Category Archives: culture

stuff about what’s going on

Stop w(h)ining …

It’s communion, Jim, but not as we know it
The bread is still there but the wine has now gone
Official instructions are rather hotchpotch
The wine’s for the vicar, and we get to watch

While we worship the Lord with hymns loud and anthemic
The bishops are worried we’re spreading pandemic
We don’t all want swine flu, it’s a pig of a bug
So don’t you dare kiss in the Peace, or go hug
Handshakes are dangerous, so make do with a shrug

Never mind that the Bibles are passed hand to hand
Why the chairs haven’t been swabbed, I don’t understand
And then there’s the newssheets and door handles too
All viable ways to share in the flu

If it gets too much worse they may make us stay home
And watch Songs of Praise till we’re blue in the face
So let’s give them one big liturgical groan
We’ve had it with law so let’s hear it for grace

Next we’ll have Britain’s Got Swine Flu
with Cat Deeley
Maybe it’s just a plot to stop church
getting too touchy feely

August 2009

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Anish Kapoor – Royal Academy of Arts

Svayambh – red wax monster shaped by the building

Svayambh – red wax monster shaped by the building

Royal Academy of Arts: Anish Kapoor (Exhibition 26 September – 11 December, 10am-6pm, Fridays 9.30pm)

Wandering around the press preview of this major solo exhibition by 1991 Turner Prize winner Anish Kapoor, I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer sense of fun this influential sculptor encapsulates in his work.

Rather than try to tease out ‘meaning’ from each piece – a mix of new work and previously unseen items – I just found myself delighting in the physical appeal of each one, and the way they made me think about them.

First up is the monumental Hive (2009), built in a shipyard in Holland using Corten steel. It impacts you immediately as you stare into its hidden depths, and then walk round what for all the world seems like an alien submarine, left to rust on a distant, abandoned planet.

Greyman Cries etc - serious playdo, this

Greyman Cries etc - serious playdo, this

Gallery two yields the enigmatically titled Greyman Cries, Shaman Dies, Billowing Smoke, Beauty Evoked (2008-9), consisting of dozens of pallets piled high with cement sculptures generated via a computer-controlled three-dimensional printer. The result is a mix of almost fossilised geological strata plus dinosaur poo put through a mincer. You want to grab a handful of it – it looks fantastic fun created by grown-ups let loose with a vat of modelling clay.

The writhing marble monster Slug (2009) seems almost alive, contrasting a sinewy intestinal feel with a towering female organ in an unlikely metallic red.

Non-object (wall) - concave reflections

Non-object (wall) - concave reflections

There’s a fascinating gallery of ‘non-objects‘ full of concave mirrors throwing back distorted and often upside down reflections. Shiny chrome always brings out the magpie in all of us, and Kapoor maybe asks us how we appear to others compared to how we see ourselves with this cavalcade of end of the pier distortions.

A gallery of Pigment works flings deeply coloured geometric shapes at us, tempered with a powder sprayed almost soft texture, and including the wonderful When I am Pregnant (1992), a swelling bump that pops out seamlessly from the white walls, playing tricks with the light.

Yellow - you might just dive in and disappear

Yellow - you might just dive in and disappear

Piece de resistance when it comes to impact for me was the awesome Yellow (1999) – a cavernous splash of yellow that dives deep into a wall and leaves us grasping for a means to take it in. The curve of its shape makes it impossible to tell how deep it goes, and the result is something you just have to stare at and enjoy.

Heart of the exhibition is the powerful Svayambh (2007), taking up five galleries at the RA. A massive block of red wax chugs slowly along tracks, oozing through the Academy’s white and gilt doorways, leaving a sticky residue behind. The title comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘self-generated’. It is bizarre, fascinating and mystifying all at the same time.

And the same red wax becomes a weapon in Shooting into the Corner (2008-9), as cannon fires 20lb plugs of the material at 50mph through another doorway and against a wall. Some 30 tons will be fired through the exhibition. Described by RA chiefs as a “psycho drama”, there is a real tension as we wait for the plug to be fired, supervised by a black boiler-suited assistant. There is something visceral and disturbing that we share in here, and the experience is strangely engrossing.

For those who don’t ‘get’ modern art and sculpture, Kapoor’s work may not make much sense. But maybe that’s because it shouldn’t be approached as a puzzle which needs to be solved, rather than created works that evoke a response or cause us to think.

You may respond or think differently to me. But you should go – it’s exciting stuff.

Tickets are £12, bookable at or on 0844 209 1919

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Owed to Les Paul 13.08.09

farewell Les Paul.
The genius
behind the electric guitar.
The guitarist’s guitarist
The axeman’s godfather
The ultimate
guitar hero.
The man who asked:
what happens
if I wire this up?
And plug this
in here?
And turn it up?
And what did happen
was the twang
and the riff
and the power chord
and the razor sharp
note cleaving the heavens
and ending up nailed
to your guts …
The sustain
and the gain
and the sweet pain
as the highly strung
plugged in
turned up
and engineered
a slice of soul-tugging
heart-twisting melody
That charmed the birds from the skies
Appliqued them together with gossamer harmony
Set them free to soar on dizzying runs
Before machine-gunning them in mid flight
with 12-bar heat-seeking tracer fire
That left a firework imprint on eternity.
Until one of the strings broke.

You never knew what you’d started, Les.
You really deserved a better name.

Take it to the bridge
in the key of genius.

13 August 2009
Upon the death of Les Paul, 94

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Christian Comment column June 09

Who would you like to be today?

It’s a question that’s increasingly normal in a world where many of us would really rather be someone else.

Twenty-five years ago, the only people you’d tend to find trying to be someone else were a raft of early adopter Elvis impersonators, Mike Yarwood and Faith Brown.

Now, every third person seems to be an Elvis impersonator and there are people who have made careers from looking like someone else.

Add to that, the number of us seeking cosmetic surgery to try to improve on what we’ve been given, and the countless millions taking on alternative personalities online, and you’ve got a stack of us uncomfortable in our own skins.

Instant messaging gives us the option of user names or avatars (‘online personalities’ often depicted using cartoon-style illustration) that disguise who we really are.

And social networking services like Twitter allow us to take on an entirely new personality if we want to.

I have a character on Twitter called Brandon Cummerbund.

He’s an Edwardian gentleman of a certain age whose household constantly staggers from one crisis to the next, mostly involving food, servants and escaped animals.

I don’t want to “be” him, but it’s amusing to create him as a character and see where he goes.

Second Life, meanwhile, occupies a staggering number of people around the world, with an increasing number making real money from a virtual world that only exists in cyberspace.

It’s hard to get your head round.

Perhaps some of our unhappiness with who we are stems from our beliefs on what we’re doing on planet earth in the first place.

If we think we’re random accidents with no real meaning or purpose, it’s no wonder we’re endlessly restless, trying to find a skin that fits or a life we feel at home in.

Christians believe we’re each unique – made in the image of God but with endless variety, imagination and diversity.

The Bible says we’re precious to the creator, and he cares deeply about the smallest detail of our lives.

Have a read of Psalm 139 if you don’t believe me.

God’s take on you is this – you matter.

Your value and worth have nothing to do with your looks, your job or the car you drive.

You were created to know him, and to live life to the full as the person he made you to be.

There’s stuff he’s planned that only you can do.

And that could make life an even bigger adventure than dodgy versions of Heartbreak Hotel.

Russ Bravo is the editor of Inspire magazine published by CPO, and is part of St Matthew’s Church, Tarring.

He is also a poet and songwriter, and runs Matt’s Comedy Club.

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C list pop star goes to the airport

Gotta go to Gatwick
I dunno which hat to pick
I don’t wanna look too slick
My public image is elastic
My face is mostly plastic
My attitude bombastic
If the paparazzi pop around me
I’ll look fantastic
Until I lose it trying to cruise it
Easy to excuse it, come too close
and I’ll bruise ya
Or sue ya

I wanna be recognised
But not categorised
I extemporise, I’m not pasteurised
I might sign your luggage
But I won’t engage in huggage
It’s not my style
My style is unique and casually
I wear trousers that creak
I buy two pairs a week
And my boots are so sleek
you can see my face in them

I’ve gotta keep travellin’
Although my life is unravellin’
You might hear me complainin’
That my star is wanin’
And I wish you’d scream at me
Instead of saying
‘Who did he used to be?’

Maybe I’ll go into TV
Find some show with reality
Where I can pretend to be
The me I have been manufactured
to be
I may be able to strike a pose
And hope that my humanity shows
but not my waistline

I could lend my name to a cause
If they’re clutchin’ at straws
‘Cos you can’t be a rebel without applause
It’s been so long since I did an encore
As only my mum is askin’ for more
Like the baggage carousel, I will keep
going round until

28 April 2009 (on a train from Gatwick Airport)

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10 tips on surviving the recession

1 Do not go out. People will try to sell you things. You will be tempted to spend money. Enough said.
2 Chew all your food twice as much as you normally would. So will extract every last drop of nutrition from it. And you will need to eat less. And you will use more energy chewing, which will mean you will have a very fit jaw. Which may Be A Good Thing. And your body will have to work less hard to digest it all, thereby ensuring your insides wear out less quickly. Or something.
3 Remember – soup is a meal! It is hot and can have things to chew floating in it. Of course, if you can make your own this will be much better than buying the stuff in tins, cartons or packets. Except the Covent Garden stuff, which is brilliant. If expensive. You can, of course, add water to make it go further. But it will be more waterey. Which may, or may not, Be A Good Thing.
4 Enjoy your garden, if you have one. If you don’t, enjoy someone else’s garden. They won’t mind, provided you don’t camp in it. Garden plants are largely recession proof, as no-one turns the sun and rain off if you don’t pay your bills.
5 Use credit cards for scraping the ice off your windscreen in the morning. And for nothing else.
6 Listen to the radio more. There is great stuff on it, it is largely free, and it will mean you have less time to go out buying expensive coffees, clothes you don’t need and holidays you can’t afford.
7 Spend more time with friends and family, preferably at their houses so it’s their heating, coffee, biscuits and stuff you’re using.
8 Breathe deeply and appreciate the fact you’re alive, you have a house to live in and something to eat. Compared to most of the planet, you’re rolling in it. Especially if you’re a hippo in a muddy pond.
9 Use your local library. It’s a lovely place filled with lovely people and they let you use things for free, mostly. Well, the books anyway. And sometimes they have free poetry events, or storytelling for the kids. And there are reference books and newspapers and it’s normally warm. And there are only a few people smelling of booze and mumbling. One of which may be you.
10 Remember, all recessions finish eventually. So hang on in there – at some point you’ll be able to look back on it. Which is a comfort. And may Be A Good Thing.

(final serious suggestions – use – and make what little dosh you do have go further!)

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Did I miss something?

It is hard to underestimate the effect that TV replays have upon us.

I’ve lost count of the sporting events I’ve been to where my attention has drifted for a moment and I’ve missed something exciting,
only to wait for a millisecond, for the action replay,
before realising, with a chuckle that this is life,
not television.

I must pay attention more carefully.

I can always Listen Again to radio programmes.

Or Watch Again what I missed on TV.

But those bits of life that pass me by can’t be rewound and replayed, or summoned from the ether for my proper consideration.

Those words you said that you wished you could get back.

The action you should have taken, but which instead left an awkward absence by not being done.

Those moments of golden illumination where you were looking the other way
Or daydreaming
Or blithely unaware.

Mind you, I may have lost count because of my memory, or my maths.

And there is the kind of tension that exists in the gaps
where we are convinced that a better party is happening somewhere just out of reach
And other lives somehow seem sharper, more tangible
and more fulfilling.

It’s probably an illusion
brought on by too much daydreaming.

Seconddreaming may be a better use of time
if a bit briefer

But we’re less likely to miss the things that matter.
Provided we recognise them.

Maybe it’s that life repeats on you
when you haven’t digested it properly

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