Thursday, 29 April 2010

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

A recent competition by the Writers Bureau invited students to submit a review, consisting of 140 characters or less (i.e. a review which could be “tweeted” … or should that be “twittered”?). The subject of this review could be anything to do with writing, be it a book, website or magazine – you get the picture. Thinking about this, I decided to re-read Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”, a book which has inspired me to write like no other.

A Room of One’s Own” is a rambling yet insightful reflection on the subject of Women and Fiction, exploring the difficulties faced by females in what was predominately a man’s world – the world of authorship. The essay, written in 1929, was borne out of a series of lectures given by the author to two women’s colleges at Cambridge University. It is now regarded as one of the central pieces of feminist polemic, on a par with Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch”.

Woolf’s basic premise is that a woman needs freedom to write - that is, freedom from money worries and freedom from dependence on men. She considers why fiction, or art in any form, by women was in short supply prior to the nineteenth century. She asks why the literary world, punctuated with male luminaries like Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare et al, was almost totally devoid of female writers and artists. One obvious reason was the lack of education and other opportunities available to women of this period. Woolf conjures up Judith Shakespeare (the playwrights imagined sister), and cleverly uses her to illustrate how society would conspire against a talented female with ambitions to write. The story did not end happily for the unfortunate Judith.

She then moves on to the prominent female authors of the nineteenth century, such as Jane Austin, the Brontë sisters and Mary Ann Evans (aka George Eliot). Despite the fact that conditions had improved considerably for women during this period, female writers still faced enormous difficulties. Many were forced to publish under male pseudonyms, and others had such a protected and cloistered up-bringing that they had little experience to draw on for their writing. Because of this lack of worldliness, Woolf questions whether Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë could ever have written novels like “War and Peace”.

Woolf concludes that to be a successful writer or artist, a woman needs a room of her own (with a lock on the door), and an income of at least £500 a year. This, she argues, is all that is needed to unlock inspiration (one supposes that talent is an assumed pre-requisite!). In today’s world, this seems to be a rather simplistic view. But if we put it in the context of how much things have changed and improved for women, it is sad to think that luxuries such as a room and some private income was beyond hope for many of our predecessors. How lucky we are to live in these more enlightened times!

In the past, when I have recommended this essay to a number of friends, I have come across a peculiar reticence. It seems to me a lot of people are wary of Virginia Woolf’s work, put off by her experimental style and cerebral reputation. It is true Ms Woolf’s unique “stream of consciousness” style of writing sometimes makes for a difficult read. Nonetheless, with a little dedication and concentration, the reader will most certainly be rewarded. Woolf’s writing can transport the reader inside the author’s mind, where we are privileged witnesses to her tumbling, muddled yet highly intuitive thought processes – we are given access to a fascinating mind at work.

Another reason for some people’s disinclination towards her work is the fact that, having famously committed suicide after struggling with mental illness for much of her adult life, Woolf is viewed as a tragic figure. This perception of her as a melancholic and elegiac character (perpetuated in no small part by the film “The Hours”), means we expect her work to be the same. Nothing could be further from the truth! It is true her work has some dark elements, but her writing can also be delightful, inspiring, uplifting, and indeed very humorous. What better reason to pick up one of her books, and try it on for size?

And as for the twitter review, I made a few half-hearted attempts, before deciding it impossible to do justice to such an accomplished work in a mere 140 characters.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

For those of you suffering from writer's block ...

... an insight into the craft from Oscar Wilde - Irish poet, dramatist, satirist, aesthete and undisputed king of the witty one-liner (1854 - 1900).

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."


The achievements of the great artist Michelangelo Buonarroti are as numerous as they are famous. The genius of this Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect and poet was responsible for such masterpieces as The Last Judgement on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the magnificent David, which is housed in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, among countless others.

Not all his art, however, was on such a grand scale. When he wasn’t working on commissions from princes, popes and cardinals, the great Michelangelo devoted himself to creating drawings, mainly in chalk, as gifts for friends and lovers. These works, which became known as "presentation drawings", are among the few remaining Michelangelo drawings still in existence today. We should be immensely grateful that they have survived to be appreciated by posterity, because if it were up to the man himself there would be nothing left to see! Michelangelo, for reasons we can only guess at, famously burned much of his work prior to his death in 1564 - the vast majority of his drawings were destroyed.

Some of these presentation drawings form the basis of an unmissable exhibition currently showing at The Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. The Courtauld has, among its many treasures, the magnificent Il Sogno (The Dream), and it is this work that forms the centerpiece of the exhibition. The drawing features a nude youth, reclining on a globe, surrounded by earthly vices such as avarice, lust and sloth. A winged creature is descending from heaven to rescue the youth from this den of sin. There have been many interpretations of the meaning of this drawing, although a consensus has never been reached.

Il Sogno is one of a number of drawings Michelangelo gifted to his friend, and the rumoured object of his affections, Tommaso dei Cavalieri. Others, including The Rape of Ganymede and The Punishment of Tityus (on loan from Her Majesty the Queen and The British Museum respectively), along with selected letters and poems, have been brought together from collections around the world to create one of this year's must-see exhibitions.

So get yourself along to Somerset House on the double - the exhibition comes to an end on May 16th. And while you are there, don't forget to take in gallery's world renowned collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, which includes masterpieces from Renoir, Monet, Degas and Cezanne - also a must-see!

Michelangelo's Dream
The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House
18 February - 16 May 2010

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Curious Case of ... The Missing Teaspoons

After my disastrous visit to the Grace Kelly – Style Icon exhibition at the V&A (see below), I decided to console myself over a cup of tea in the beautiful surroundings of the museum’s restaurant. The set of three adjoining rooms which make up the restaurant’s main dining area are steeped in history. The rooms formed the first ever museum restaurant, and date back to the mid nineteenth century. The intricate and individual design of each room is breath-taking, featuring imposing chandeliers, wood paneling, willow-pattern tiles, and even a grand piano.

Lunch or afternoon tea at the V&A (or indeed a sneaky glass of wine after an exhibition) has always been a civilized affair. Apart from the sumptuous surroundings, the food is delicious. Catered by the award-winning team at Benugo, the menu includes everything from carb-loaded pastas, hearty pies, sandwiches stuffed with pastrami and mozzarella, and truly decadent pastries.

In a brave break from conventional wisdom, the V&A seems to realize that its patrons are responsible adults who can be trusted to eat a meal without inflicting harm on themselves. The food is served on real porcelain plates, and tea is brewed in ceramic teapots. Knives and forks are of the metal variety (as opposed to the plastic toy cutlery favoured by many similar institutions), and wine can be drunk from actual wine-glasses.

So, why oh why is there not a single teaspoon to be found in the place?? As I pour my tea, feeling very posh and refined, the illusion is ruined by the absence of anything resembling a spoon. In their place are silly wooden stirrers, similar to those found in Starbucks the world over. My dislike for these ridiculous things is so great that I would be more inclined to use my finger to stir my tea. So much for being refined!

After briefly considering launching a campaign to Bring Back the Teaspoons, I decided against that particular course of action on the basis that I am far too lazy to undertake such an audacious crusade. So - what to do? Maybe I should just give up and go to Starbucks like the rest of the world. Yes - that sounds like a much easier option ....

Amazing Grace

Was there ever a person more aptly named than Grace Kelly? From a very young age, it was obvious that she was in possession of an extraordinary beauty which would mark her out from the crowd. Throughout her life, from Hitchcock muse and Academy Award winning actress, to her marriage to Prince Rainer of Monaco and her subsequent reign as the beloved Princess Grace, she was the epitome of style and elegance.

Princess Grace was to the 1950’s and 60’s what Princess Diana would be to the 1980’s and 90’s. Indeed, there are many parallels to be found between these two ill-fated beauties. Both women became hugely famous as royal spouses, while struggling to cope with the consequences of their fame. Grace and Diana both exuded a rabbit-in-the-headlights type of innocence, and it was this quality (real or perceived) which catapulted them to the status of legends, modern-day deities, after their untimely deaths.

Grace and Diana would become the most famous and most photographed women of their day, and were greatly admired for their sense of style. They were trend-setters, their style much copied but never equaled. There have been many exhibitions featuring clothes worn by Diana, including a permanent display in Kensington Palace. However, we have not had an opportunity to appreciate the magnificent wardrobe of Princess Grace … until now.

Grace Kelly – Style Icon opened at the V&A last week. This exhibition celebrates Kelly’s unique style by showcasing her spectacular collection of clothes. Opening night attendees included her son Prince Albert of Monaco who said “My mother treasured her clothes and would have been delighted to have them exhibited at the V and A”.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is the undisputed home of fashion history. In 2007, it hosted The Golden Age of Couture exhibition, which celebrated 1940’s and 1950’s fashion in Paris and London, with particular emphasis on the emergence of the Dior fashion house. I lost count of the number of times I saw this exhibition – it was probably akin to the number of times other people saw the film versions of Mamma Mia or Sex and The City. And so, it wouldn’t be an over-statement to say I was bursting with excitement yesterday as I hot-footed it to the V&A, with a reluctant husband in tow, to take in the museum’s latest offering.

You can imagine my surprise and indignation when I got to the top of the queue at the admissions desk to be confronted with a little sign which read: “All sessions for Grace Kelly – Style Icon booked out for today.” Apparently, the exhibition was proving hugely popular with American tour groups (go figure!) – the foyer of the museum was swarming with little old ladies, with languid American drawls, wearing name-tags, elasticated pants and sensible shoes. I thought the volcanic ash had kept all the tourists away!! These were obviously very determined ladies, who didn’t allow the little matter of a flight embargo to come between them and their beloved Grace Kelly! And so, dear readers, although I cannot give you any insight into the exhibition, I can offer this little nugget of advice – make sure you book in advance ... and be nice to the little old American ladies you are sure to meet there!

Grace Kelly – Style Icon
Victoria & Albert Museum
17 April -26 September 2010

Saturday, 17 April 2010

iPad or iBad?

The following is a brief digression from my usual subjects of choice (art, food and books) as I wander into Techno-Territory…

Since Apple announced that the much-anticipated worldwide release of the iPad, a new generation tablet computer, had been delayed by a month, there has been much speculation in the press as to the reasons why. Some naysayers have suggested that the release date was pushed back to give the company time to iron out teething problems which have been discovered since it’s US launch on April 3rd.

However, considering these teething problems are relatively minor (such as dodgy wifi connectivity in some areas, and the odd battery-going-dead-quickly issue), one is inclined to believe the official excuse (I mean, explanation). Apparently, demand has been so great in the US that the company is struggling to keep up with orders. Apple wants to clear the back-log in America, and get production running to full capacity, before subjecting itself to a tsunami of international orders.

All this sounds familiar. The “unprecedented” demand that greets every Apple product launch has become, in my opinion, something of a joke. Throughout the world, tech-heads and ordinary humans alike queued for days (and indeed nights) to get their hands on the iPhone when it was first released in 2007. The same has been true of various incarnations of the iPod since it first gained popularity in 2004. The public’s voracious appetite for iPods and iPhones was understandable – these products were genuinely breaking the mould; they were new design concepts that would revolutionize the way we listen to music, surf the net and access our digital photos.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the iPad. According to Apple, it fills the ‘gap’ between the iPhone and the netbook. Was there really a gap in the market to begin with? Various reviews have highlighted that you can surf the net with the iPad, but the absence of a keyboard and mouse makes the user yearn for the easy functionality of the netbook. You can watch movies and videos with the iPad, but you could do that with the iPhone. The size of the iPad makes it more difficult to carry around than either the iPhone or iPod. In short, it doesn’t offer any additional functionality; it is just a mish-mash of previous Apple products.

And so, how can we explain the huge demand for it? Why has the iPad emerged as the must-have gadget of 2010? Undoubtedly, Apple Inc have achieved cult status after successfully conquering (and dominating) the market for portable digital devices over the past decade. Could the iPad be merely riding on the coat-tails of previous Apple successes? Very possibly. Whether or not it becomes a successful product in its own right remains to be seen. But I, for one, will wait for the dust to settle before rushing out to part with my hard-earned cash - and I definitely won’t be camping out in Oxford Street next month!


Bustling shoppers hurry by, struggling under the burden of too many bags - they ignore me. Children race past, up and down the mall's busy thoroughfare, paying no attention to protestations from their weary mothers - they pay no attention to me either. The metal shutters which barricade my once bright façade have cast me into obscurity. My neighbours, those who were luckier than I have been, seem to taunt me. They are vibrant and brilliant under their neon lights while I live in the shadows; my lights have long since been distinguished. Abandoned, forgotten and forlorn, I am haunted by memories of happier times. I am an insignificance, nothing but a relic of a more prosperous period; an unwelcome reminder of lost hope and abandoned dreams.

A meditation on Love

Browsing through a dusty old bookshop yesterday, I stumbled across this wonderful poem by Erich Fried. It is a mediation on the contradictory nature of love. Fried was an Austrian poet, who fled the Nazi Germany as a child (after his father was murdered by the Gestapo) and settled with his mother in England. He died in 1988.

What it is
It is nonsense/says Reason
It is what it is/says Love
It is unhappiness/says Caution
It is nothing but pain/says Fear
It is hopeless/says Insight
It is what it is/says Love
It is ridiculous/says Pride
It is careless/says Caution
It is impossible/says Experience
It is what it is/says Love
Erich Fried (1921 - 1988)

The Battle of the Domestic Goddesses

The Delicious Miss Dahl is a new cookery show on BBC2 (Tuesdays 8.30pm), presented by former supermodel, Sophie Dahl (who is also, incidently, the granddaughter of childrens author Roald Dahl). Given my love of food is only equalled by my love of all things literary, I was hugely excited about this new show.

Since the publication of Sophie Dahl’s cookbook Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights, inevitable comparisons have been drawn between the author and the other queen of sensuously edible creations, Nigella Lawson. Indeed, there are many similarities. Both women are in possession of a famous last name, both come from privileged backgrounds and are perfectly enunciated. Both have strong connections to the literary world, but perhaps more importantly, both women adopt a playful, sensual, almost naughty approach to food.

Indeed, it seems like the newcomer has gone out of her way to add fuel to the debate. The first episode of The Delicious Miss Dahl is devoted to selfish, self-indulgent food. Sophie is at pains to demonstrate how much she loves to eat, reveling in her own greediness. This is indisputably Nigella’s domain, and it is a brave woman who tries to elbow in on the original Domestic Goddess’s territory.

Ms Lawson has successfully carved a niche for herself in the mostly male dominated arena of celebrity chefs. In fact, her appeal is based on the fact that she is the antithesis of the Michelin-starred macho men – she is not a trained chef, simply a passionate home cook. Despite her pedigree, she appeals to the everywoman. She struggles with her weight, but cares more about the enjoyment of food, than the calorie content. Despite Sophie’s claims that “in her time she has been as round as Rubens and a little slip of a creature”, the viewer remains slightly suspicious that a former supermodel with a beautiful figure can really dive head-first into a gooey chocolate and cherry concoction, without worrying about adding inches to her hips. One comes away wondering whether Miss Dahl will spend a week on the treadmill following her day of selfish indulgence.

The question must surely be, is there room enough for two domestic goddesses in the already overcrowded world of TV cooks? Watching Sophie flutter around her pretty, pastel kitchen, in a cloud of icing sugar, one cannot deny that Miss Dahl has a certain charm. She has an authentic likeability, but the everywoman she is not. Her musings, literary quotes, and childhood anecdotes are intended to pull the reader into Sophie’s lovely world. But, in reality, they only serve to alienate her viewers by highlighting her privileged upbringing and superior education.

Maybe, in the end, it will all come down to the food. Whether Sophie can imitate La Lawson’s success may very well depend on her recipes. If last nights offerings of Omelette Arnold Bennett, Bruschetta and Baked Halibut were anything to judge by, Nigella needn’t be considering retirement just yet.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to ... Borough Markets

The sprawling Borough Market is situated beneath the rumbling railway bridges which run over Borough High Street in Southwark, south London. The surrounding area is urban, dilapidated, grey. Even the most well-intentioned visitor would struggle to find much to commend about it. Even the harsh cast-iron and steel frames which provide shelter for the market stalls are uninviting. It is an unlikely setting for one of London’s most popular food markets.

Nevertheless, Borough Market has been attracting hoards of tourists and discerning food-lovers since it first opened in 2000. Immediately upon entering the market through the innocuous archway, visitors are transported to a world of sensory delights. As they wander from stall to stall they are almost disoriented by a dizzying intermingling of sights, smells and sounds. The senses are assaulted. The lingering pervasive scent of lavender lies heavily in the air, mixing with the perfumes of freshly cut flowers from the various florists. Take another few steps, and the heavy, warm smell of mulled wine, laden with spices such as cinnamon and star anise is enticing. The artisan bakers, chocolatiers, fish mongers and master butchers jostle for the visitor’s attention. Resistance is futile. One cannot help but succumb to the temptations which are all around – sausages from Boston, Germany or Poland, meltingly sweet chocolate and honey from an order of reclusive Italian monks, sickly sweet treats from Turkey, calorie-laden pâtés and creamy butter from Brittany. Every food vice is catered for.

Visit on a busy day, and the bustling crowd seems to take on a life of its own. The uninitiated tourist may find himself swept along by a sea of people, as the throngs of shoppers make their way to their favourite stalls. It’s every man for himself. On Friday afternoons the pavements along the fringes of the market are crowded. Jaded men in business suits, ties loosened, gather outside the various pubs, enjoying a lunchtime beer. They are visibly relaxing, knowing there is only a few hours of work standing between them and the weekend.

This lively, contemporary scene is set in stark contrast against the ancient grey stone of Southwark Cathedral which provides the backdrop to the market. There has been a church on this site since AD606, with the present incarnation dating back as far as the 13th century. Despite the fact that the market attracts a congregation dedicated to an altogether different religion, the worship of food, these two neighbours seem completely at ease in each others company. Hopefully, both institutions will continue to co-exist happily for some time to come.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Oliver Cromwell ... but not as we know him!

While reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (review below), I began to wonder if her protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, was in some way related to Oliver Cromwell (father of democracy, or ruthless subjugator, depending on your viewpoint). The latter Cromwell was born in 1599, while Thomas lost his head in 1540. Curiosity got the better of me, and so I set about researching the Cromwell family tree. (Yes, I know, I am a total nerd…)

Sometimes, however, a little nerdiness pays off because I came across an interesting little historical fact. Both Cromwell men were indeed related (Thomas was Oliver’s great-great-granduncle). However Cromwell was not Ollie’s real surname … it was actually Williams!

The scenario transpired as follows: Thomas Cromwell’s sister Katherine married Morgan Williams (a Welshman). They had a son called Richard. After the death of both Elizabeth and Morgan, Thomas took his orphaned nephew under his wing. Richard Williams lived with his uncle and worked closely with him during Thomas’ meteoric rise to power in the court of Henry VIII. Out of respect for his powerful uncle, and presumably to show his gratitude, Richard informally adopted the surname Cromwell.

Richard became successful in his own right, particularly after his uncle's death. He became a favourite of Henry VIII (a precarious position, given that the tempermental king was prone to beheading some of his erstwhile “favourites”). Henry made Richard a knight and he became known as “Sir Richard Williams alias Cromwell” or “Sir Richard Williams known as Cromwell”. Quite a mouthful. Sir Richard had a son Henry, who in turn had a son Robert, who had a son Oliver. And so, Sir Richard was Oliver’s great-grandfather.

However, it seems the “alias” and “known as” became too much for people, because the surname Williams gradually morphed into Cromwell over time. So there you have it! Oliver Cromwell should have been Oliver Williams … it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

A little gem from Dorothy Parker

For those of you planning to over-indulge this weekend, a word of warning from the inimitable Dorothy Parker, American writer, poet and wit (1893 - 1967):

"I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most,
After three, I'm under the table,
After four, I'm under my host!"

Hilary Mantel's wolf of a novel

I’ve just finished reading Hilary Mantels’ Wolf Hall – a weighty tome, if ever there was one. My attention was first drawn to the book when it won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The novel is a fictional account of life in Henry VIII’s court as seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry’s most trusted advisers. It is set during one of the most turbulent periods of English history when Henry divorces his wife, Katherine of Aragon, in favour of Anne Boleyn.

Unusually for a Booker winner, the critics were almost entirely unanimous in their praise of this novel. The literary sections of the weekend newspapers were heaving with positive reviews, and as a result, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in! An interview with the author on The Book Show (Sky Arts, 7pm every Thursday for those of you who haven’t yet discovered this little gem) only heightened my eagerness.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for my enthusiasm to fade to disappointment and disillusionment. I found the book extremely tough-going. The narrative seemed ‘clunky’ and awkward. The dialogue was extremely confusing, mainly as a result of Ms Mantels overuse or incorrect use of the ‘he’ pronoun. She often referred to Cromwell as ‘he’ even when it was not grammatically correct to do so, with the result that there could be several ‘he’s’ in a section of dialogue all referring to different characters. I often would have to re-read entire sections, after realizing that I had been attributing dialogue to the wrong character. It was mightily frustrating. In my view, one of the golden rules of writing - Thou Shalt Ensure Thy Writing Is Clear – was ignored by the author.

But hadn’t the reviews been positive? Was I missing something? I felt more than a little inadequate, given that so many deities of the literary world were expounding the virtues of this novel. However, a quick look at some reviews on Amazon revealed that I was not the only one who thought the narrative was problematic. In fact, there were quite a number of negative reviews from “lesser mortals” like myself, ordinary people who bought the book and had been disappointed.

Although heartened by the discovery that I was not the only person in the universe who found this book difficult, I was determined to persevere with it. I am loathe to leave any book half-read, and I am not one to be easily defeated. To enhance my enjoyment of the novel, I decided a change of approach was required. I came to the conclusion that this is not a book to be dipped into whenever one gets a spare moment to read. Instead, I devoted considerable chunks of time to reading it in a few marathon sessions. This meant that I wasn’t constantly losing the thread of the narrative, and as a result, the ‘flow’ of the book improved immeasurably. Of course, I also had to studiously ignore the annoying ‘he’ pronoun problem.

Persistence paid off, because despite my initial frustrations, I did end up enjoying this book. Notwithstanding the flaws, it is still a remarkable piece of work. Mantel ingeniously uses Cromwell to give her reader a completely new perspective on the very familiar subject of Henry VIII. She succeeds in bringing the past to life; her descriptions are so vivid that characters sometimes seem to jump off the page. When I eventually finished reading, I felt a sense of loss which stayed with me for days. And this, surely, is the mark of a great book. So my advice would be to not to give up on this novel, stick with it and you will be rewarded.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Damien Hirst ... mad genius or just plain mad?

Damien Hirst has always been controversial. Never before has an artist so polarized public opinion. He has been lauded as a genius and dismissed as a talentless hack in equal measure. His conceptual and installation artwork, which has included a bejeweled skull, a marinated shark and dissected bovines, have been described as both ground-breaking and pointless pop-art ... and much more besides.

However, the one thing that is not disputed is the enormity of his success, or the size of his bank account. In monetary terms at least, Hirst is the world's most successful artist ever. Full stop. Without question. And that degree of success demands a certain level of respect.

I have been fascinated by Hirst, the man not the artist, for a long time. I am absolutely not a fan of his work - in fact I find it, for the most part, repulsive. However, my intensely negative response to his art is what makes me interested in the man. Is he indeed a genius, or just an off-the-wall character who happened to get lucky in the fickle world of modern art? Is he motivated by art for art's sake or is he more concerned with his burgeoning personal wealth?

It was in the hope of answering some of these questions that I tuned into In Confidence on Sky Arts this week. In this rare interview, Hirst recounts tales from his childhood, when he wanted to be as good as another boy in his class at drawing dinosaurs. He describes his flirtation with the Beatles before becoming a full-fledged punk during a delinquent adolescence. He tells us how his mother destroyed his vinyl records by heating them on the gas cooker which bent them into the shape of flower-pots. He admits to "selling-out" by off-loading some of his work on Charles Saatchi.

Throughout the hour-long interview, he rarely answers the question asked, instead wandering off on tangents. He contradicts himself, or more correctly, gives several answers to one question. His memories are jumbled and vague. His sentences are mixed-up and fragmented. One suspects that his is a mind that works at warp-speed - there seems to be so much going on inside his head that his thoughts and ideas tumble out haphazardly. There is obviously a fierce intelligence hiding behind those weird blue-tinted glasses. But beyond that, he is still a mystery.

Is he mad? Yes. Eccentric? Most definitely. Talented? Possibly.

However, the one thing that we can all agree on is that Mr Damien Hirst is intensely interesting and more than a little intriguing. He remains an enigma, and therefore we remain curious. This is what will ensure he will remain in the spotlight for some time to come, even if the jury is still out on his work.

A thoroughly satisying coffee break

Last night, while suffering from an annoying bout of writers block, I was idly browsing the net when I stumbled across the Carte Noire's Readers homepage ( For those of you not aware, Carte Noire, purveyors of slightly-better-than-average instant coffee, have come up with an unusual marketing campaign to help flog (er, I mean promote) their products. The basic premise involves a handful of famous and somewhat attractive actors, reading excerpts from romantic classics, while staring seductively at you through the camera lens. Oh, and there's usually a cup of coffee knocking about somewhere in the background too.

The target market is, obviously, female. Now, as a woman in today's post-feminist world, I know I should be outraged, indignant, offended. How dare they assume that women are so shallow as to fall for such a cynical marketing ploy? George Clooney flogging Nespresso was bad enough, but this is on an altogether different level! The cheek of it!

As it turned out, I am not as impervious to shameless advertising as I thought, because lovely reader, I was well and truly sucked in from the get-go ... in fact, I was captivated, spellbound, entralled. Oh, the deliciousness of it! Joseph Fiennes reading Far from the Madding Crowd in his languorously dulcet tones, Dominic West staring straight into your soul while reading Lady Chatterley's Lover - who could possibly resist? Indeed, who would want to resist?

So thank you ingenious marketing people at Carte Noire ... I may not convert to your coffee, but I know which website I'll be browsing during my next coffee break!

Monday, 12 April 2010

Welcome to my little blog!