Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In defense

You suspect you are a borderline SAD (seasonal affective disorder) sufferer when you take to voluntarily travelling twelve tube stops on the first GMT Monday evening to catch a show about international arms dealing. Misery seeking company shouldn't come at such an effort. And of this I was quietly concerned last night, until I became instantly riveted by Mark Thomas's show, As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela.

Thomas defies description. He says he used to be a stand-up comedian. Now he doesn't know what he is. Satirist? Campaigner? Underground informer? Probably all, and from a few rows back at the Tricycle Theatre last night, a pretty convincing Inspector Rebus look-alike, complete with bulbous eyes and attitude.

Thomas's show is basically a live edit of his recent book which tells of him posing as a potential arms buyer to find out how easy it was to obtain weapons banned under Government export controls. He has the air of an effusive friend in the pub who is bubbling over with enthusiasm to tell you about this wicked thing that happened to him last week. And like all good story tellers, Thomas's 90 fact-packed minutes could be trimmed, but he does have a lot to say.

Thomas has some great one-liners including when he describes one politician as "one of those modern Tories who is just a moisturiser away from a monocle and shotgun." But my favourite part was less about guns, and more about his fiendish plan to irritate the Charing Cross police by staging lone demos in Parliament Square at the expense of the "Brian Haw law", which demands that anyone holding a demonstration in the environs of Parliament Square must apply for a license.

Mark's next lone demo is on 15th November with permission forms due in 8th November. Anybody game? I plan to apply for a ban on those (still curiously creepy) live painted statue people.

Tickets for the Tricycle show are sold out, returns by phone only. 0207 328 1000.
Other future UK performance dates can be found here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Google

To Americans everything is serious, but nothing is hopeless. To the English everything is hopeless, but nothing is serious. Or so I was told by a Nathan Lane look-alike, in Universal Providers, one of the funky, but affordable furniture dealers along Golborne Road on Saturday. And after years of intense (often Guinness fuelled) ruminations on the Yank vs. Brit cultural divide, this sounded the most inspired to date. That is, until I came to see Bush's latest accident on YouTube. And then I remembered just how serious and hopeless things can get. Well, apart from on the interweb, the place where the world unites in free thought - it is hardly surprising Dubya can't find his way there.

Friday, October 27, 2006


The good people over at Channel 4 decided to give the chattering classes plenty to talk about over their all-terrain prams in Starbucks today. In what was a glaring ratings pimping effort, the Best and Worst Places to Live aired last night. And coming in at the 'top of the worst' was London's Borough of Hackney.

Now c'mon, of course we know Hackney has deep pockets of deprivation, but why the need for a white fright ranking system? If only to bring more smugness to the cloistered elites who recently moved there claiming to be street. The new fresh-faced 'bohemian' glow to Hackney - the ciabatta eating Crips and Bloods thronging Broadway Market in pursuit of parmiggiano regano. But no, we could go on forever as the gentification of Hackney has become hackneyed. Instead, let's move on to other matters bothering us this week in the 12th edition of City Slicker's "Week's Action, Weekend Reaction."

1) Stuck for somewhere new to hold a Christmas do that's near to but not quite Hackney? React by staying east and book up early for the guaranteed table of the season: the Reindeer Restaurant at the Truman Brewery. Open 1 Dec - 23 Dec only.

2) Riled by how the Tories excel in gaffes about social classes that are completely alien to them, including David Cameron's claim this week that "we've all got mortgages?" React by joining not beating them (up that is) and head to Sotheby's Olympia first ever without reserve (posh for liquidiation) furniture sale. Prices start at £50.

3) Has the Mills-McCartney media mayhem revealed your appetite for libel and caricature? React by heading to the Cartoon Museum for the just opened Private Eye at 45 exhibition.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

When change comes too late

Today could be tempestuous. I am going to risk sticking my neck out in criticism of the establishment. (Okay, hardly a first, but most of the 'free' world is with me on Dubya). And this time I am not inspired by incomprehensible disdain, but rather a self confessed love and protective streak for the National Theatre. And non-theatre buffs please don't turn away now. If you live in London, bemoan the Daily Mail (a proxy for liberal thought) and can feel the faintest patterings of a cultural pulse (yes, seeing Mamma Mia does count) than the NT is often as good as theatre gets.

And the euphoria a good show provides is like a pill you love to take, but when crushed can prove hard to swallow. As such I have been reluctant to formalise an opinion on the NT's latest musical wonder-hit, Caroline, or Change, from Tony Kushner, hoping it too would somehow change. Recipient of a five-star review in the Guardian, and this week's Time Out 'Show of the Week', it is with fear in my bleeding (and blogging) heart that I stray from solidarity.

Set in Louisiana in 1963, the play's title stems from a dispute about coins between Caroline, a middle-aged black maid, and her liberal Jewish employer; but the change of the title also harkens the change in America in the year of Kennedy's assassination. Sound engaging? What if I told you that everything was sung in operatic format, including (inane) arias from people singing on behalf of dishwashers and dryers. Although unlike operas, which even in English often require super titles, every word can be understood. And in the first act this was too often the problem. But mercifully the second half was a transforming improvement, and Tonya Pinkins as Caroline made the score finally soar.

That withstanding, I still left feeling the moment for real change passed before the interval. But then again anything at the National can only ever be of relative disappointment. Book tickets here. Because when hype abounds, it is often worth the change to decide for yourself.

Running to 4 January 2007.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Borat Visits Britain

On days when:

1) The Tube is populated with hordes of heckling punks on half term.

2) David Cameron's ratings climb looks more certain than death and taxes.

3) London's weather is mocking our mission to hold off on buying that winter coat.

We seek solace in YouTube.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Spiritualise me

Before we begin today let me implore any music snobs to turn away now. Because after the mention of J.Spaceman (Jason Pierce, ex- Spaceman 3, now of Spiritualised) performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night, we are suspending the usage of words like 'sublime' and 'awe-inspiring'.

Now with vagaries behind, let's discuss the reality of J.Spaceman's sold-out and highly touted 'gig of the week': an acoustic set of old and new material accompanied by a string quartet, gospel choir and guitarist. Which combined to produce combinations that blurred the boundaries between soul, garage rock, orchestral pop and gospel. Stop sneering, music snobs, we won't be using word combinations like 'free' and 'jazz' here - words that, generally, should be kept well apart, like sardines and ice-cream.

J.Spaceman live is an emotional musical journey of redemptive fear-inspired cold turkey. Much of his music takes the floating state of heroin addiction as a base, and then lays the shivering, sweating, lonely state of rehabilitation over the top. Like James Blunt crossed with Chris Issak on a come down, his lyrics facilitate a trawl through the murky depths of your heart. J.Spaceman unearths feelings akin to watching Wife Swap- you love the shameless self absorption, but feel simultaneously repulsed with yourself. Enjoyable until you realise this is as good as it gets. Like how Kate Moss must feel about Pete Doherty. See we knew we would come to understand that relationship one day.

Check here for remaining J. Spaceman UK tour dates.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Science in the City

Late 1940s: Pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard declared, "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion."

Hubbard later created the Church of Scientology...

And yesterday marked the largest expansion for Scientology in the Church’s 50-year history in London. More than 5,000 members and friends (minus Cruise) of the Church of Scientology of London packed Queen Victoria Street in the heart of the City for the grand opening of their new £24m "church." Steps away from the Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral, the grandiose historic building (former home to British Petroleum) now serves the growing membership of London-area Scientologists. No doubt Alanis Morissette would agree, it is all just a little bit ironic.

And what's more, the also evangelical rooted, Salvation Army, similarly houses their headquarters just 100 metres down Queen Victoria Street in a building that looks far more Canary than charity. Apologies to any a) believers b) of charity starting at home. Oh, the fun we could have with this. For London is today, as Maverick would say, 'a target-rich environment.'

But, let's do be careful because after all "people who attack Scientology are criminals."--L. Ron Hubbard.

Friday, October 20, 2006

SoLo (So London) Style

When in London, wear leggings. Or so Soho's mantra goes. And after this week's Madonna whore fest I thought we could all use a dose of authentic 80s pimping. So is his look more meat butcher or Billy Elliott? Yes, those leggings are really checkered, I am afraid. But, what we really appreciate is his attitude. Because after this week's Mills-McCartney celebrity knock out, we are all craving a more understated show of personality. Which leads us straight into the 11th edition of City Slicker's "Week's Action, Weekend Reaction."

1) Has Madonna's millionaire mum rank pulling distracted you from the grave plight of orphaned children the world over? React by partaking in this weekend's Bloomsbury Festival and head to the Foundling Museum, London's original home for abandoned children. Friday-Sunday.

2) Has Bush's better-never-than-late admission that Iraq is another Vietnam enraged you enough to inspire a personal Tet offensive? React with non-violent dignity and grab a mate, a digital camera and head to Brixton for London's hippest photographic treasure hunt Shoot Brixton. Winners will go on display at Photofusion. Saturday.

3) Gutted to miss Harold Pinter in this week's sold-out, Krapp's Last Tape? React by booking now for Caryl Churchill's up-coming world preview and guaranteed sold-out sensation Drunk Enough to Say I Love You. Opens 10th Nov at the Royal Court.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A mouthful for Monica

"What's a man got to do to get in the top fifty?" –Bill Clinton, reacting to a survey of journalists that ranked the Monica Lewinsky scandal as the 53rd most significant story of the century.

You know you are just another American in London when you a) still recognise Monica Lewinsky and dub it a major 'celeb' spotting b) find her presence unquestionably more titillating than any of the London-famed Primrose Hill set c) develop conspiracy theories around the friend she is with sharing uncanny similarities to Linda Tripp.

None of which I acknowledged until last night when after ordering a pizza in the reliable, local NW1 Italian, J Restaurant, I returned to the table from the downstairs ladies loo. And it was but for a moment's glance when I teetered on the landing's edge, feebly attempting to disguise the latest ladder in my fishnets, that I spotted the rather radiantly Rubenesque Monica Lewinsky enjoying a mouthful of tiramisu.

I identified her face immediately, as would any self respecting Bubba lover, and was instantly struck by her beaming smile and the loud, unapologetic Yank affectation in her voice. Shamefully tempted to lean over and ask how her masters degree in Social Psychology at LSE was panning out (and whether she has found a comparable dry cleaning service in London), I exhibited restraint for once. Because, after all, any woman confident enough to reject the Nicole Ritchie look deserves the right to tuck into dessert in public and be given due respect and peace in anonymity. Well that, and I couldn't trust myself to not ask the real question burning under every Yellow Dog Democrat pacing like a bitch in heat until 2008: "So love, whaddya make of Hillary?"

J Restaurant, 148 Regent's Park Road, London, NW1
Tel: 020 7586 9100

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hacking with history

Pictured here is Jefferson Hack (with Belgian model and fiancee Anouck Lepere) founder of Dazed and Confused magazine and father to Kate Moss's child, to name just a few of the accolades that 'earn' him the ranking of Tatler's '5th most wanted party guest.' But none of this is really important.

Rather, the sole reason I am mentioning Jefferson (I would like to think after so many Marylebone sightings we are on a first name basis) is because yesterday was October 17th, History Matters Day, a day when all UK residents were asked to join in a mass blog about our day's activities for the national record. And conscious not to bore you with all the sordid details of my 'rockstar-esqe' daily routine (such as the Rain Man like qualities exhibited by my identical lunch selections at Pret a Manger), I will merely admit to yet another Jefferson Hack sighting on Marylebone High Street last night.

With the 'average' aura of any uber trendy, mega star publisher who happens to have fathered fashion's golden child Jefferson is hard to miss. And given all the hype this week surrounding Madonna's adoption scandal, I could hardly resist chasing him into Waitrose to ask 'who really is the Daddy?' Because if you can briefly suspend worries over the baby from Malawi, is not the threat of Pete Doherty as dad also a worthy cause?

Post your own record of yesterday for posterity here.
Or, then again, don't bother. Because, after all, we all know history just repeats itself anyway.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Not quite NYPD

Last night Joan as Police Woman opened London's newest music venue, The Front Room, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank with a one-off solo show. NYC-based, Joan Wasser, has been known as many things: ex partner of Jeff Buckley; backing singer, violinist, pianist, and guitarist for the likes of Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Antony and the Johnsons, the Scissor Sisters and Sheryl Crow, as well as sidekick for Rufus Wainwright's last tour.

Smokey voiced and quirky (her, not me for once) I spent most of the evening distracted with wondering if she sounds any different in the throes of passion than on stage. And that is not because I am one of Joan's multitudes of thronging hipster lesbian fans. But, rather because her inter-song banter is distractingly laden with OTT sultriness replete with contrived fits of self-conscious horsy giggles. But when you are not wondering if she is not just Beth Orton down a sex line, her singer-songwriter material is powerful and original. A lot of her sensual howlings decorate songs in a manner reminiscent of subdued Antony and the Johnsons crossed with clamorous Nina Simone. Arresting stuff from the police woman.

Disappointingly, the venue was less impressive. The Front Room is basically just that: a front for a real room. The stage is set up in makeshift fashion in the foyer of the QEH: part coat check, part concert hall. Like the National Theatre's large, outdoor, informal summer stage; but small, indoors and quite winter season formal. A near replica (if not splitting hairs).

Check out Joan on MySpace here or take the plunge and buy her soulful new CD, 'Real Life', here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

(WMOs) Weapons of mass oppression

The tenets of modern feminist theory are currently being challenged on both sides of the Channel. In Paris, high heels are back in with a vengeance if the just concluded Fashion Week is anything to rest your Jean Paul Gautier hat on. Whilst over here on the sceptred isle, veils are out in protest of female subjugation and oppression. And that is where any woman worth her Manolos can hardly help from detecting the hypocrisy.

While I will not deny that stilettos do serve females with a useful purpose by changing our posture, pushing our chest out and arching our back known as the "animal mating" position; instruments of freedom and pleasure they are not. Rather, it is well versed sartorial wisdom that the enormous pressure transmitted through a stiletto heel is greater than that exerted by an elephant standing on one foot. To think the Ming Dynasty received so much flak for foot binding, but it is forever laissez-faire for the French.

Which makes Londoners grateful for:

Tracey Neuls. Abandoning the trappings of the fashion pack, Neuls, an award-winning Canadian designer, has a cult following for her playfully inventive (but comfortable) shoes. But, be warned, the styles are very alternative. If originality is not your thing, there is always Eurostar.

Address: 29 Marylebone Lane, W1 (just off Wigmore Street)
Phone: 020 7935 0039

Friday, October 13, 2006

About freaking time

What a week of uncertainty this has been, made nonetheless more eerie by the calendar surprise of Friday the 13th. Surely, October is not nearly half over? Everywhere we look condundrums abound: Does wearing shorts after September scream weather victim? Is the Banarama look back to stay? And most disconcerting of all, is the Conservative's bigging up of the new political blog, 18 Doughty Street, really worth a toff (I mean toss)?

With all that in limbo (oh sorry the Pope has left us in limbo on limbo, we forgot) let's get back to what is certain this week: the eventual coming of the sacred weekend and the imminent 'scripture' that is the 10th edition of City Slicker's "Week's Action, Weekend Reaction."

1) Fed up with the endless entourages of gangly gargantuans parading across world cities in the name of Fashion Week? React with some realistic sashaying of your own at the launch of the Marylebone location of the Cabbages & Frocks Market. Formerly in Hampstead, this market offers an excellent mismash of stalls. A real find. 14 Oct.

2) Have you accepted that this weekend in London is all about art fairs, but are bored of the media frenzy surrounding the Regent's Park art for millionaires Frieze Art Fair, and remain unconvinced that the next door Zoo Fair is any less daunting or pretentious? React by heading East to the Scope Art Fair where 'affordable art' actually means something. 12-15 Oct.

3) Climbing the walls wondering when you can escape for the hills on your next holiday? React by taking part in the Capital's Climbing Festival and leave that flat feeling behind. 14-15 Oct

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A slippery slope for the Tate?

After 7 hours at 600 mph and from 35,000 ft across the abyss of oceanic waters from JFK to LHR, what is 15 seconds at 30 miles per hour atop 5 floors in the confines of a modern art gallery? Nothing one would presume. That is, until you indulge in this week's hype surrounding Carsten Höller's slide installation, Test Site, and hurl yourself down 56 metres worth of slide in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall.

Fun? Yes. Frightening? But, of course. Unless your name is Alice and you enjoy the sensation of tripping down rabbit holes. Although sadly in the Tate's 'conceptualised' artistic version you won't come across a looking glass or a never-ending tea party. Nor do you wake up from the adventure underneath a tree. Rather you are flung out in front of hordes of hip pack wearing tourists smirking (at you, not with you) in disbelief over the adult playground come lobby of London's premier modern art gallery for the next six months.

But that doesn't mean we are not jealous of Miuccia Prada, yes that Prada, who has commissioned a similar slide from the same Carsten Höller's which ejects her through the window of her Milan office, past several floors of labouring minions, and straight to the street below, where her chauffeur awaits. Now that really is high fashion.

But could slides be a transport mode of the future? Or is Höller's exhibit merely satirical fun directed at the classicism that underpins the Tate Modern? No doubt the cultural pessimists are viewing this as the Tate's final folly on the slippery slope to populism.

Could this be the time to side with the kill joys?

Deslide for yourself:

Level 2 slides: Free, no ticket required
Level 3, 4 and 5 slides: Free, timed ticket required

Tickets are:
• valid only for the time period marked on the ticket
• valid for one ride on one slide
• available in the gallery on a first come, first served basis
• not available in advance

At Tate Modern until 9 April 2007

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

City Slicker's 'Picks of NYC'

In response to an influx (okay, more than two) of you writing yesterday and requesting a full on, blow by blow (or by today's picture fro by fro) guide to NYC we will change tack and happily oblige. Under the condition that we return to London life tomorrow. Because after all isn't New York just America's London, or is London just Europe's New York?

Warning: the following list only contains suggestions of one blogging (or rather blagging) NYLONer (New Yorker turned Londoner). And since we can't cover everything the focus is on shopping and eating. See we can prioritise when necessary.


Barney's for designer jeans and Smythe Jackets priced in dollars. Locations various.
Via Spiga for Italian designer shoes at good prices. Upper East Side.
Noah a rugged meets refined line of nautical-inspired menswear. Soho.
Tokyo 7 a hip, popular vintage clothing store and East Village staple. East Village.
INA NYC a stylish, uber fashion-forward consignment shop. Locations various.
Fisch for the Hip. If you're high on designers and low on cash. Chelsea.

Pala. Great pizza and (as in Rome) is served by the foot. Lower East Side.
Prune. Best for brunch. Expect a queue. East Village.
The Elephant. Cheap and always buzzy Thai-French fusion bistro. Lower East Side.
Cafe Frida. Casual, excellent Mexican food. Upper West Side.
Corner Bistro. Famous burgers, unfussy pub. West Village.
The Modern (at the MoMA) Two-pronged restaurant overlooking MoMa's beautifully restored sculpture garden. Stick to casual bar over formal dining room. Midtown
Cacio e Pepe. Great local Italian. East Village.
Rack and Soul. Southern-style, pit smoking soul food. Upper West Side.
Wd-50. For that one special meal. Eclectic, inventive American fare. Lower East Side.

Happy Ending Lounge. Affordable drinks and a fun, mixed crowd. Loho (Lower Houston).
Passerby. Speak easy type bar, beats the frenetic and uber trendy local options. Meat Packing
Cafe Noir. A sultry atmopshere and great mojitos. Soho.
Good World Bar & Grill. A Swedish bar on a dead-end street on Chinatown. Need we say more? Okay, Aquavit. Chinatown.
Pink Elephant. Not cheap, but premier club spinning house. Dress to impress. Chelsea.
Tea & Sympathy. When seeking a little Union Jack over a a cuppa. West Village.
Townhouse. The friendliest gay gentleman's club in town. Midtown.

(Print off, forward on, or save somewhere for future use. Or, of course, disregard entirely.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Where else but New York?

Could you find a dapper dude in a bespoke suit hawking vegetable peelers for $5 on a street corner?

The Schadenfreude Life: 10 reasons New Yorkers pity those living elsewhere (and the Londoner tourists who fail to know about them). Delivered in digestable doses: half today, half tomorrow.

1) Raoul's for the best steak a poivre anywhere. Trendy, buzzing atmosphere and decent wine list. A New York classic. Soho.

2) Cafe Gitane for coffee, dessert and fashionista people gazing. Next door to the Sigerson Morrison shoe shop. Enough said. Nolita (North of Little Italy).

3) Upright Citizens Brigade super popular weekly improv comedy show. Arrive early, always busy. Sunday evenings. Chelsea.

3) Whitney Museum of American Art the world's foremost collection of 20th century American art. Period. And without the tourists and navigational tests of the MET. Excellent permanent Edward Hopper collection. 'Pay what you wish' Friday evening's from 6-9 PM. Upper East Side.

5) Trendy urban clothes in distinctly designer forward but wearable fashion. The kind of clothes you will be forever answering where you bought them. The answer: Label NYC. A secret you will reluctantly give out. Soho.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A mutant strain

"Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here. " from Annie Hall

No question. New Yorkers are a mutant strain of human: endearing, enduring and abiding. In madness.

Returning tomorrow with City Slicker's 'Picks of New York'.

Happy Columbus Day (also known as the original rationale for Homeland Security)!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Small inspirations from 30,000 ft

I have definitely reached the age where I no longer secretly hope to make friends (or find love) on airplanes, where four glasses of red wine at high altitudes is not as much as it used to be, and where pilots (and politicians for that matter) look more the age of suitors than fathers.

And after eight hours of cramped confinement in cattle class I wish I had some divine musings to bestow, either induced by altitude inspiration or the enforced navel gazing that is long haul flying. But, as it is Friday, I am not too troubled by wilful trivolity, or an in-flight entertainment review for any weekend cinema goers:

Volver. One to watch if subtlety or a semblance of plot are not important. Or maybe I was just insulted that Penelope Cruz needed a prothetic ass to make her look like the rest of us if we never ate another carb, ever. And when not distracted by musings over whether J-Lo could have done a more natural job, I was wondering if the occasional shots of windmills were a Don Quixote allusion to illusion. But after two hours I began to think that was giving Almodovar too much credit (Open across London cinemas already. Previews Oct 7 at the New York Film Festival. Official NY opening Nov 4).

The Devil Wears Prada. Should have been named 'The Devil Drinks Starbucks' for the film's clinching sell-out to Seattle's Satan. Meryl Streep is the sole reason to watch this film. But, it must be credited, that most of the time this feels like enough.

Trust the Man. Presents itself as a funny insightful Manhattan relationship comedy in Woody Allen mode, but morphs into a phony Hollywood romcom. In this New York, no crisis is insurmountable and no downtown restaurant is derived of product placement. Don't be insulted.

Back on Monday with a report from the weekend beat in NYC.

City Slicker's "Week's Action, Weekend Reaction" to resume next week.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A New York state of mind

I would caution to say that most New Yorkers know of or have literally heard plaid bike man. For years he has been riding around the city blasting Frank Sinatra music from the stereo taped on the back of his bike. What you can't see from this picture are the photos of women splattered on his deconstructed Boombox. A New Yorker like no other.

And before I skip town for the weekend to join bike man in NYC, I can't help but ask who would be London's icon? Is it fiery, megaphone preacher, "Don't be a sinner - be a winner" Phil Howard? Who incidentally was slapped with an ASBO last May which is really why Oxford Street is said to have lost its soul. Or would it have to be Brian Haw the permanent peace protester at Parliament Square? And we are talking people here so, for this once, Topshop doesn't count.

The bloglines are open...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Fag ends

If only we had known that David Fotherington Cameron (or DFC as no doubt his Cologne & Cotton embossed towels read) has a preference for Marlborough Lights, it would have been so much easier to quit. Just the thought of having anything in common with him would have been enough (sorry Conservative party but you don't need us to tell you that he is "No Jack Kennedy").

But as it turns out we don't need smarmy Dave's image after all. Not when we have the latest NHS "smoking damages your sex life" campaign. As if being single is not hard enough in London, being single and a smoker is now the mating equivalent of being ginger and making it in Hollywood. But finally for once the vanity burden is not quarantined to women. The adverts attack the impact of smoking on impotence and erectile dysfunction as well as 'minging teeth' and 'cat's bum mouth.'

So, as the Guardian asks today 'are we so image conscious that vanity concerns come before health and survival?' We would have to say yes when it comes to smoking. Because vanity (i.e. looking cool) is intrinsic to why most of us took that first puff. I am reminded of an advert from my grandmother's generation of an illustrious glamour babe (although back then donned in a floor-length poodle skirt not hot pants) dragging away on a fag end with the caption above saying 'Not all girls who smoke are bad, but all bad girls smoke.' And we don't need to look further than Kate Moss's £30 million comeback to understand the power of that image.

Which is why the NHS is clever to target smokers with their vanity. But given the growing obesity epidemic, how do we similarly warn over eaters? In the age of the skinny size zero backlash, what vanity strategy could NHS adverts employ to combat the battle of the bulge? A tricky one because as any smoker knows, when faced with temptation our health concerns go up in smoke.

To find out more about how smoking kills your chances of getting a date:

Visit the two microsites supporting the NHS line: www.stayinghard.info for men and www.uglysmoking.info for women.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Worth 1,000 words (but not £20,000)?

Today marks the opening of the Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain. Last week marked the 80th birthday celebrations of Beryl Cook, one of the grandest (and mischievous) dames of British painting. And linking them together is Liverpool. Okay, maybe not. But next year the Turner is moving North to showcase the Capital of Culture. And we don't need the fashion sense of a WAG to know that the women in Cook's painting Girls in Taxi are more Scouse than Sloane.

But sadly, that is where any connection between Beryl Cook, the Tate, and the Turner ends. Just last week the Tate (again) stonewalled pleas from Beryl Cook's supporters to honour her 80th birthday by finally agreeing to purchase a single one of her pictures. Even the more obscene when considering that one of Cook's paintings fetches between £20-£40,000: the same price the Tate paid for a can of faeces four years ago.

It must be Cook's popularity that makes her taboo to the established art world. But should there not be a section of the visual arts canon set aside for that which pleases the public if nothing else? If not, don't we risk just being left with whatever fits into Tracey's sad and self conscious tent?

The Turner Prize opens today at Tate Britain and runs until January 14. The winner will be announced on December 4.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Exuding exuberance

It is said by some that comedy is the new rock n' roll. While I can see how it is live and it can soar, I am not convinced that it can lead to the same inspirational moment. What comedy does do best is highlight the infuriating minutiae of everyday life. And at this Josie Long, the Edinburgh Best Newcomer Award Winner and the name to drop on London's comedy circuit, excels whilst also being infectious, ridiculous and totally bewitching.

Josie is 24, originally from Kent now living in southeast London and if you take a bus anywhere south of Waterloo Bridge, she could very probably be the nutter sitting next to you - the safe one, that is. Josie never stops smiling throughout her show entitled 'Kindness and Exuberance', and says at the start that all she wants it to do "is disarm critics." Josie makes her argument in favour of amateurism on the basis that in French amateur means 'lover', whilst professional is French for 'bum idiot'. She is like a schoolgirl with an overactive imagination: London's Amelie from Peckham.

Josie read English at Oxford and her erudition is apparent with references to Aldous Huxley and Alexis De Tocqueville. She constructs fantastical role plays out of everyday encounters (including inventing stories behind the second hand items she buys in charity shops) with a lovable (if at times, sweet-toothed) romantic sensibility. She smiles her way through moments of disgruntlement in everyday life - the one thing comedians do better than every other art form. Broad, proper, grown-up emotions are covered by broad, proper, grown-up art forms like painting, music and film. You can paint grief or love, but you can't paint being annoyed by call centres. Niggly, petty grievances are perfect for stand-up and perfect for Josie's ironic and boundless imagination.

The audience for Josie's recent (and extended) sold-out run at the Soho Theatre was filled with trendy twenty-somethings, clad in leggings, layers and sporting 'I Love Hackney' badges on their eco-friendly jute bags. But it was still imaginative and thoroughly enjoyable for the rest of us who don't upload to YouTube nor qualify for a Young Persons Railcard.

Where to find Josie:

West End: 5th-6th October at the Garrick Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2 for the If.comeddies Awards Season. Tickets from £7.50. Book here.

South London: Josie runs a club called the Sunday Night Adventure Club at Cafe ABC in Crytsal Palace. Each night is a unique theme with secret handshakes, games and special prizes. Next performance dates are 22 Oct, 19 Nov, 10 Dec.

'Norf' London: Josie runs a club called "the OK Club with Les Marsh" at the Boogaloo in Highgate complete with comedy acts, DJs, and live music. Next dates are 12 Oct and 9 Nov.

On-line: www.myspace.com/all_of_the_cool_kids (let's hope she assumed that URL could be changed at some point).