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Archive for March, 2009

My Favourite Lift

The glass and steel monolith from which I survey the cashmere-swathed denizens of SW3 is served by a bank of lifts, and of the lifts, there is only one to whom I am faithful: whose “ping” of arrival I long for above all the others – the secret lift.

The secret lift is not like the others. Where her sisters are brassy and artificial (lit like a dentist’s chair, chrome handrails and mirrors gnashing), the secret lift is demure, hidden – almost coy.  Her siblings may spew their occupants forth onto a glass gantry which exposes them to the view of all of those in the reception – but she drops her lucky travellers into an altogether more private location on each floor, hidden from public view and shielded from prying eyes by the corners of the protruding offices. She is the only lift for the late arriver, the long luncher, or the early fleer: your secret is safe with her, she will tell no-one – and I shall celebrate her for it until I can speak no more.

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In the last ten days, the Internet has given me the following presents:-

  1. A T-Shirt (for Best Friend) emblazoned with the slogan “I LOVE MY VAGINA” (originally from Lesbian Pride – so there it is as a bold declamation, untempered by anything such as ironic, Clerkenwell-lite typography.
  2. A copy of “Shakespeare’s Ambiguity” – a masterly piece of scholarship which was for a while the only item which I have ever seriously contemplated nicking from a library (I photocopied every page instead); and which has been out of print and unobtainable for nearly two decades.
  3. A cartoon of Fiona Shaw as Hedda Gabler, originally accompanying a review in The New Yorker, and a beautiful piece of linesmanhip as well as a record of that towering event.
  4. Aftershave made of myrrh – so I have now achieved my ambition of smelling like a church.
  5. Large prints of two of my children (the other having rendered himself so clownishly stupid-looking in the photographs, I decided not to immortalise him thus).
  6. A Slanket for Wife (this is a blanket with sleeves: entirely synthetic, extraordinarily warm – and ludicrously ugly).

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Wife has had one of her photographs selected for a massive photographic exhibition, and so has high-tailed it up to Derby where the event takes place for the next six weeks (although she has gone only for three days…). So while she is trading stories of the wrong lens and over-long exposure with fellow exhibitors Martin Parr and Gregory Crewsden, I am in charge of the children – and most terrifyingly: their homework.

I was right to be terrified: not because of the length of time that the children would take (and the consequent pressure on my winningly sunny nature) to complete the tasks, but because of the wholly unwelcome glimpse it gave me of the level of education in the school…specifically: the teacher’s.

In the ironically titled “Literacy Homework”, Eldest Son was expected to complete a story, the beginning of which had been written by the teacher (and supplied at the top of the page). The title was the perpetual favourite: “A Trip to the Zoo” – but the trouble began with the sentences that had been written as the opening of the story: because here we learned of some of the animals in the Zoo. Our hero and heroine (and Mummy and Daddy – it’s a Catholic school, after all…) were delighted to see the antics of the (to quote) “flamingo’s”, “gorilla’s” and “monkey’s”.

I don’t really know where to start with this. I am not expecting a teacher of six year-olds to be an M.Litt. (or even a graduate, if I’m honest): but surely they should know how to write a plural, rather than a possessive, shouldn’t they?

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Eldest Son had to write about “a famous scientist” for school on the weekend. Grimly aware that the teachers would be subjected to any number of “Sir Isaac Newton and the Apple” stories from the assembled 6 year-olds, I took him through the story of Archimedes, the golden crown, Eureka etc…

It was when he came to write the tale up that we got into a spot of confusion – the genius surrealism of which haunts and impresses me. Having established when Archimedes lived, we agreed that we should also establish WHERE he lived – because otherwise (as Eldest Son so wisely put it, as he applied his pencil to ruled paper): “Yes – because otherwise you wouldn’t know if he lived with ten hamsters or something.” It’s inarguable – yet troubling…

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I’m watching “Grand Designs” – and trying to work out what it is really about.

It’s a remarkable programme in terms of its demographic appeal: it’s almost entirely middle class, middle age males, with a particular bias towards the creative industries in terms of its viewership – and part of me wonders why. On the surface, I suppose there’s Kevin McCloud’s unthreatening blokeishness: he’s losing his hair, no male model – and so he’s allowed to talk about the aesthetics of architecture, which he does in very muscular, singularly un-poncey terms. There is also the same sort of combination of hopes, dreams and disappointments that make all the reality TV talent shows such ratings winners: budgets flouted, weather triumphed over, architects’ drawings that are that crucial one centimetre out.

But I think, fundamentally, it’s escapism for men in exactly the same way that “Sex and the City” was for women.

Like that ghastly show, it suggests to its demographic that there is hope – there is another life out there – they ARE right to agonise over the right curve of the staircase; they ARE right to care about the beading; they WILL be vindicated in their concern over the colour of the render. Of course, the tone is entirely different, but the promise of happiness in things that you create or own is the same principle as “Sex in the City” – and while Carrie and Co. might pretend to be in search of love (where they are, of course, in search of the perfect shoes to wear when someone tells them that he loves them), so the men in “Grand Designs” (and it is always men) pretend to be in search of an idyllic life, but they are, in fact,  in search of design minutiae and authentic materials that make them feel like they are concentrating on their families – whereas they are concentrating entirely on themselves.

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I was in Waterstone’s this lunchtime, looking for books to order on amazon.

I stood in front of the “Our Staff Recommends” section, and noticed that someone had recommended “Crime and Punishment” – keen to see what the recommendation amounted to, I looked down at the card whereon the staff member had written his appreciation: “If you’ve ever killed someone and then wished you hadn’t, this book is for you.”

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