Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sluber (noun.)

2,000 people voted London's public transport system the best in the world, according to a survey released this week. And whilst I am no survey methodologist, I can't help the words skewed and sample from coming to mind. Particularly given that London was also voted 'the most overpriced system in the world' by the same Trip Advisor study. Think me the TopShop bargain dependent that I am, but since when did being ripped off equate with award winning? Okay, point taken, but this is about London's transport not restaurants. And most of us still respect Gordon Ramsey for being feisty if nothing else, as no doubt so will New Yorkers when he soon opens in Hell's Kitchen.

And I am not here to present an even more skewed and smaller opinion sample, by sharing with you my personal thoughts (not that statistically less significant than taking 2,000 from the world population of travellers, now that I think about it) on the Northern line, the No.16 bus, or the tram to Croydon. But, what I will try and do, is add an insider's context to what the world, post this week's London public relations love-in, must view as a glamorous network of privileged users enjoying the most fantastical transport system in the world. Remember, we are still talking about Transport for London here not Battlestar Galactica.

And like any self-declared (aka rogue) insider's perspective, I will use its umbrella of supposed public edification to get away with charges normally deemed irreverent or insensitive. Which leads me to the question of 'most annoying type of tube traveller?' To which the answer is (as defined here for the first time) a:

Sluber(n). Refers to anyone who is a slow tube walker. Slubers can be male or female, tourist or commuter, ipod-er or reader. They all tend to obey basic Tube Etiquette : they stand clear of closing doors; they don't look or speak to anyone, ever; and they even obediently stand to the right on escalators, the most egregious of all to ever forsake. But herein lays the barb: the obedience factor.

This is the London Underground, a cavernous cesspool beyond the circles of Dante's Inferno, which provides one purpose and is irregular at that: the movement of us, indentured spy ring facilitators (sorry, I meant users, but what do you really think the Oyster card tracking system is for?) from place A to place B. So why slubers, do you stand there still as at razor edge, and voluntarily extend your sentence? Is it a form of sadomasochism? In which case, let me recommend Man Bar.

Barring the always excused -ill, old, injured, disabled, and pregnant (not to be confused with mis-shaped A-line dress wearers); slubers have to be the most brazen proponents of shameless laziness. Their passive acceptance, as writ by their apathetic expressions, of time passing; and in this particular scenario of mind numbingly slow escalator speed, eats away at the very core of Type A, restlessness. 'How can they just stand there 'slubing' it, letting the world take its own course', we ask. After all, there are Caffe Nero queues to get incensed by just beyond the ticket barriers.

But, like everything else in life post-Joseph Heller, it would become a self-defeating course of action if we were all anti-slubbers on the left. So with all due respect for any normal people left out there using London transport, here is a song for you:

"I'm so scared in case I fall off my step,
And I'm wondering how I'll get up the rest,
Neurotics to the left of me,
Slubers to the right, here I am
Stuck in the Tube with you"

And for perhaps the best thing to ever come out of the London Underground:

check out the "irreverent and informative must-read for everybody, not just subterranean commuters" award-winning London Underground Tube Blog.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Pick a fight day

I read Grazia magazine. There, I have said it. And whilst this is not an habitual occurrence it does correlate with stress, the more of the latter, the more frequent the former. And so it was, as I toddled along to the Tube last night in search of vacuous escapism, I turned to this week's copy. And whilst any (regular) reader will know, the 'quality' varies week to week (men stop snickering, we know you snag it from our bag whence given the chance), this week's tripe was the epitome of silly season insult.

Even for Grazia, a nadir had been reached. Four out of the top 10 stories that they deemed 'are bothering us this week' concerned Hollywood couples on the brink: from Bradgelina breakdown, to Ritchie-Madge meltdown, to surly Liz Hurley, it was only fitting that Grant and Kahn be deemed a world con. And this would all be celebrity fitting, if today wasn't 30th August, the one day of the year when us mortals are also most likely (or at least have a 'scientific' excuse) to fall out.

That's right, Paula Hall, sexual and relationship psychotherapist, (a profession self-declared by most of us after a glass too many) has a theory that post-holiday blues combined with the end of the summer and no more bank holidays until Christmas conspire together to make 30th August, 'Pick a Fight Day', as tensions percolate and (apparently) serve to damage the well-being of many relationships. Dr. Hall says her argument can be explained by a simple equation: Post-Holiday Depression + Financial Strains - Lack of Light/Domestic Chaos = Relationship Stress.

Sounds pretty reasonable to us. And for once, the outlined condition is not left just afflicting us plebs. Rather, the asinine pipings from the celeb relationship circuit actually give us a reason to smirk glibly, despite the core of jealousy induced by three wrinkle-free Charlie's Angels. But when has the media ever given us a complete reprieve? And in order of nausea inducement, we have:

Angelina: "The fight was over how Brad behaves when he is away-running around, drinking and smoking." Surely, to a woman infamous for carrying a vial of her ex's (Billy Bob Thornton) blood around her neck, a few fags and a whiskey can't be that usurious?

Madonna: "Our new regime involves cutting down the time he spends on PlayStation and listening to me talk about my career for 30 minutes a week. We are also scheduling time for sex three times a week. " Madge darling, we know you hate to look your age, but couldn't you at least find a man that acts his? And PlayStation never doth equal sex, Like a Virgin should even know that much.

Liz: "I am planning 10 outfits for my wedding party so I can literally change morning, noon, and night." Translation: In case anybody were to forget it's all about me, me, me. Oh and Hugh too, sorry I mean, and You too.

Jemima: "The more vacations we have, the stronger our relationship remains. When we stay at home we just don't get along " Amen, sister. We just hope you don't run out of places to go.

So there we have it, Dr. Hall, you (with the help of Grazia) have inadvertedly supplied us with an equation to inverse relationship happiness. Or just a shameless bout of schadenfreude. Either way, we won't fight over it, if just for today.

But if you are still left wanting more farcical laughs at the expense of others, head to:

Shakespeare's Globe, the reconstruction of the famed open-roofed theatre, to watch The Comedy of Errors. It's a slapstick, highly farcical plot that should, if nothing else, make the trials and tribulations of Grazia look even more a tragedy.

Best value (and atmosphere) are the £5 standing/yard seats which you can usually buy on the day. But beware: it's real theatre not the disneyfied version more usually found on the forecourts of Las Vegas casinos. It's not a tourist spectacle, you'll annoy other theatre-goers if you just use it as an easy way to see the interior: go on a guided tour instead.

And for any women interested to know why mustard yellow jumpers and leggings are the fashion rage this season. A few of the costumes should give you a hint. Until 7th October.
020 7401 9919

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Simon says...

I am a newswhore. It is official, or at least according to the Urban Dictionary definition. And whilst I am not so vain as to think this blog is about me, I did feel it necessary to explain, why I spent part of Bank Holiday Monday reading The New York Observer on-line.

For those (with real interests) not all together familiar with the The New York Observer, it is one of the City's weekly rags. In a city of 8 million residents, it has a relatively small circulation of 50,000 but this belies its influence, particularly in New York’s media, political and real estate circles. It is a newspaper for people who would read The New Yorker, if not for their weakness for sensationalism. Present readership excluded, of course.

With that aside, what got me stirred up was this week's edition of the "Simon Says" column entitled, "My Summer Summary. Dating Down, Balmy Brits." The column's author is media darling, Simon Doonan, the bestselling author of Confessions of a Window Dresser, creative director of Barneys New York, and regular writer of the "Simon Says" column. He is also pictured here.

Upon recently returning from a holiday by the Amalfi Coast, Simon had a stop-over in the UK and reports back in his column what he learnt. Namely for us: "that the Brits have all—with the notable exception of the footballers’ wives—morphed into a bunch of self-denying, ascetic flagellants who think they are to blame for everything and won’t put anything in their mouths unless its gluten-free and has been hand-crafted by depressed lesbians somewhere in the British countryside."

Forget the reports of debt fuelled, abstemious shopping; of soaring obesity rates attributable to genetically modified fry-ups; of night-time economies plagued by binge-drinking. And welcome yourself to Modern Britain, a land of carbon footprint citizenry abetted by guilt complexes worse than anything felt by Republicans who voted for Bush, and where WAGs are the estimable exception. And Simon doesn't stop there, he goes on to say "the earnestly multicultural Brits are wearing organic-cotton hair shirts, eating fair-trade gruel and blaming themselves for all the ills in the world, including the emergence of home-grown terrorists."

Let's put America, the land of trail mix and soya smoothies, governed by it's own home-grown terrorist, aside for a minute, shall we Mr. Simon? And so it was, I entered into a stammering, sputtering soliloquy over the pugnacious level journalists in silly season (akin to dogs in heat) will sink. That is, until I was reminded of the surging popularity of David Fotherington Carbon ( I mean Cameron); of the overtaking (literally) of London's streets by the hybrid Lexus 4x4s; of the teenage cat fights over natural clothes label, Made, in Topshop; and of The Guardian's annoying Ethical Living column, which posits various rites of consumer behaviour against their supposed eco turpitude. In other words, devoted column inches pandering to the chattering classes 'softer' worries.

So on deeper examination, could what "Simon Says" from his media pulpit across the pond actually have a grain (organic, or manufactured) of truth in it? Has the nation of proud, empire building, shopkeepers become the nation of remorse trodden, crunchy conservative, eco warriors? Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves, whilst I tuck into my plastic-wrapped Starbucks non-free range, chicken, microwaved panini and sip my mocha, vente latte from land-fill ready styrofoam. But you wouldn't judge me on that, or would you?

For those genuinely concerned over the genetically modified issue, or still worried about the whole mad cow thing:

Whole Foods, the company that owns Fresh & Wild, is set to open it's whopping 75,000-Square-Foot Kensington High Street flagship store (former site of Barkers) in early 2007. Their first ever in Europe. Whole Food Market stores are so popular in NYC that apartment rental ads have been known to state how many metres away they are from the nearest one. Check out to stay informed.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Happy August Bank Holiday

"There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want"
- Calvin, Calvin & Hobbes

City Slicker returns to doing 'something' tomorrow...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Another one bites the dust

Somehow things have left us feeling a bit unsettled this week. We are not sure if it's the ineluctable destiny that is summer's swan song, August Bank Holiday, or the uneasiness over supposed inalienable truths, such as Pluto's status as a planet, being toyed with by a group of inane academics. Or it could just be me, and the fact that I am half Italian. This explains a lot, according to the new book, La Bella Figura: A Guide to the Italian Mind, that is flying off the shelves in NYC at the moment.

Apparently being Italian has many distinct personality traits (a euphemism for disorders) associated with it, beyond finding the drinking of a cappuccino after 10AM reprehensible. The most relevant to me being the propensity to "totter along in a state of amiable chaos," and the perception of "obedience as boring". So, that's why I don't pay bills, or fines, or get to work on time. Or why Italians drive like (considered) maniacs and never stop at red lights. Rubbish to any more moments of self reflection (rare the beast they were, anyway), now I know to blame my genes. And with that uneasiness put to rest, let's take on the other pesky mental irritants from this week, with the 4th edition of City Slicker's 'Week's Action, Weekend Reaction.'

1) Feeling overwhelmed by the hype surrounding the Notting Hill Carnival this weekend? You know it's Europe's biggest street party, but where do you start and when do you stop? React by heading to Westbourne Park tube station, the quieter, less touristy sister to Ladbroke Grove. Enjoy the Carnival along the stretch of Great Western Road to Golborne Road. Alongside The Regents Canal you will find an abundance of jerk chicken, plantains and Red Stripe to keep you satiated. And if the musical revelry at street level gets overwhelming, gaze up at the Trellick Tower, the Elephant Man of architecture. Sunday and Monday after 12noon are the main event.

2) Silently jealous that Posh can still manage a six hour booze bender and hold down that 'illustrious' career as an international fashion designer of the 'ubiquitous' VB jeans? React by showing her how it's done the real Londoners way, and that wouldn't involve Nobu Berkeley, the new HQ for WAGs. No, head to the massive redevelopment it makes Shanghai look prehistoric, King's Cross, for the opening of the much awaited Big Chill House. And while this site on Pentonville Road has seen many bars come and go, the site blight is over. The people behind Big Chill pride themselves on finding an alternative to the life-sapping bar culture that can dominate our capital. 257-259 Pentonville Road, N1 9NL , 020 7684 2020. Opens tonight 6PM.

3) Feeling guilty that you managed to miss, yet again, all of the summer blockbuster art exhibitions? Not to panic, react by swallowing the multivitamin of culture on offer at the V&A this weekend. It is your last chance to catch Che Guevara: Revolutionary and Icon. Or if you are feeling more Arab than Cuban, head over to the V&A's new Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art . Tonight from 6:30-9:45 is Friday Late: Arabise Me. To celebrate the Gallery's opening, there will be installations, dance, photography, film, and performance art by artists based in the Arab world. Because, in these times, we all need a bit more art than life. 020 7942 2000

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Character above all

Like many Americans I remain haunted by the legacy that is Richard Nixon. Although in my own act of historical reinterpretation, I no longer singly cast him as the Darth Vader of egregious south-east Asian policy, resulting in a million Indo-Chinese deaths. Sadly, we have moved on since Nixon. No longer does standing accused of subverting the Constitution, or torturing millions of innocent people, result in excommunication from political life. No, in our times, it signals re-election.

And so it was with nostalgic tendencies that I braced against the rising floodwaters of Covent Garden last night to see the world premiere of Frost/Nixon at the Donmar Warehouse. And whilst a simple retelling of one of the most famous moments in American history would have sufficed, Peter Morgan delivered so much more. Frost/Nixon is a thriller-like, edge of your seat recreation of how in 1977 the only man to ever resign from the U.S. Presidency, played out his guilt to the legendary British journalist, David Frost, before the largest-ever TV audience for a news interview.

On the surface, the play appears to posit Frost (played by Michael Sheen) and Nixon (played by Frank Langella) as conventional contenders in a boxing ring. In one corner, the supposed lightweight but flailing British talk show host: in the other, the austere remnants of power unflaggingly personified. And like any good fight, the challenger is hooked, jabbed and belted (here in the form of three failed interviews) before delivering the final knock out punch.

If not already obvious that Morgan is not interested in just a history on legs production, the plot is infused with interpretation. Morgan offers the audience a viewpoint of ostensible common ground between interviewer and interviewee: Nixon was disgraced, looking to rehabilitate himself; and Frost had lost his network talk show in the US and was looking to resurrect his career. A symbiotic relationship defined the two: both reputations hinged on the show's success. (Think Tom Cruise and any hapless talking head keen to interview him).

Morgan refrains from drawing axiomatic contemporary parallels. However, you don't have to be a Guardian reading, Cameron disparaging, Clinton defender to spot similarities between the Nixon White House attacks on the American media's alleged bias and those made under Bush. And herein my nostalgic appetite was satisfied. It's easy to say, and it often is said, that had Nixon come clean about Watergate in the beginning, when he had no direct responsibility, the affair would quickly have blown over and he would have survived.

But out from under the gripping power of Frost/Nixon you wonder if maybe, just maybe, in this instance things did happen for a (right) reason. Unlike Frost whose charismatic, self assurance lent itself to the camera, Nixon never trusted nor fully understood television. Think Clinton vs. Bush, but invert powers of intellect. A heroic stretch of the imagination, I realise. Yet, rather akin to picturing how Nixon, a solitary, introverted persona, would have survived in an era increasingly dominated by the boob tube. So maybe in the end it was Nixon's prescience, rather than reluctance, that told him to bow out.

And that is part of Frost/Nixon's hypnotising power, it appeals to our sense of nostalgia for seemingly 'simpler' considerations. Well, that and, for me, the writing of my own happy ending.

Book now, before media frenzy kicks off in full:

If I were a betting (wo)man, I would predict a West End transfer followed by Broadway so get in while you can. For best value ring the day of the performance for standing seats at £7.50. Running time is 155 minutes and the theatre is small so it's one of the best, unobstructed views in the house.

Until 7th Oct
Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, WC2
Tel 0870 060 6624,
£15-£29, £7.50 standing

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

One step for W1, a big step for Londoners

It was with smug delight that I came across the latest location for Alan Yau's, creator of Wagamama, Busaba Eatthai.

But first let me ward off any tipsters waiting to pounce, I am using 'latest' here to mean latest to me, not necessarily wallpaper-yet-to-dry latest. But this should never stop us. For if you applied the same principle to telly, say, you could never watch the evening news or Match of the Day, because it happened before you knew about it. Ah, unless your sensibilities are the reason we have programmes like Love Island and Big Brother. It is all coming together now. No, trend-making anxieties aside for today, let's abide by the 'if we didn't know about it, it's new to us' principle.

So I found myself strolling down Oxford Street at 9PM last night, after a brief bout of retail therapy in HMV (incidentally, how could The Best of Nina Simone be £2.99 after Christmas sales and £13.99 after summer ones?) and The Gap (sorely disappointing this season ladies, I am afraid), looking for a quick 'fill a hole' bite to eat. As it were, I was en route to Wagamama's when I stumbled upon (used with literal intent) Busaba Eathai, the Thai restaurant with an unpronounceable, imperceptible logo. But, rather than generate confusion it generates interest (the queues at the Wardour Street location are legendary).

And finding the front door, is nothing compared to the game of decoding the mystery symbols on the doors of the loos. The figures depicted above are not stick figure erotica after all, they signpost the restrooms. But rather than simply being Thai for male and female, they instead depict the positions either sex adopt in order to urinate. With that sort of conversation piece, who needs to finance Yau's retirement with Hakkasan prices?

Comparisons with Wagamama are inevitable, but Busaba Eathai somehow steps it up a notch whilst keeping the recipe of no-smoking, no MSG, bench tables, great food and no reservations. Everything I had was delicious with more taste and spice than Waga's: the cod fillet stir-fry, steamed coconut rice and side of morning glory vegetables were delectable. And that bottle of house Shiraz at £12.99 is a necessity. Because we all know that red wine with spicy food washes the chilli into the tongue making your spicy food slightly more intense than before. So, go on, indulge your table-mates with a 'I'll have what she's having' When Harry Met Sally moment, and splurge for the all out experience. With an average main at £6.90, you hardly need to feel worth it.

The tables are communal, and whilst the place is buzzy, it's probably best to observe the rules of modern etiquette and switch off your mobile phone. If you have to talk, then do so quietly - the rest of the table do not want to know how fabulous those wedge heel shoes make your calves look.

3 places to find Busaba Eathai:

8-13 Bird Street, W1U (next to Selfridge's, largest and latest)
Store Street, WC1E (Bloomsbury, smallest and cosiest)
106-110 Wardour Street, W1V (Soho, tried and tested)

Opening Times:
Mon-Thurs 12 noon -11 PM
Fri-Sat 12 Noon-11:30PM
Sun 12 noon- 10:00PM

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Is 25 the new 35?

The second half of a man's life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky

So it was that I found my nose burrowed in the Evening Standard magazine en route to Bir-nin-em last Friday, when this quote came to mind. And it always provokes rumination over the obvious dilemna: how do we know when the first half ends and the second begins? When do things stop starting and start seconding? But thankfully, I was not forced to probe the canons of philosophy much further; this was only ES magazine after all.

No, the question at hand was raised by an article on page 25 entitled 'The Age of Reason' by Cindy Blake. As if the earlier pages filled with glossy snaps of the beautiful and damned flitting about in Miami, the Hamptons and Ibiza wasn't enough to induce a brief bout of nausea, a headline screaming '25 is the new 35' just about threw me into a full-scale Joan Crawford no wire hangers apocalyptic fit.

Blake's central argument rests on her premise that "at 25, a woman can walk down the aisle a wide-eyed romantic without being a naive one." That we grow up quicker now (who was aware that time warps actually worked, but nevermind) so a "25 year old girl is not a 25 year-old girl anymore." Damn straight she is not. It is called Women's Lib and the Pill. Just one generation ago a woman of 25 was five times more likely to be married and holding down a family. Today, a woman of that age is more likely to be binge drinking. Not easily confused with nurse feeding. In fact, wouldn't such modern behaviour, Ms. Blake, make 25 the new 15, according to your abridged timeline?

And that was the (relative) innocuous bit. The article then follows that "all women should get married to whomever they're involved with at 25. No sooner, no later. That at 25 a woman won't feel pressured to find a partner so she's more likely to make a right choice." Call me a bra burning Feminazi, but isn't Ms. Blake's argument about identifying the age when a woman's critical judgement faculties vis-a-vis commitment are least engaged, in order to force her hand into marriage...because, (c'mon read between the lines with me), she frankly won't know any better?

Apologies Betty Friedan, obviously Ms. Blake never read The Feminine Mystique. Because if she did she would know the abiding lesson that once women "stop conforming to the conventional picture of femininity they finally began to enjoy being a woman." Well, that, and many of us don't remember having a boyfriend at 25. And we are certainly not going to let a divorced columnist convince us that we should have stayed with whomever was around prior, in order to get hitched after. Because that is heretical practice, whatever the age. Or else, I would be married to a monosyllabic, Play Station addict who cried out for his mama in the middle of the night (and who hopefully doesn't read blogs).

And if the parameters of absurdity had not been stretched enough, just look at Victoria Beckham for proof, Ms. Blake tells us, she married at 25. Therein, my friend, lies our answer.

For women, or men, feeling they are at the age of reason:, the latest (and reputedly oft-successful) Internet dating phenomenon feverishly talked about in London.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Wair ya bin? Bir-nin-em

As it were, I found myself this past Friday evening at the the 'toym of affpass seven' on the London to 'Bir-nin-em troin' for the 'wikend'. Faster and easier than going by 'buzz' or 'mowta'. Yes, Brummie's have a distinct dialect, closer to Brooklyn and New Jersey than The Received Pronunciation (Queen's English). Which to a home sick New Yorker, has a distinct charm. Quite timely, too, as research released today tells us that having a Brummie accent means more people are likely to laugh at your jokes. Although, the BBC in a nasty and smug moment obviously thinks otherwise in their piece, How to Speak Brummie. But we have all too many lines of national division at present, we don't need to be stirring up benign ones.

So it was that Birmingham called, or rather I called in on Birmingham (in that peculiar English turn of phrase), for if you are going to harp on about the country's first city you at least need to familiarise yourself with it's second. And with the recent shambolic implementation of airport security measures, who fancies a weekend city break abroad when you will spend 10 hours of 48 being frisked by Easy Jet staff in polyester orange zoot suits? No, think global, stay local.

And after a brief over nighter, I discovered Birmingham to be a gritty but 'on the up' post-industrial city with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a quirky charm all its own. Birmingham's motto is 'Forward' - and that says it all. No other British city is so in thrall to progress. After a pummelling in WWII, Birmingham transformed itself, and has continued to evolve since. Although the most famous landmark does remain Spaghetti Junction.

You can take in the sights via Brum's answer to the London Eye, in the form of a miniature size observation wheel on Centenary Square. And Brum is not alone, these copycat wheels can be found in Newcastle, Manchester, and even York. But whilst the civic planners behind it may think it's a world city, Brummies are a comically cynical lot and take it all with a pinch of salt. The real city is on the ground, both attitudinally and architecturally.

So, c'mon, shake off the Monday malaise because you get a reprieve next week. No plans? Head up to Brum for a day trip or night stop over. It may not be beautiful, but if you enjoy Britain's two national pastimes - shopping and drinking - you'll find plenty to entertain.

Lasan: Because Brum is famous for its baltis. Try the best. Tel: 0121 212 3664

Medicine Bar: The Birds Custard Factory was given a fashionable makeover to become a haven for Birmingham's alternative dance crowd. Tel: 0121 693 6333

Super-stylish Mailbox, a converted 1960s Royal Mail sorting office, is home base for trendiness and a calm way to unwind after scaling the Bullring.

NiteNite , budget capsule hotels with luxurious but miniature rooms, or the uber stylish Malmaison.

Must see:
Canals. With 36 miles of canal to Venice's 24, Birmingham has something to boast. Check out the restored section between The Mailbox and Brindleyplace.

Getting there: By 'troin', 1.5 hrs from Euston Station to New Street Station. Virgin Trains. From £10.00/each way in advance. Or £36.00/return.

P.S.: If you do end up a weary retail warrior or just swept off your feet by gondola man, one tip for the morning after: a Malmaison bloody mary. Beats out a cup of 'tie', a 'cannabea' or a 'point' and will leave you feeling 'ooroyt' in no time.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Them dog days of August

All things considered, there hasn't been much to get under our skin this week. John Prescott, our 'esteemed' Deputy Prime Minister, called President Bush's foreign policy 'crap', which is the most insightful thing Prezza has said in office, ever. Pete Doherty has been arrested on drug charges again, the kind of crack down security measures we don't mind the government enforcing. In fact, we have our own Prezza-esqe four letter word for him starting with 'tw' and ending in 'at'.

And as domestic politicians are all away on holiday, seemingly undetterred by, oh I don't know, the war in the Middle East or the major international terrorist alert, we all joined in to commemorate the 80th birthday of Fidel Castro, which on further consideration isn't too far fetched. Since when did we dare judge any political leader by, say, general economic depredation, dictatorial election results, or the provocation of hundreds of thousands of citizens into fleeing the country? And you have been asking yourself all this time why there are so many Americans in London.

No, so far, not much of a newsworthy week on domestic shores. Although since Castro is obviously back in vogue, we are left wondering why Gillette has never thought to sign him on as their spokesperson. Surely, he would do more to convince the average man of the virtues the new six blade razor can bestow, than already shorn and metro sexualised David Beckham? But, rare the day that the public is actually addressed with reality. And, on that note, we have the 3rd edition of City Slicker's 'Week's Action, Weekend Reaction':

1) Think Tesco's latest announcement to reward Clubcard holders with extra points for using recycled plastic bags is inane? Largely, because you aren't a Clubcard member to begin with, and it is enough to have to be reminded every time by the cashier at the till. Fight back the Hoxton, hipster way and head to the launch of the 'Shop Local' project this Saturday from 5-9PM in the courtyard of Tannery Arts, Brunswick Wharf, 55 Laburnum St, E2. Admission £1.Commissioned by the Peer Gallery, the project celebrates the individuality of local businesses by displaying large-scale artworks on the local businesses on Hoxton Street. On display from 19 August for one year. Open Wed-Sat 12noon-6PM.

2) Feeling that the ongoing international crisis has put other equally important political movements on the backburner? React by heading to The Women's Library (yes, there is one) at London Metropolitan University, Old Castle Street, E1 for the exhibition, What Women Want. It should certainly lend more light on the women's trek from second class citizen to something approaching equal status than Mel Gibson's film ever did. (But, despite everything, we do wish him success with his AA meetings). Open Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri 9:30-5:30 pm, Thurs 9:30am-8PM. Until 26th August.

3) Annoyed at the silly season's trivialising of the grave security crisis at hand? Check out comedian-activist Mark Thomas's latest book, As Used on the Famous Mandela. Thomas shows how easy it is to set up your own arms dealing company, despite the UKs uber strict laws, by getting a group of teenage school kids to do it. And if you like what you read, you can pre-book to see him live at the Tricycle Theatre 30 Oct-4 Nov. You know where it is now because you have checked out The 39 Steps, remember.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Edinburgh Upstaged by Kilburn

We are not in Edinburgh, we are in London. A reality obviously dismissed by the Arts & Culture journalists who continue to drown us in reviews of plays and comedy acts we stand no chance of seeing. Doing little other than leaving us feeling excommunicated from the scene that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the 4 star review of a play called Mickey Mouse is Dead at the Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh is of little interest to most Londoners this week.

So thank heavens, then, for The 39 Steps, which started its month long run at the bijou Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. That is, before it likely heads to the West End, if last night's ovation was anything to go by. The Tricycle has all the signs of doing for The 39 Steps ,what the Menier Chocolate Factory did for Sunday in the Park with George. And don't we like to play 'told you so'.

The 39 Steps is a stage adaptation of John Buchan's 1915 classic novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, turned film classic by Hitchcock's 1935 movie of the same name, oft-regarded as one of his best. The basic premise of the story being that of an innocent man who learns too much about a dangerous spy ring and is then pursued across Scotland, before returning to London to foil the villain's dastardly plans. An obvious plot for adaptation by film producers, but less so for stage ones. And it is precisely the lunacy of trying to translate a fast moving, suspenseful chase caper to the stage that makes the Tricycle's production so ingenious.

I don't want to give away much more than the basic gist: the cast is comprised of four characters, playing between them, what the production notes suggest are 150 roles. The protagonist, Richard Hannay, is brilliantly acted by Charles Edwards who expertly maintains a stiff upper lip but who is endearingly likeable. The 'girl' is played by Catherine McCormack, who played opposite Mel Gibson in Braveheart. She is brilliant as a Felicity Shagwell meets Jessica Rabbit character transported to 30s film noir. The other two male characters are a joy as a double act and pop up wherever Hannay goes.

The 39 Steps sweeps you off your feet, and touches you down in Edinburgh, 1935. Which given Easyjet prices to the Fringe, it is as close as most of us will get to Scotland this August. The audience loved it including, I suspect, Dawn French and Lenny Henny who were sitting behind me. I would venture to put my money where my mouth is, and offer to refund anybody's ticket who doesn't come out as gushingly enthusiastic. But, seats start at £8.50 so I wouldn't insult you. That is, before the likely transfer to the West End, when you will have to add a four before the eight.

And for those put off by a journey to Kilburn. 3 words: Get over it. Kilburn is on the favoured Jubilee Line, and so near the centre, it won't be long before estate agents are calling it North Marylebone.

The Tricycle also boasts a brilliant art gallery come cafe, with a lovely French cook who prepares fresh bits for a light snack. And there is a theatre bar that is open for pre and post show drinks as well as a nip during the interval.

Book Now: or 0 207 328 1000. The show runs to 9th September, but last night was a sell out, and that is before reviews in the broadsheets, the Evening Standard, or Time Out. Oh, and Zadie Smith and her writer husband Nick Laird live down the street from the theatre. So bring along a copy of On Beauty, because you may just get an Autograph Man.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who reads?

In a case of hard to miss but easy to dismiss, the media is inundating us with gossip swirling around the announced longlist of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction , purportedly one of the world's most prestigious literary prizes. And to the every extra inch of column spent on it, I can't help but wanting to ask 'is anybody bovvered'? Go on, call me a philistine, call me bourgeois, call me what you like, but before you get too carried away let me ask you to actually name any book by Salman Rushdie. See my point?

For those who have artfully managed to dodge the latest literati hoi polloi, this year's Man Booker longlist of 112 novels has been reduced to a shortlist of 19. Ask me to name a title on the list and my mind flits to the 20% off sticker on the Rough Guide to Turkey I picked up last month from Waterstone's. If pushed to name an author I could squeak out a Smith or well, a Rushdie as already evidenced. Names that are safe bets when pressed, in the same way Shakespeare is for quotes and Michael Jordan is for sport.

Which leads me to ask what most of us are thinking but too ashamed to broach: who actually has time to read books anymore? Flights, holidays,and insomnia bouts aside; who finds occasion to keep up with all that is published to be deemed comprehensively, or even shallowly, well read? Sure, we scour newspapers, magazines, websites, and increasingly blogs galore, but rarer is the opportunity to sit down with a book. In fact, rather than unleashing the imaginative spirit, the subject of reading can induce a sense of inadequacy.

We all want to read more, we all say we will read more, but like most things it is the actual getting around to it that bites us every time. And this is not a fictitious intention. Most certainly not. We genuinely do get excitable every Christmas upon receiving the new Julian Barnes novel, the story behind Google's empire, and the latest car book by Jeremy Clarkson, each deftly selected from the 3 for 2 pile in W.H.Smith's. And swept up by the holiday spirit we vow to plow through them by New Year. But then there is Christmas pudding to eat, port to drink, and the Carry On films are on BBC2. Not to worry, tomorrow is another day.

For anyone duly inspired, or just sharing pangs of inadequacy:

On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Paperpack available in UK, will be so in the U.S. end of this month. From £3.99 on Hardly a risky recommendation as Zadie's reputation (no not Sadie, she is too busy with her latest toyboy) as one of Britain's most talented young authors comes before her. Although, for a bit of trivia, Zadie's original name was actually Sadie, but she changed it at 14 to give herself a more exotic touch. But, I didn't mention such pretension to turn you away.

On Beauty is a wonderfully funny story centred around the conflict between two families of opposing political and moral sensibilities. Dubbed a homage to EM Forster's Howards End by those who can literary name drop. (A most enviable skill). Should particularly appeal to anyone familiar with NW London or to life inside an academic bubble, as Zadie is to both and like all good authors she writes what she knows.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Today's culture club

There are broadly two types of people in this world: those who waste time on matters of popular culture and those who don't. And just like with any continuum there are gradual transitions in range: in this case from the Big Brother watching, Heat magazine reading addicts to the look down nose at, 'yaya dahling' brigade.

As a fringe member of the former circle of shame, life was easier in the States, all I had to do was turn on Oprah and my finger pulsated to the cultural current. But that was then and there, and we are here and now. And in this day and age times are too serious, too tormented, too cataclysmic to frivol away our time with folderol. Or are they?

I propose we check by going straight to the undisputed source, the BBC, because after all Auntie knows best. So for a bit of fun, let's all play: "Guess the top 3 most popular subjects read on the BBC today." Not to fret, any hard core Type A's, over lack of preparation, I will get us going: 1. Heathrow security 2. Edinburgh Fringe Festival 3. Lebanon. Seems logical. First address any personal concerns and second wider political ones. This is how most of us prioritise our thoughts, by order of personal relevance, a means of self preservation.

With such in mind, the top 3 should come with muted surprise:

1. Time lists 50 'coolest websites'
2. Burglars steal Van der Meyde's (football player) dog
3. Staunton (football manager) unharmed after gun scare

So there we have it. Today's world unites around MySpace and football. And whilst only a momentary blip on this morning's BBC rankings, they are probably not bad proxy cultural bellwethers the world over. So it really is a good thing Premiership football kicks off at the weekend then, to give us some popular news to talk about.

Oh, and for those interested in poor Boy George. Not to fret, his litter picking order video sits pride of place at BBC's most watched. Quite a fall from MTV grace, but in this world we all 'Come and Go, Come and Go'.

For anyone looking to escape the silly season:

Tonight, Rory McCarthy, The Guardian’s Iraq correspondent for two years following the American invasion, will be talking about his new book, Nobody Told Us We Are Defeated: Stories from the New Iraq.

Email: (returns only)
Time: 7-8.30pm (doors open at 6.30)
Venue: The News, 60 Farringdon Road, London, EC1R 3ER
Price: £5 each (payable on the door, all proceeds will go to charity)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Type A on Holiday

I have never held summer holidays to be de rigueur. Rather, I can remember many a summer perched atop an empty East Village bar, sipping a warm Corona whilst the social scene of New York City flitted about in the Hamptons. And that is not meant to sound self pitying, rather holiday deprivation is quite a common condition in the U.S. With only 10 days average annual leave a year, it becomes very easy for Type A Personality people (which defines 99% of New Yorkers) to neurotically fester without so much as a long weekend away.

A key characteristic of Type A sufferers being they are simply rubbish at relaxing. We are unnerved when doing nothing for a period of time. You will rarely find us in a Yoga class, for instance. Excessive tranquility makes us anxious. Well that and, for me, the sight of men in bare feet. (But we have covered that previously).

And it is as a New Yorker in London that I have found myself in this competing construct with 25 days holiday a year to burn. Yes, that's right, to burn. To Type A's, any long period spent idle would be considered burnt not spent, because to spend something you must exert energy towards a defined aim. But burning, as such, requires minimal personal exertion and has an unpredictable result. Or, that's how we see it anyway.

Type A's hear of extended holidays and think that must be how the lazy half lives. Their indolence becomes raison d'être for our endurance. But no more, I have since long cast off those Type A chains. And with only one-third of my holiday allotment left, I have hardly held back.

So c'mon, unshackle yourself, and enjoy the best of what is left. Because even if you can't take two weeks out, you can certainly skive off early when the boss has. For the latest free (and decidedly trendy not touristy) London festival check out:

Priceless - Explore the Treasures of Exhibition Road
Date: 7 – 27 August, Venue: Exhibition Road, SW3

For three weeks, the streets of South Kensington turn into a living, breathing art gallery. Guided walks, audiovisual portraits, mobile exhibitions and graphic installations take over the streets, galleries and museums in, around and beneath Exhibition Road.

Times: Daily, 10am – 5pm, Free

For more information:

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thank You, Metro!

Don't fret just yet, there is definitely rest left for this said wicked. But being the news junkie I am (an oft used euphemism for shameless gossip) I feel compelled to share the latest.

Metro, our much loved and read free mornıng newspaper boasting 2 million daily London readers, has listed City Slicker on its blog roll (since 8th August). And not only that, but on many search topics we come out top of the list. Curiosity gettıng the cat? Have a quick look at, click on 'Your Metro' and scroll down to the blog search section. Type in London or any other less obvious (but relevant) subject in the search box and see what you find.

And that's all for now. See there really is rest for the wicked. Now off to make my cup runneth over. In vino veritas and all that. Back in full Monday the 14th.

Friday, August 04, 2006

That'll show 'em

(Quick note: After today, City Slicker is off to recharge its urban battery. Back with a vengeance Monday 14th August.)

What an odd week it has been. We left July, the hottest one on record, behind and woke up to leaf dropping temperatures. And for perhaps the first time in English history nobody is talking about the weather. Temperatures have gone the equivalent of Naples to Norway all in relative silence.

How decisively un-English. When there finally is a reason to inveigh against the weather everybody is left speechless. C'mon Londoners, show us some spirit, some passion, or just simply some reaction. A bit unsure? Take inspiration from Mr Commute Suit Man(pictured here). Fed up with being hemmed into someone's armpit on the Underground, he reacted with the space hogging people deterrence outfit. Now that is a true reactionary.

So let's show them how it's done with a little of our own spirit. Here we have the second edition of City Slicker's 'Week's action, Weekend reaction.'

1) No Thursday is not the new Friday, that is why it's Thursday. But we fell for the old pub house propaganda, yet again. And we are recovering from our reckless abandon, or just that pint too many, with a vow to react with a healthy weekend. And what better way than to head to Regents Park, NW1 for Fruitstock, a weekend festival put on by the nice guys from Innocent smoothies; complete with music gigs, a farmer's market, yoga lessons and a poetry slam corner. It's free, fun, laid-back, and all a bit well, fruity. 020 8600 3177. 5th Aug & 6th Aug. 12PM-9PM.

2) Still sticker shocked by the news from New York that Ronald Lauder, the cosmetics magnate, paid a record $135 million for a Gustav Klimt painting. As if we need reminding that all those £14 lipstick purchases do add up. React by getting your own summer collectible at the 100 @ £100 art sale at Bankside Gallery, SE1 (just behind the Founders Arms pub on the Southbank). 020 7928 7521, Thurs 3rd Aug to Sun 20th Aug. 11-7 Daily.

3) Feeling the itch to be a bit indy, a bit trendier than your ignominious Big Brother addiction, react by heading to West London's Portobello Film Festival for a free collection of short and long films in a number of locations around the market area and beyond. And after that dose of culture, secretly loving Miami Vice will be even more of a cheeky thrill. Runs Thurs 3rd Aug to Tues 22nd Aug.

And that's it for now. Back a week from Monday.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Posh cut above

I know what you are thinking. Enough with the celebrity mugshots, this is starting to read like a concatenation: (sorry, new addiction to Google Word of the Day) of OK! tattle. But, please grant me a silly season ticket. If the mainstream media can get away with it, who is to say that we have to remain stoically high brow? Did you put yourself under the same pressure at WH Smith's check-out when buying Katie Price's Angel? Come September, it will be all things serious, but for now a bit of Summer in the City fluff.

And when looking for mindless dribble the Beckhams certainly score for England. So here we have today's burning topic: Posh's new hairdo. For a woman renowned for £3,000 haircuts and style setting illusions of grandeur, this was definitely not a decision made over pillow talk with Becks. No, this was the brain child of countless PR strategies to wrestle Posh's image from the heaps of Grazia and Hello front covers to the big boys, the Vanity Fairs the Vogues.

Dare I suggest we are witnessing a rather seismic shift in Brand Beckham, away from Spiceman and over to Spicewoman. With Beckham's resignation as England captain and his last international tournament behind him, Brand Beckham needs to extend its range to fully actualise its potential. And it is now or never. Stage left, enter Posh with haircut.

So what do we, the unwillingly subjected purveyors, think of the latest attempt to rebrand? Without getting too deep into the hairstyle lingo of cropped, bobbed, symmetric, or asymmetric. I will say anything is better than those impractical, lollypop head extensions. In PR terms, the cut is clearly meant to position Brand Beckham as female led, cutting edge, decisive and power driven. England's answer to Hillary Clinton. Oh no, surely not.

The haircut is definitely a brave move. It will eat up pages of the glossies, the tabloids, and the Styles sections of the Torygraph and Times. But, will it launch the Brand Beckham rocket to the media moon? Doubtful as yet. Victoria may have a new haircut, but she still needs to ditch the hot pants and stilettos for baggy, moon trousers and crater friendly shoes. And that is unlikely to happen. Without a total makeover, the haircut will inevitably remain an accessory to an otherwise dated label. So pre or post snip, it was going to remain Planet Earth for Brand Beckham.

For those also wishing to ditch the Rapunzel look, or just update their own brand:
John Frieda, London's uber glamorous celebrity studded salon, has salon training nights with junior stylists every Wednesday and Thursday. £10 cut, £20 colour. Rumoured to be one of the best in London, but not publicly marketed. Discreetly ring 0207 636 1401 and asked to be put on the list. Definitely beats £3,000 and bets are they can cut a straight line as well (meow!).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


This week's news has already given us a few reasons to feel supercilious: disdainfully arrogant, and it's only Wednesday. And no, I didn't just pull that one out, it is Google's Word of the Day. And it is quite coincidental and fortuitous because today's subject is Schadenfreude, the German expression (from Schaden: damage, harm; and Freude: joy) meaning pleasure taken from someone else's misfortune or shameful joy. And the two words are easily linked: the more supercilious a person, the greater degree of Schadenfreude they can arouse. But enough vocabulary for now, August is already giving us plenty to talk about.

Monday brought us the scandal surrounding Mel Gibson's drunk driving, anti-Semitic tirade. Quite a fall from grace for Gibson who is reputed to be the world’s biggest earning actor with a £450 million fortune. This after his Cruxifiction film will surely mean career suicide given many of the top honchos in Hollywood are Jewish. And as most of us can relate to a regrettable, drunken tirade (or ten), we can smugly say to Gibson (on this side of sober) 'Oi vey, you complete Schmuck'!

Speaking of Jewish film producers, it is not too shocking to hear that Woody Allen's latest London film,"Scoop," has been largely panned by the critics following its weekend release in the States. The premise of “Scoop” sounds like the wind-up to a joke: a journalist (Scarlett Johansson) walks into a magician’s (played by Allen himself) trick closet , where she meets an actual ghost, and — presto — walks out with a news lead of a lifetime (involving Hugh 'hotter than Grant' Jackman).

Whilst Allen has an acute ear for the vocal rhythms of New York and the "c'mon keep up" pace of its wit and irony. So far he has shown us a tin ear for real English life. The Sloany stereotypes, where everybody moves around gardens to the sounds of classical music, may play well to the prejudices of middle America but to knowing English ears, they clunk. And today that gives us a warm, self satisfying, Londoners Schadenfreude sensation. Not because we dislike Allen, but because we do know London.

And if all this shameless vocabulary dropping has given you a supercilious air, at least back it up with a trusted source:

It's hipper than Google or Wikepedia, and current enough to help you unpick many a Woody Allen hidden sexual reference. Starting with the definition of the film's title. And you thought Allen was using the word, Scoop, to refer to the journalist's new story. Go on, look it up!

"Scoop" was released across the US last weekend. UK release TBA.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Under the carpet

Banksy spottings in London always seem to make the hairs of hipsters stand up straight. Banksy being London's most famed "guerrilla" graffiti stencil artist. A man both media shy, and Hoxton friendly.

For those who missed the recently controversal Bristol stencil, here we have a large spray-painted image in north London's Camden Town (directly opposite the tube entrance to Chalk Farm Road station).

And, for the majority of us, a Banksy sighting affords an instant yet ephemeral ticket to join the conversation of the duly artistic and duly 'right-on' set of London's urban cultural life. And that is not meant as a put down, a show down or come down. Rather, a moment of collective appreciation.

Okay, with that over. Who would like to come out with their interpretation of Banksy's latest (a copy of which is also rumoured to be found on Hoxton Square). Not many takers, eh?

Well here goes an apprentice opinion. As much as I know of Banksy is limited to the knowledge that he oft deals in power relationships. As such, I feel compelled to give this maid the upper hand in the stencils's dynamic. And as this stencil is on the north side of the newly refurbished Roundhouse Theatre, I would suggest that Banksy was making a statement about the labour (under-valued, under-paid) that went into refurbishing the theatre for the enjoyment of the priveleged London chattering classes. The irony being that of power introverted, of the subjected class acting out its own retribution of sorts.

The maid, as object here of the working class (Marx, sorry didn't mean to stir you), is having her own back by sweeping the dirt of her presumed master under the carpet. And therein would lie a classic Banksy lesson, or sorry it was originally from a more divine (albeit less contemporary) source: 'Do unto others and you would have them do unto you'.

And this is why Banksy is genius. His art transmutes, reputes, and refutes convention. Quite fitting for the side of a theatre, really. Most especially one in Camden. Let's just hope the Council thinks as we do.

And whilst in Camden, if transmutation is your thing:

Check out Fuerzabruta (from the producers of De La Guarda) at the Roundhouse Theatre, Regents Park Road, NW1. A night of mad Argentian performance acrobatics. The 65-minute evening starts with a man running furiously on a speeding treadmill: as doors and walls come hurtling towards him, he bursts stoically through them. And this, with various mutations and sporadic entrances of scantily clad women, remains the consistent theme throughout.

There is a hidden subtext about the frailty of the human condition in the face of overwhelming odds. And although the show's title means Brute Force, I think it would be dangerous to invest it with too much metaphorical meaning. It is best enjoyed as an entertaining escape from the real world devoid of any deeper purpose.

Booking until 31st August, £25/ticket, 020 7424 9991,