Hoxton's White Cube (est. 2000) or Manchester's Urbis (est. 2002). Or perhaps it's just the way things are as we prepare to enter the second decade of the 21st century. I mean, who'd've imagined high-street banks would ever pipe pop music into their banking halls, that bookshops would tout coffee and muffins, and that local libraries would host slam contests?

So in this context, perhaps it's not surprising that museums and galleries are big on the social media scene and looking to digital developments to extend their reach (promoting exhibitions through Twitter, for example), to increase participation and involvement (such as the Britain Loves Wikipedia museum exhibit picture hunt, launching 31 January at the V&A), and even to offer greater accessibility to collections.

At Social Media Cafe Manchester last Tuesday (yes, I know that's nearly a week ago, but you'll have to bear with me; I've been a bit busy!), Manchester City Galleries' web manager Martin Grimes (with the help of his glamorous assistant David Edmundson-Bird from MMU Business School) led a discussion called Crowdsourced Treasures, exploring the idea of using social media tools to open up access to the hidden exhibits that the public never gets to see. We learnt that only about nine per cent of the collection is on display, although, after many years of painstaking cataloguing by some very patient staff, you can at least now check out the online collections database where there are records for 175,000 objects.

Martin, however, was very keen to pique our interest in (and presumably get us blogging about) what has been dubbed The Mary Greg Project. Mary Greg was something of a hoarder, it seems, and kept pretty much everything that passed her way during the late 1800s and early 1900s, later donating it to the people of Manchester. There's already a dedicated blog, Mary Mary Quite Contrary, which delves into the drawers and boxes containing the weird and wonderful items in the collection and presents some gorgeously detailed close-ups (check out the Flickr feed for these).

I like the tab inviting you to "have a rummage". (What a great onomatopoeic word rummage is.) Take up the invite, anyway, and you're immersed in a bonkers world of bygones, bric-a-brac and bits'n'bobs. There are spent matches and birthday cake candles, scraps of letters and lists of nonsense, pieces of thread and herringbone-patterned thimbles, chatelaines and bodkins, more spoons than you could ever practically need and a thousand keys to a thousand doors that most likely don't exist now. The financial value might not be great, but you can't really put a price on that nice warm feeling nostalgia causes, and writing this post has given me more pleasure than I could ever have dreamed of, especially when I dismissed the seminar somewhat cynically last week.

02 December 2009

Rhyme and reason

Well, won't you look at that. The Guardian is today running a feature about The Rise Of Poetry In Advertising, in which it discusses that McDonald's ad I'm a fan of and tells you what you'd already learnt via Words & Fixtures (ever the trendsetter) some weeks ago.

I was interested to discover, however, that's it's good old green champion Pete Postlethwaite who reads the I'm afraid inferior and somewhat on-bandwagon-jumping, if nostalgic Betjemanesque (so I'm told), poem on the Cathedral City ad. I do like PP, especially after seeing a) his moving bow-taking following his first-night performance as bonkers old Prospero in The Tempest at the Royal Exchange last year and b) him regularly buying The Big Issue while he was doing the Manchester run.

Back to the feature, and I do think they make a good point about bringing poetry to the masses. You can't really complain, can you?

Anyway, forget that: check out that nice picture of cheese on toast. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

01 December 2009

Living in a parallel universe

As the title of this blog suggests, we're all about words here, however tenuous the link may sometimes be. We don't often do maths; it's not really our strong point. But every now and again, we like to make an exception. Mix it up a bit. Keep you on your toes.

So today's lesson is all about geometry. The weekend before last, I'd been enjoying the Bridget Riley painting with the wibbly-wobbly edges in the permanent collection at Manchester Art Gallery, so I decided to check out a bit more of her stuff while I had the chance: Bridget Riley Flashback is currently on at Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery, and runs until 13 December.

I'm glad I bothered to make the trip coastwards: I wasn't disappointed. I'm a fan of optical illusions, and the effect of Riley's work on your eyes and brain is both mesmerising and disorientating. The exhibition isn't vast, but accompanying the finished artworks is a handful of sketches on graph paper and mock-ups using paper-weaving techniques, and these serve to offer an extra dimension to the retrospective, along with a fascinating insight into the meticulous, almost mathematical, methods behind Riley's compositions.

Ecclesia, 1985, Bridget Riley Flashback. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London.
As well as optical illusions, I'm also a fan of stripes. I guess this is a given if you're going to a Bridget Riley exhibition under your own steam. Anyway, earlier that afternoon, I'd treated myself to a fantastic stripy plastic ring, all black and white and retro, and very Mary Quant, as me mam pointed out. It was something of a bargain, so imagine my delight when I found similar pieces in the gallery gift shop alongside the art cards and coffee table books accompanying the show. Fashion fabulous, darling!

30 November 2009

Calling a spade an implement with which to dig holes and fill them back in

As reported at the time in Words & Fixtures, the Local Government Association issued its annual list of officialese in March. This is a collection of words that public sector workers are urged to avoid using in reports, speeches and other corporate literature, and includes such creative inventions as "gateway reviews" and "funding streams". I'm not sure it's had a great deal of effect.

In its own attempt to kick into touch the ubiquitous "jargon and meaningless euphemism" so favoured by MPs, earlier this year the House of Commons Public Administration Committee commissioned an inquiry, Bad Language: The Use and Misuse of Official Language, the first draft of which (The Guardian reports today) has just been published.

Chapter 2 quotes Tessa Jowell: "I have what I call a bollocks list where I just sit in meetings and I write down some of the absurd language we use — and we are all guilty of this, myself included. The risk is when you have been in government for eight years you begin to talk the language which is not the language of the real world". The report then goes on to describe: "The unlovely language of this unreal world floats along on a linguistic sea of roll-outs, step changes, public domains, fit for purposes, stakeholder engagements, across the pieces, win-wins, level playing fields and going forwards".

I like the undercurrent of sarcasm and playful piss-taking apparent throughout and the plea in the summary for the government to "mind its language". Now, who else says that...

29 November 2009

Dial M for Miniature library

Westbury-sub-Mendip is an appropriately editor-friendly name for a village that today hit the news for claiming to be home to the world's smallest public library. No one wanted to use the old traditional red phone box hanging about on the street corner in these days of iPhones and email, but no one wanted to see the familiar feature removed either, so BT sold it to the community for the princely sum of £1. The locals promptly installed shelves and stocked it with a vast array of popular second-hand novels, and instigated a simple one-in one-out system so the library can always be replete with crap old Helen Fielding cast-offs and dog-eared Dan Browns.

Gives a new meaning to phone books, eh? (Sorry.)

27 November 2009

Extreme methods of interrogation

This post is dedicated to my brother-in-law. He laid down the grammar gauntlet, and who am I to deny him an answer? The challenge:

"What is the word and symbol for a ?!. Apparently a single punctuation mark was once created for the two. Anyway I looked on wiki and didn't see the answer. I did find this quote though;
Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.
F. Scott Fitzgerald"
My reply:

"With regards to your punctuation query, as far as I know, there is no such thing in proper usage, although an exclamation mark is often used after a question mark in informal writing such as letters, emails, websites etc (but obviously these are full of spelling mistakes and bad grammar, so they're hardly going to be held up as examples of good writing) and in cartoon strips and graphic novels (where the rules are different - it's fantasy!). For the purpose of describing the phenomenon in this usage, some bright spark (an enterprising advertising bod, no less) came up with the name 'interrobang' or 'interabang' - there's more at this Wikipedia link (although we all know not to believe everything we read on Wikipedia, so who knows). If you want to know more about ligatures, see this Words & Fixtures post.

"It is generally considered bad form to use punctuation marks together, so most people (well, writers and editors, anyway) inwardly groan when they see, for example, reams of exclamation marks together, which happens a lot these days in emails and texts. An exclamation mark is supposed to create enough impact on its on, and it should be used sparingly otherwise the impact is lost. You may notice the general lack of exclamation marks in the broadsheets while tabloids, however, love them. Go figure.

"An exclamation mark following a question mark is unnecessary and is merely emphasising that you'd noticed something or find something hilarious and are pointing it out, so it's a bit like showing off. As The Great Gatsby author you quote so eloquently details, it's kind of akin to laughing at your own jokes.

"Hope this helps. Regards etc..."
So there you have it. Interrobang: the upstart punctuation superhero on the block. Or possibly a super-strength drain unblocker with a crap sense of humour. Any more random grammar queries, dear reader, please feel free to get in touch via the usual communication channels.

(By weird coincidence, while writing this, the interrobang symbol appeared in my Twitter feed after one of my peeps used the new Retweet facility to share something by @FakeAPStylebook, who uses the mark as their avatar and seems to be a grammar geek. We like.)

26 November 2009

An accidental tourist

We have just received word that there are allusions and references to the mighty Words & Fixtures in the monthly Cultureometer on Creative Tourist. How lovely! It's a great site, so we're honoured.

Read the piece, which rounds up all the bloggly mutterings about arts and culture in the rainy city, here.

A few little words about art

One of my Manchester Literature Festival chums has been busily adding to the Southbank Centre's GPS Global Poetry System project (to which we'll return at a later date), and her latest posting is most interesting to an arty-farty Francophile word lover like myself.

It's about an installation by the artist Ben Vautier, known simply as Ben, who lives in Nice en la belle France. It says "Il faut se mefier des mots", which means "beware of words". Well, I say.

So I've been doing a little wider reading on Monsieur Ben, who seems quite an interesting chap. There's a bit here on his life and work (nice ski goggles, Monsieur. My friend Julian has some suspiciously similar). I've learnt that some of his sculptures are not unlike Jean Tinguely's machines, an exhibition of which is on at Tate Liverpool right now and runs until 10 January: Joyous Machines: Michael Tandy and Jean Tinguely.

(When I first heard about this show, BTW, I got all excited because I thought it had something to do with the director of The Science Of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and, I just learnt, the first episode of The Flight Of The Conchords, although I was just saying yesterday how I'm not really into that, if I'm totally honest. Too much singing. Anyway, I was wrong, obviously. That's Michel Gondry. Obviously.)

So back to Ben, and you see a lot of cartes postales of his phrases on sale in trendy shops in Paris. They always remind me of Magritte's Ceci N'est Pas Une Pipe, from The Treachery Of Images series (La Trahison Des Images 1928–29). Just thought I'd share that.

25 November 2009

Pie-making with a difference

I'm quite liking The Blogpaper, as mentioned yesterday. It seems to be quite good at bringing curious things to my attention. Today, I've been checking out Toxel and their many and varied "design ieas and tech concepts", and their link to Ed Bing Lee's magnificent knitted American-style fast food.

This perfect slice of pumpkin pie is from Lee's Delectables Series. It makes me think of the Double R diner in Twin Peaks.

24 November 2009

Chops away, chaps!

This is Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Horsting, otherwise known as fashion designers Viktor & Rolf. Say hello. Despite looking like a couple of computer geeks, they take some brave tangents and can always be relied upon to come up with some pretty crazy creations. For example, for their A/W 08 show, they took the concept of the slogan tee into a new dimension - the third one - building chunky 3-D words into their sharp suits and fancy frocks. Art meets fashion, indeed, although I'm not sure how keen the dry cleaners would be to tackle those Christmas-party red wine stains that ended up on your Viktor & Rolf "Dream" trench.

For their S/S 10 presentation at the Paris collections last month (which I was reading about earlier on The Blogpaper, a new venture that launched in London on Friday), the Dutch duo had obviously been preoccupied with the economic doom and gloom currently taking bites out of the fashion industry (read about the sad demise of Luella here) and decided to make some cutbacks of their own. Literally. Here are some of the Credit Crunch Couture tulle prom dresses, reportedly created with the help of a chainsaw.

Bet they're a snip...

23 November 2009

Needles effort to bring poetry to the masses*

(*Yes, that says "needles" not "needless". It's a joke, see?)

“The whole thing starts with a single knot /
and needles. A word and pen...”
from How To Knit A Poem by Gwyneth Lewis

We all know knitting has been the new black for a few years. Hugo Rifkind wrote a piece in The Times, back in 2004: "Knitting is certainly very now — its hip credentials have been trumpeted increasingly for the past couple of years. Scarlett Johansson even does it in Lost In Translation. Famous knitters reportedly include Julia Roberts, Goldie Hawn, Hilary Swank, Cameron Diaz, Winona Ryder, Madonna, Russell Crowe, Kate Moss..."

So what better way for The Poetry Society to promote its centenary than with a giant knitted poem, combining arts and crafts better than even Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The text chosen for the project was kept secret until the crafty creation (look - so big we couldn't get it all in the frame!) got its first outing at the British Library near St Pancras in London on 7 October before being moved next day to the capital's Southbank Centre to coincide with National Poetry Day. It turned out to be In My Craft Or Sullen Art by the wonderful Welshman Dylan Thomas.

From 11 to 19 November, the poem holidayed in Swansea, providing an extension to the annual Dylan Thomas Festival (26 Oct - 9 Nov) at The Dylan Thomas Centre. Yesterday, it continued its tour of the country with a visit to the hugely interesting and impressive Victoria Baths in Manchester (which, if you get the chance, go and see - they're well worth it).

The lovely director of The Poetry Society, Judith Palmer (pictured above kneeling on the poem knitting; this photo courtesy of the Visit London blog), welcomed us to the venue and led the readings of poems that had been crafted about crafts. One person who took to the floor was Andrew Rudd, Cheshire Poet Laureate 2006 and one of my teachers at primary school, a long long time ago. Aptly his wife, Wendy, is a textile artist. Another person, perusing proceedings, was author Robert Graham, who appeared at both the recent Manchester Literature Festival and at this last fortnight's Chorlton Book Festival; whose Chorlton-based first novel Holy Joe I read not so long ago, and whose creative writing workshop I participated in as part of October's Didsbury Arts Festival. Well, I never. So much culture in one room.

21 November 2009

A rather Hockneyed way of looking at things

Today, I went on an exploratory tour of Liverpool with my mother. Included in our meander was a visit to the Walker because I wanted to see the Bridget Riley exhibition (more on that later this week) and my mother wanted to look at The Rise Of Women Artists, which includes a lot of Pre-Raph stuff, of which my mother, a former art teacher, is a big fan.

Anyway, while we were there, I took the opportunity to drag Mama, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century. I had been hoping to see one of David Hockney's swimming pool series, the cheeky (in more ways than one; see below) Peter Getting Out Of Nick's Pool (1966), but it's on loan to some place in Nottingham (shudder). This is a shame, but instead, and even better, the Walker has borrowed the picture Hockney did in 1970-71 of his fashion designer buddies Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell (find out more about the threesome here, about the picture here, and some more interesting bits and pieces here): Mr & Mrs Clark And Percy (who, presumably, is the cat). Wonderful!

My old next-door neighbours, who I miss a lot and can't really explain why, had Mr & Mrs Clark and Percy hanging in their lounge. Ossie Clark (not to be confused with wine-sozzled sod Oz Clarke, with whom you can have dinner soon, if you so desire, thanks to Manchester Confidential) was born in Warrington, where one of these neighbours worked, and the pair of them picked it up in a charity shop there, if I remember the story correctly. I like the picture, and the story, and I like the fact that someone from Warrington was a fashion guru.

20 November 2009

Suivez-moi en Twitter!

French speakers can now join the Twittering masses, the lucky people. According to the Twitter blog, more and more folk outside the States are Twittering (no way), so the organisation has been busy developing the social media resource in alternative languages to English. After introducing Japanese, and then, last month, Spanish, Twitter is now available in French, thus benefitting almost 30 Francophone countries (wow, so many?).

My favourite thing to come out of all this? The French word for Twitterers is "les twitteurs". Magnifique!

If you can read French, bob over to the Twitter blog post Nouvelle saveur: Twitter en Francais! for more.

19 November 2009

A lovely toasty feeling

Here's a great pic of a great building: the Toast Rack in that funny no-man's land opposite Platt Fields Park between Rusholme and Fallowfield. I used to live in Fallowfield as a student (I know; I really am a walking cliche sometimes), so the Hollings Campus, as it is officially known, was a fixture on my daily commute for a year. It's one of a kind. I hope they don't pull it down, as is threatened.

I'm an architecture fan but no architecture student, so for more on this "perfect piece of pop architecture", check out the Manchester Modernist Society website. Here there is a great write-up about the history of the building and a warning on its uncertain future, plus some links to other articles and blogs paying tribute to the Wilmslow Road icon.

16 November 2009

Goya Goya gone

Saturday saw four of us hop on to the free tram into town (well, when I say "hop on", what I really mean is "wait ages in the cold then shuffle into a packed carriage where the windows are steamed up so you can't see out and nobody knows to move along like they do on the Tube in that there London"). We made it pretty much unscathed to St Peter's Square, where the rain had finally stopped, and negotiated our way over to the subtly impressive City Gallery.

After bumbling about slightly lost, taking in some Bridget Riley, Patrick Caulfield and Francis Bacon, and having a possible celeb-spotting moment (one of the McGanns), we finally stumbled across the somewhat strange antechamber where the exhibition we'd come for is tucked away. And if you don't find the room within a room slightly odd; the 30 or so prints hung on the walls will certainly wrongfoot you. Fantasies, Follies And Disasters: The Prints of Francisco de Goya (until 31 January) brings together etchings that were either withdrawn or withheld by the artist in the opening years of the 19th century because of the bizarre, perturbing nature of the scenes of death and the undead. Even with a slight satirical streak running through, they carry a creepy and controversial edge.

An interesting addition to the display since October is Jake and Dinos Chapman's 1993 sculpture Disasters Of War (named after one of the three groups of Goya etchings; the other two being The Follies and The Fantasies), on loan from the Tate. The multitude of scenes portrayed using remodelled toy soliders are directly inspired by Goya's more gruesome work, and the display adds a valuable extra dimension to the exhibition and gives it a depth the Goyas wouldn't plumb on their own. The idea of toy soldiers torturing and mutilating other toy soliders is a jarring juxtaposition to what we accept as the norm, but then what is normal about the concept of toy soliders anyway? Disturbing isn't a strong enough word.