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.

13 November 2009

Location, location, location

Making conversation with various different people recently, I've asked what I have believed to be a pretty straightforward (although, I admit, entirely cliched and banal) question: where is it you work? In response, I have been hoping for the name of a company, probably followed by me looking blank, then the person providing a brief synopsis of what the organisation does, and me being able to glean a little insight into what kind of job they spend most of their waking hours doing. Eg:

"Where is it you work again?"
"Well, they do a lot of tea parties and things, and I work in marketing."
"Sounds great. So did you see Spooks on Wednesday..."

Instead, on all these occasions, I have had to endure entire explanations pinpointing the actual physical location of their place of work, which serves no purpose: they work in Manchester, I work in Manchester, I live in Manchester, I know Manchester, they give me a huge long-winded frigging description of some place as if they're talking to their great aunt twice removed who's never been to Manchester. Fuck me, I know the question was boring, but what kind of dull conversation is that?

Last night, an acquaintance answered my question, "So where is it you work?", with: "Do you know Castlefield?" Er, yes. "Well, there's a bit where the canal kind of comes to an end, what do you call that?" A canal basin. So, Castlefield Basin, yes? "Yes, Castlefield Basin. It's just by there. There's an old building, kind of Victorian..." Another friend interjected with "Next to Dukes", which could have been said at the start, instead of going all round the houses (well, there aren't many houses round there apart from Lockkeeper's Cottage and a lot of fancy schmancy apartments, but you know what I mean), but I still didn't find out what he did. To be honest, I lost interest, and I went home soon after.

12 November 2009

Making a mountain out of a montage

I've been invited to this evening's preview of the Cornerhouse's new run in the galleries, entirely dedicated to the Polish artist Artur Zmijewski as part of Polska! Year. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm, even despite having recently travelled through Poland. I'm just not that into video art, I'm afraid. Plus I'm very very busy.

To make up for it, I've been having a shufty at the work on show elsewhere in the Cornerhouse: Behemoth And Other New Paintings by David Wightman. I'm giving you my thoughts here under the guise of both words (read on and you'll see why) and fixtures (both the date of the show and the fact that paintings are fixtures. Get it?). I'm not so fond of the abstract geometric stuff in the far end of the cafe, but I am curiously drawn to the mountain landscapes scattered about the place.

The largest, Behemoth, takes its title from a mythical beast, which apparently features in the Bible (more precisely, I'm told, the Book of Job). But then, what would I know? Behemoth, to me, means some massive big thing. And this painting is indeed that, taking up pretty much the entire wall that divides the seating in the bar (still a work in progress itself) from the downstairs loos. In the context of this painting, says the blurb in the exhibition press release, the word 'behemoth' is used to 'evoke the sense of terror and isolation inherent within mountain landscapes in opposition to their usual association with sublime beauty. This sense of terrific awe in scale and subject matter is curtailed by the use of pastel colours and collaged wallpaper providing a darkly humorous contrast'. [Head on side.] Oh yeah. It is the shade of strawberry Angel Delight, which is darkly humorous, I guess, in its own way.

Puella Mea is hanging above the stairs, so, as you make your way back down from the first floor, stop annoyingly mid-flight and appreciate the bumps and humps in the glaciers created by a choice use of textured wallpaper. It's worth the tuts and sighs, I assure you.

The one I traipsed all the way over there to see, however, is Cathedra. Trouble is, I couldn't actually find it on display, despite being reassured by staff that it is up, so I'll have to make do with the reproduction in the brochure (and below). In all the gubbins airy-fairying on about Wightman's work, there's talk of landscapes being something of a kitsch genre these days, and what with the woodchip and gaudy colours, you can't get much kitscher than this. A cathedra, it turns out when I Google it (the word isn't listed in the rubbish My First Dictionary I have for some reason decided to furnish my temporary work desk with), is the chair or throne of a bishop ('cathedra' is Latin for 'chair', from the Greek 'kathedra' meaning 'seat'); and a cathedral is a church into which a bishop's official cathedra is installed. See, you learn things here. And, indeed, study the picture closely and you can see the mountains do resemble a throne (look, just squint, will ya?).

Cathedra, 2009, acrylic on wallpaper and canvas, 90 x 120cms

Behemoth And Other New Paintings is on at the Cornerhouse until
16 December.

ADDENDUM (29/03/10):
David has a new website with photos from the Cornerhouse show and new work: davidwightman.net

11 November 2009

What a load of pony

Oh dear, it's not just bankers and journos who are feeling the cut and thrust of the recession; now fashion designers are wobbling to the wall on their ultra-high heels, too. First up: English eccentric Luella Bartley, who announced yesterday that her ready-to-wear label Luella was for the chop.

This is a surprise: Bartley was crowned British Designer Of The Year in 2008 and she's been at the top of the fashionistas' cool pile for a while now. Ready-to-wear is usually where the money is made, so I suppose that's pretty much that. Shame. She put out some fun stuff - loads of quirky prints and ditzy florals, and plenty of overblown bows, sweet hearts and, if I remember rightly, Mickey Mouse ears - and one of her collections was called Daddy I Want A Pony. Now, that's a name for a show.

10 November 2009

Not so dim up north

Less than a week after Guo Yue and Clare Farrow wrapped up the Manchester Literature Festival with their magical Children’s Bookshow bookend, the city isn’t ready to close its dustcovers just yet. Even The Guardian has picked up on the bookish buzz of the place with an article about Manchester’s Literary Renaissance by Manchester University lecturer and MLF trustee Jerome de Groot, which the city’s literati and Twitterati have been proudly disseminating (see The Manchizzle and The Art of Fiction blogs for starters). In it, Manchester is described as ‘one of Europe’s most creative and dynamic cities’, so it’s no surprise that even the sleepy suburbs are a hotbed of talent. (Read this article in its entirety on the Manchester Literature Festival Blog.)

Down in the south of the city, Chorlton Book Festival is now officially underway, with stacks of events lined up over the next couple of weeks to entertain even my most highbrow cravat-wearing neighbours. The Words & Fixtures social calendar is currently fuller than ever (oh, the dizzying heights of being an award-winning blogger!), but I'm going to do my utmost to squeeze something in. One definite now penned in the diary is A Writer's Guide To Social Media, just in case I don't know all the tricks to upping my online presence. If you're reading this, Mr Slatcher, you may have your work cut out. Other than that, I am of course always tempted by free cake, while the pub quiz also has a certain je ne sais quoi...

Enough from me. You decide what tickles your literary fancy. For the all-singing all-dancing whizzy Chorlton Book Festival programme in Issuu, click here.

09 November 2009

Walls, I scream

As I'm sure you've all heard endless times already today, it's 20 years since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down; a pretty momentous occasion. No arguments there. For me, I was pleased to see the back of the Cold War as it had been the cause of some quite serious stay-awake-at-night worries of all-out nuclear destruction. As if being a teenager isn't bad enough. I don't suppose watching Threads helped, or listening to Frankie Goes To Hollywood with their Two Tribes sirens. And what about all the propaganda? We all knew full well that, in the event of an attack, we were to immediately take cover under the classroom tables. Like that was going to be a fat lot of use in the event of a mushroom cloud climbing high into the stratosphere over Manchester.

But back to Berlin, where I'm sure this day 20 years ago made rather more of a difference to ordinary folk but where life seems pretty normal now. Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of being able to pass through the German capital on my breakneck tour round Europe, and while pootling around on hire bikes got to see a few preparations being made for this very day.

We sneakily took these photos of an Italian TV crew recording a programme near the one stretch of Wall that remains in situ. They were having to do the same take over and over again because various passing cars and people kept getting in shot. We thought the presenter was funny because he looked all smart and serious up top in his jacket and tie, but was wearing baggy jeans and white sneakers on his bottom half (presumably, they'll only be focusing on his head and shoulders on the programme, which is probably showing on Italian telly right this minute).

This is the new Balancing Act sculpture by Stephan Balkenhol, which was inaugurated in May and stands outside the Axel Springer Building, home of the Bild newspaper. The 5.70 metre-high piece of a man balancing on a wall is framed by 11 original pieces of the Berlin Wall and (so the official Axel Springer website says): 'in the heart of the capital of a united Germany, it symbolizes the power of freedom and self-determination'. Weirdly, we saw the same papier-mache-looking statue standing about in a foyer near the Brandenburg Gate. He obviously gets around.

07 November 2009

A passing thought on Sesame Street

When I was 10, I moved house and had to change school. It was already apparent that we had gone up in the world because we now lived in a detached house and the neighbours didn't scream at each other after closing time and my dad no longer turned the hi-fi speakers round to face the party wall and blast out prog rock. Things were different now. Plus it was the 80s.

When I went to my new school, it was also apparent that we had gone up in the world. Everybody except me used fountain pens and had ink-stained fingers. I had a stubby bit of pencil and a rubber. Thankfully, I was quite good at spelling (imagine!) so at least my new classmates couldn't pick on me for being thick. Thankfully, too, my mum had persistently told me off for pronouncing things scousely so I didn't have too strong an accent.

One memory of many I have from the whole two years I spent at this school (others include: sneaking into the headmaster's office to look at the academic achievement records; learning all the songs from Cats, and having a massive war of words with a horrid girl called Kate) was sitting in a sun-filled room watching a video about grammar. There must have been a teachers' strike or a pandemic or something because a) there were loads of us in the room watching the tape and b) we never watched TV at this school; it was, of course, considered too low-brow.

What I remember from the show (which I'm pretty certain wasn't one of those schools and colleges productions but was in fact Sesame Street - happy 40th birthday Big Bird et al, BTW. Great show, guys) was the explanation of punctuation, and the memory aid for remembering the word itself (which adds to my confusion as to why we were watching this programme - weren't we a bit old?): Punk (accompanied by a sequence of a man with a mohican-style hairdo) - Chew (with a shot of bubblegum being masticated and blown) - Asian (footage of a person of Asian decent walking by). Crazy.

06 November 2009

Righting the wrongs of apostrophe placement

If there's one thing you all know about me by now (and, in the words of the ginger-haired Manc one, if you don't know me by now, then you'll never ever know me. I sat next to him once in the "legendary" Hacienda, BTW. There's one to tell your grandchildren), it's that I'm a stickler for grammar rules. I get particularly peeved by the misuse of apostrophes, and believe on-the-spot fines should be introduced to weed out the worst offenders.

Imagine my joy, then, when my good friend technicalfault sent me this handy guide on How To Use An Apostrophe. And if you can't work out the correct usage of the popular punctuation mark after perusing this picture-plentiful tutorial, I will be contacting the authorities to revoke your A-star GCSEs! I'm serious. This is the power I wield.

04 November 2009

The appliance of science

Last night, I found myself sucked into a programme about black holes. I'm a secret geek, see, and a fool for spatial anomalies, having watched way too many Star Trek episodes in my time. I now have an unhealthy interest (especially for a non-scientific gal) in singularities, event horizons, supernovae and all that jazz. I also now have a banging headache after being bombarded by complicated formulae resulting in infinity (a monstrosity, apparently!) and theorist speak of quantum gravity. Whoah there! Some of the heathen astrophysicists even suggested that that nice Mr Einstein might have got his figures a bit muddled. Like, whatever.

What I particularly liked, however, was the way these scientist types talked of 'astronomical' figures with a cheeky glint in their eyes.

I also noted that they are big big fans of adjectives. Super massive black hole, anyone?

03 November 2009

Give us a sign

The Times has been running a competition of funny signs over the past few months, entitled (who'd've thought it?) Signs Of The Times. Having selected their favourite 50, it's now up to you to pick your number one. Some are very funny, some are obvious, some are puzzling, and some are thanks to some minxy graffiti artists, so I'm not sure they count. Nonetheless, they're worth checking out over your morning coffee.

02 November 2009

Smoke and mirrors

Here's a fixture for you: a free photographic exhibition for a rainy day in the Quays. The Half: Photographs of Actors Preparing For The Stage is a collection of black and white portraits of thespians, film stars and pantomime queens by Simon Annand that have been gathered in both a fancy coffee-table book and now as an exhibition at The Lowry (until 3 January 2010).

'The half' is a theatre term referring to the final 30 minutes before curtain-up; a brief expanse of time buzzing with tension as the countdown commences over a backstage Tannoy system and the performers focus their thoughts, centre themselves - or just have a sneaky last fag on the fire escape. Annand has documented this nightly ritual over 20 years, gaining privileged access behind the be-starred doors of all the best West End venues and snapping the bold and the beautiful as they wait for their call. 'The dressing room is a physical space that allows for concentration and privacy,' says Annand, 'so the psychological negotiation between the actor and this fictional character can take place.'

The Lowry show includes a great deal more photos than I was expecting, although it is unfortunately hung in what amounts to little more than a poorly lit corridor. It runs the gamut from homegrown talent such as Maxine Peake and Frances de la Tour to big blockbuster stars such as Cate Blanchett and Daniel Craig, and I particularly loved Tilda Swinton's pensive clown and the choppy shot of a laughing Judi Dench.