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Posts Tagged ‘Madrid’

Unfeasibly Attractive Girlfriend has bought me some ART. In fact, she’s bought me a sculpture. With the sole exception of my three-foot tall bust of William Shakespeare (said by some uncharitable souls to bear a striking resemblance to the comedian, Bill Bailey), I don’t have any other statue joy, so it’s doubly welcome.

It’s the work of an American (whom I hadn’t heard of), who worked with Mark Rothko and in tribute to him cast some of his paintbrushes in bronze. Whilst I don’t believe that these paintbrushes are Rothko’s, what UAG has bought me is a cast sculpture of a large jar filled with artist’s paintbrushes – a hint to follow her dictum that I need to spend more time drawing and painting (rather than trying to get her to take her bra off) – and I absolutely LOVE it. It’s cast in that white, ghostly resin that Rachel Whiteread uses and quite the most beautiful thing: ghostly, timeless but very modern.

I have also been buying art for myself – although UAG was involved again, in as much as I was with her in Madrid (where she spends half her time) when we discovered an auction. Her Spanish is pretty good, mine is virtually non-existent, but we decided to go in and see what was about, and she convinced me that I wouldn’t get so confused by the language spoken at speed that I would end up spending thousands on a pile of newspapers tied up with string. About an hour and a half later, I emerged with an eighteenth century miniature (and I mean “miniature” – it’s about three inches across) oil painting of a ruined landscape, with two women in the foreground. It’s going to look perfect in Daughter’s bedroom (once she has one), and is part of my new arsenal of Things of Unspeakable Coolness, which I have been adding to since Wife absconded with Small Man Who Looks Like Steve Buscemi, and which might well have grown beyond the bounds of any space that I could manage to display them in.

If (when I find a house) this does indeed prove to be the case, and I am unable to display the full extent of my Things of Unspeakable Coolness and Art, then I shall stage a “happening” (perhaps in the Chiswick Catholic Centre) where I burn what’s surplus to requirements, while reciting snatches of The Oresteia.

What shall NOT be making its way into the enclosure of Things of Unspeakable Coolness and Art, is the awfulness that UAG, Old Friend at Work and Newly Befriended Husband of Old Friend at Work witnessed earlier in the week. We went to a private view at the house of an ACHINGLY cool friend from work (she has turned her house over to be a gallery space for a group of three artists), and shuffled our way around the work (none of which had prices attached, which is always frightening), Champagne in hand, and then shuffled out. It was awful. The exhibition, entitled something like “Les Femmes, Elles Ont Des Vagines” was very strong on hairy beaver shots: photos from (I would guess) 1970s porno mags, were juxtaposed with women in full burqa, transferred onto glass with a sepia wash applied, and then a single word, such as “OPPRESSION!” (just to help the particularly hard of understanding) was scratched into the glass. Subtle, it was not. These art school try-outs hung alongside further beavers painted (very inexpertly) onto newspaper in poster paint, and (in a rare case of “Beaver-free art”) some pages ripped from lined notebooks, onto which anatomical cross-sections had been photocopied, and were joined by our old friend the portentous word, in an effort to elevate what might have otherwise seemed like “Testing the Photocopier” to “Art”. So, we got cross sections of eyes with “Invisible” applied over them, and a nineteenth century drawing of the four chambers of the heart with – have you guessed yet? – “Love” sidling up alongside it.

The only thing I was tempted by was a picture that I found a little way off from the main exhibit, and I was getting quite excited about Making It Mine, when UAG appeared behind me, and having listened to my enthusiastic raving about it for a couple of minutes added: “Yes… It’s a Herman Miller. They tend to go for about thirty or thirty-five grand.”

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On the weekends when I don’t have my children, and if I’m not bound for Madrid (where Unfeasibly Attractive Girlfriend) is temporarily based, I prefer to be busy (busy as in “bordering on the “Up phase of a manic-depressive” “), and so I have been looking at ways of doing something that I can devote a lot of time to.

This has meant that I have devoted time to the following labour-intensive activities:-

  1. Painting a climbing Rose on the outside of the dolls’ house that I built for Daughter, according to her strict brief on type of Rose, colour of Rose, distribution of Rose across architectural features and other sundry issues.
  2. Moving rocks. Not in a Prisoner of War tribute, but as part of a plan to make my parents’ garden rather lusher, brighter and less full of (frankly) rubble than it has been to date. This involves “going to the tip” – which I love, as well as digging (which I also love).
  3. Finding new ways to get from Richmond to Stoke Newington. No mere flaneur’s hobby, this: Stoke Newington is where Best Friend, Talented Art Director and God Daughter live: so I have been improving what my fellow world-class athletes would recognise as their “best time” in completing this task. So far, I am down to 57  minutes and am prepared to share my secret with fellow cross-London travellers – just leave details below and enlightenment can be yours.
  4. Writing a novel. I know everyone does this: especially English Literature graduates. More to the point, I’ve already DONE this twice before: the first time I actually finished it, and (on re-reading it) am so disgusted by how self-aware it is (and so embarrassed by the sex in it – I even used the phrase “he pushed himself inside her, urgently”) that I have locked it in a strong box and set gryphons to guard it; the second attempt is about a third of the way through – not too bad, but not brilliant. THIS attempt, though, is simply amazing and the best book ever written (INCLUDING “How To Be Topp” – so you can imagine how brilliant it is) and I often manage to churn through twenty pages in a day, with nothing but coffee and the pretence that I am in a film (played by John Cusack) as a tired, idiosyncratic, but epoch-crowningly brilliant novelist, dedicated to his craft.
  5. Drawing. I am quite poor now (well, comparatively to how I was; not compared to rural China), so there has been more of a focus on drawings and paintings as gifts – and people genuinely DO seem to prefer them. The details of this are the same as above, except in this film I am played by Tom Hardy, and Penelope Cruz plays my girlfriend/undraped model.
  6. Making Marmalade. This is the crowning glory of “Things that make you busy, take a long time, and leave you with something to show for it at the end of the task” and I shall tell you, dear reader just what it is that positions it here in top slot:-
    1. Marmalade is delicious.
    2. Home-made Marmalade is better than shop bought – and yes, I am including Wilkins & Sons’ Tawny Marmalade in that, of course I am. What kind of fake comparison would it be if I were to leave out this king of preserves?
    3. It is simple and mindless. Cutting up the shred of the fruits is methodical but mindless and can be done whilst listening to Radio  4 or an Audiobook (“The Complete Sherlock Holmes”, obviously).
    4. There is a bubbling cauldron involved. My mother has a proper, copper preserve pan and it is beyond great to pick up something that weighs as much as my legs, apply fire to it and then see a great, bubbling lava scream away inside it.
    5. There is a weird kind of urgency to it, as Seville Oranges are only available for five weeks in a year.  Once one has subtracted weekends with children, and weekends with Unfeasibly Attractive Girlfriends, this leaves relatively little time to make Marmalade: but one can make more than one batch a day! And one can make full use of the fact that a weekend has not one, but TWO days in it.

As I am such a big-hearted, generous being, I am prepared to share the secret of my Marmalade successs (for success it was, and with a variety of fruits, flavours and additional touches that will make your head SPIN) with you – but I shall sign off with one piece of advice gratis and free of charge: “When you make Marmalade for the first time, don’t forget to stir it and let it burn. It will taste horrible and you will end up saying “Fuck!” a lot.”

That said, I am evangelical about the stress-relieving, mind-absorbing properties of this joyous task (to say nothing of the world-class product I have created) and urge you all to set January (all of it) aside as “The Month In Which I Make Marmalade”. You won’t be sorry.

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I’ve never had a long-distance relationship. At University, one early romance was nearly cut short by the (seemingly) insuperable barrier of a fifteen minute walk between my college and that of the woman who was the object of my hot and sleepless nineteen year-old passion. I tended to get round the problem by moving her (and subsequent girls) into my room with an alacrity that would make a lesbian look tardy, and so ensure that I had all the benefits and none of that exhausting travel.

So it was that I would consider with a mixture of wonder and disgust those couples who would, every other weekend, pack a Karrimor rucksack and get the train up to the other end of the country for some hand-holding, fucking and watching Wim Wenders/Peter Greenaway films (for it was the `80s, and EVERYONE I knew was pretentious). It probably doesn’t position me as the most romantic of chaps that my thought was always “Your girlfriend’s not THAT hot. Why don’t you save the time and money and have a curry and a wank?”: so imagine my surprise to find myself in not merely a “long-distance relationship”, but one that needs aeroplanes, rather than trains or cars to service it.

Unfeasibly Attractive Girlfriend is now working in Madrid for three months (although, to be fair, her job brings her back here at least once a week), so on those weekends that I don’t have the children, I am commuting to Madrid’s very cool, very beautiful airport, and thence on for hand-holding, fucking and Almodovar films or exhibitions at the Prado (the pretentiousness being something that I seem unable to shake, although I have woken up to what meretricious shit Peter Greenaway is). Not only is UAG there, but it is also my favourite European city – apparently always warm and with a much better feeling to it than other places, so what’s not to love?

So, perhaps I was wrong to be so readily dismissive of Harry jumping on the train to see Sophie in Durham; or of Geraldine (bag already with her at lectures) before she hot-footed it to Edinburgh and the awaiting Neil all that time ago. Or perhaps I’ve just grown up and realised that sometimes, she (whoever she is) really is worth it.

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A couple of weeks ago, I went to Madrid with work – the first trip since the whole, sad divorce thing. I had been worried that it was going to be awful – and in some ways, it was (the reality of being away from everyone, and the fact that that will be a reality for most of my week nights soon etc.), but in others, it was good to be immersed in work and have not one moment unaccounted for. To my delight, I was also there with Old Friend at Work (who has been by my side and an incredible friend through all this), Alison Steadman Playing a P.A. P.A, Eternally Optimistic Spanish Planner, Planner With the Aura of Jesus, The Smallest Media Planner in The World, Stereotype of a Northern Planner, and others.

We worked pretty hard by day, but at night we drank like absolute maniacs – until 3 in the morning (or in the case of Old Friend at Work; Planner With the Aura of Jesus, The Smallest Media Planner in the World, and Alison Steadman Playing a P.A P.A, through the night in a couple of cases) on most nights, even though we were to start a nine hour day again, at 9 (in a defiantly non-Madrid manner). On one of these occasions, Old Friend at Work got her purse nicked from the hotel bar (only to be met with the response from Reception of “At least they didn’t get your passport, that’s what they’re REALLY after”, which isn’t exactly a masterclass in Customer Service). On another, Planner With the Aura of Jesus and Alison Steadman Playing a P.A. P.A. sat up all night drinking in the hotel bar, then moved to her room (entirely innocently, my new situation prompts me to add, unnecessarily…) and finished off the mini-bar.

But it was on the third night that things got, as the phrase goes, “messy”. I didn’t particularly embarrass myself, I can say with some relief: yes, there was the usual over-enthusiasm about stuff (most notably, Shakespeare – but also some vague shit about strategic approaches, which had me suddenly behaving like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, and celebrating by bellowing “Yes! Yes! God! That’s BRILLIANT! YOU’RE BRILLIANT!” at some poor fucker), and probably a little bit too much swaying around and smiling broadly – but that was as bad as it got. So, when it came time for me to leave (a respectable 3.30am), I said a few goodbyes and made my move, only to be “confronted” (if I can use this word of a man of his Micky Rooney like stature) by The Smallest Media Planner in the World.

“Stay and have another drink!”

“I can’t, SMPITW, I’m already pissed and I’m knackered, so I’m going.”

“Stay. Have a drink with me.”

“I can’t. Really. Tomorrow.”

“Have a drink with me. As a friend of mine.”

“No, I’m going.”

What he said next rather diminished his most recent pronouncement of our friendship, for it was:

“Then fuck off, you cunt. Fuck off.”

Well, off I fucked and went back to my simply enormous room (enormous not because of some ludicrous status, but because I had been allocated a room for someone in a wheelchair – which I’m not – and as a result, the dimensions of the room had to allow for the turning circle of same), had a shower, put on my iPod speakers and fell asleep listening to “The Gathering”, as read by Miss Shaw.

It turns out the The Smallest Media Planner In The World hadn’t turned against me, but against humanity: for he had told a round score of people to fuck off later on that night, and had christened about half of them “cunts” as well. Turns out that when he gets sauced (and again, his stature is such that one might have thought a couple of bottles of beers could be dangerous), he becomes that famed, but rare animal The Bad Drunk. He had stuck with the gang long enough to move on with them at 4am to a Piano Bar, where he doled out the bulk of his insults, before having a quick nap and getting back to the hotel at 6am. I wouldn’t be such a turd as to remind him of his bad behaviour the next morning – I dread to imagine what people put up with from me when I have got myself absolutely twisted – so I met him cordially at the beginning of the final day’s session and asked him what time he had got in. He had (or feigned to have) no memory of having parted brass rags the previous night, and his answer to me was as one amazed:

“I don’t know. Late. But I feel fucking awful this morning. I woke up surrounded by Pringles, and with the towels all soaking wet in the shower.”

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Wednesday sees a big presentation to a big Client.

However, in about one hour, I am off to Madrid (where we are holding the meeting, on the grounds that the agency there is a real-life, honest to God palace, and tends to silence people) to start writing the fucking thing. Frenchman Who Wants To Be Spanish will be there, but seems pathologically incapable of putting fingers to keyboard and therefore expects that if it involves the written, or spoken word, or requires even a modicum of logic then A Planner Will Do It. Anyway, if I can stop moaning for ten minutes, I might, at least get over to The Prado (given that it is less than two minutes from the office) and gawp, open mouthed at Goya’s Black Paintings again…

It strikes me as something slightly miraculous that I can be in London before lunch, and before dinner I can be in Madrid (although that makes me sound a little bit wide-eyed and Pollyanna-ish about everything, which couldn’t be further from the truth): I think it’s because I love Madrid so much (I certainly don’t get this excited, marvelling feeling when I consider a trip to our Prague office, or my frequent jaunts to Milan) and because I love being in our Madrid office (one of our best, which is saying something).

The only thing that I don’t like is the packing: by the time I’ve got all my chargers and leads togethers (and I don’t mean horses and principal actors), there’s precious little room for anything so mundane as a toothbrush – so I probably need a  new bag.

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Saturday, 14th July 2007

I’m going to Madrid – and I’m very excited.

Originally, I was going at the end of the week, but (given that these things always change and the fact that Impossibly Gallic Account Guy seems to think I am blessed with the gift of telepathy) this plan has changed more than most and I am now leaving on Sunday evening, and returning on Tuesday evening.

I am most excited about being able to get to The Prado – though apparently it’s shut on Monday, but I asked Matey Planning Director whether she knew the city at all (it’s my first time).

“Madrid? Amazing. Dirt cheap Zara and incredible doughnuts and hot chocolate.”

I loved that description: it’s probably a truer representation of how one remembers great cities. Not “the splendour of the Uffizi” so much as “that amazing pizza”, not “the non-stop energy of New York” so much as “the sales at Lord & Taylor and Barney’s – and the prices in the Apple store”.

So: I’m still thinking that I need to fill up on Goya and Velasquez – but I daresay that there will be a hot chocolate experience as well.

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Saturday, 14th July 2007

Other than the inevitability of my being kidnapped and stabbed by the driver from the airport to the hotel a la “Bone Collector”, I have decided that I am going to be murdered (a second time) in Madrid.

It is going to happen in a park, around 8.30pm, after I am walking back from the Agency to my hotel. I will get a call on my mobile from Wife, and pause under a tree the colour of a Lebanon Cedar to take it. As soon as I say “Goodbye”, a rangy and dirty-faced character, wearing a long coat, like Ron Moody as Fagin and a wide brimmed hat (frankly like Mel & Kim in their show-stopping video “Showing Out (Get Fresh at the Weekend)”) will slit my throat. I’ll see the blood arc out of me, before I lunge to the ground, clawing the earth – and then I’ll pass out and die.

The strangest one of these I ever had was the first time that I went to Egypt, when I was 18.

I had dreamed for a number of years about being stabbed to death in a cul-de-sac in low light. The environment was non-descript, but there were high, balconied buildings rising up at either side and a sand-coloured, rough plastered wall in front of me. Under foot, there was sand.

This dream recurred for about three years. I was never sure who had killed me, and never saw their faces: so I could have been anywhere. The sand could have been from a Blackpool pleasure beach as easily as from Bondi.

But when I and my travelling companions went to pick up the bicycles we were going to ride round The Valley of the Kings on (an error of almost Shakespearean grandeur), at 5am, we followed the directions we had been given the evening before – and arrived at the scene of my death. I mean but EXACTLY: the balconied buildings were flats, the sand was because that’s all the rage in Egypt, and the wall was there too.

Needless to say, I wasn’t killed – but as I stood there, I was so certain that I had met my end that I didn’t turn around and leave, or become more guarded, or anything like that. I went cold and I waited.

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