Saturday, October 30, 2010

What do I get?

“My mother once said, ‘We were too poor to be photographed.’ And there began my life’s fascination with the medium.”
Linder Sterling

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wings of desire

When I was about 8, I was unlucky enough to participate in an exercise with a group of other kids, both younger and older, where we were asked in turn what we wanted to do when we grew up. Bearing in mind that this was the antediluvian days of the mid-1970s, and despite the fact that these were the kids of my parents' friends, artists, hippies, musicians and the like, and perhaps should have been a bit more enlightened (having said that, from experience this often turns out not to be the case: people who pursue what they regard as an alternative lifestyle can often be surprisingly conservative), when I said that I wanted to be a pilot, peals of mocking laughter rang out. Clearly it was ridiculous for a girl to want to be a pilot, because that is a man's job.

One of the other kids played to the gallery with his answer which was "shoplifting, gluesniffing, stealing". This got the laughs he was after (although it may have been as accurate a prediction as anyone else's).

About 15 years later, having gone on an entirely different career path, I had a flying lesson from RAF Turnhouse, near Edinburgh. Despite the excitement of taking the controls for take-off and landing, speaking on the two-way radio, flying over my childhood home, and circling over the Forth road and rail bridges, it quickly became apparent that the career I had dreamed about would not have been a smart choice for someone who gets violently airsick.

A woman who had drifted around the edges of my parents' group of friends came to our house for the day, not long after the career path humiliation ritual. She was a bit of an old, sad figure in my view (horrifyingly, I realised on thinking about it that she was probably younger than I am now), a slightly bulky woman with bleached blonde hair, an oversized baggy mohair jumper, and a miserable expression on her face. She didn't seem to know what to do with herself. The porous clay mug from which she drank her tea was so throughly imbued with the reek of her perfume that it didn't wash off for months. My sister and I cruelly dubbed her "Shoplifting, Gluesniffing, Stealing" and the poor woman has no name other than this in my memory.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Post modern

My sister's art school boyfriend (Ben), in the 1980s, tried at one time or another to send her the following items in the mail:

- an arrow (for Valentine's Day)
- a hard boiled egg (it cracked)
- a toffee apple (it "ruined 20 pieces of mail" said the postie, clearly very satisfied by being able to impart this news)

Looking back, it's amazing the patience with which these items were processed. History does not reveal how many missives were unsuccessful (but Ben might).

I saw a book somewhere of letters which someone had posted to herself with puzzles (crosswords, word games, join the dots etc) instead of the address. If the postie solved the puzzle (and they often did) the address was revealed. It's a clever idea and it seemed as though some of the posties really quite enjoyed the challenge, although I'm sure quite a few of the letters got binned in exasperation.

(Thanks to My Rusty Sieve for sparking this off with a post about W. Reginald Bray, "The Human Letter", who was a pioneer in the field and a wild experimenter. He posted a turnip, a bowler hat, a bicycle pump, shirt cuffs, seaweed, a clothes brush, and a rabbit's skull. Following those triumphs, he posted first his Irish terrier and then himself .)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Streets of your town

Sometimes Sydney will unexpectedly remind me of Edinburgh: a certain slant of light, or an old building, or the texture of the stones. I usually think of Melbourne as being more akin to Edinburgh, as Sydney is akin to Glasgow: the former genteel, maybe a little smug; the latter brash, sometimes full of itself. Walking down Bridge Lane in the CBD, the first half of the alley was glistening with plastic bunting as part of the Art & About festival. There was a nightclub, apparently called FAKE, at the corner. And a beautiful archway led to Bridge Road, and the light coming through it, and the fact that Bridge Lane seemed like a secret known only by the people walking through it, made me imagine for a moment that I was in a close in the Old Town of Edinburgh, somewhere near the Royal Mile.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Doors of perception

Ever since I was a kid I've loved secret gardens and hidden away places: my imaginary house has a wooden gate with a little door in it, through which you enter a garden with overhanging trees and a winding path to the front door (this is based on a vague memory of a flaking cream-painted wooden doorway in the town where I was born, Haddington, East Lothian, which led to a potter's workshop and not to a mysterious garden, but I have adapted it for my own purposes). I see myself, fancifully, wandering barefoot through French windows into the dewy grass in the morning with a cup of coffee in my hand.

Kong's urban landscape, being very new, for the most part, has a low quota of surprises; in Sydney, I've been enjoying the ancient buildings, many of which are now being refurbished as the areas around the city centre rapidly gentrify. This doorway is contemporary, but has gracefully met the challenge of its surroundings and is also blending in beautifully; blink and you'd miss it. There's an enigmatic stairway behind the gate and no sign of what's beyond.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Turn suburbia upside down

I went to a fancy dress party for someone's birthday a couple of years ago. The theme was "Rock stars" so I went as Debbie Harry (and judging by the photos, unfortunately I looked, in my blonde wig and silver top, more like Debbie Harry now than Debbie Harry then). Someone else had also come as Debbie Harry, with a very similar wig. On reflection she may have been unwilling to acknowledge that we were both (equally unsuccessfully) trying to look like Debbie in the glory years circa "Parallel Lines" (at which point she was already 33), or perhaps she was just a bit doolally; in any case, her first reaction on seeing me was to gush "Oh! You've come as that Toyota!"

She meant, of course, Toyah: the middle class poster girl for punk, whose risible hit "I Wanna be Free" must have struck fear into the hearts of sixth form common room prefects and Home Counties G&T-drinkers everywhere with its stirring refrain "I'm gonna turn this world - UPSIDE DOWN!" and, sensibly, "I don't wanna be told what to wear - so long as you're warm, who cares?". Toyah was on the front of Smash Hits, suspiciously perfectly made up with sky blue skin and tiny birds circling above her eyebrows. Toyah hadn't actually shaved her head; she'd gelled the sides. It's a mystery, indeed, how Toyah ever got taken seriously. Even as a credulous 12 year old I was a bit suspicious of her. Even I could tell that the threat to "crawl through the alleyways BEING VERY LOUD!" was a bit pathetic.

And so it came to pass that Toyah became an actress, married Robert Fripp, and was most recently to be seen campaigning against the construction of a centre for asylum seekers near her village in Worcestershire.

And in case you wondered: yes, I was both offended and amused to be mistaken for Toyota.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Kind of blue

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Dresses by London-based designer Osman Yousefzada for his Osman line, also worn here by Anna Friel (it's a beautiful dress, and she looks great in it, though I'm not entirely sure about the legs akimbo look). Victoria Beckham was so impressed with Osman's column dress that she borrowed the dress and then, ahem, paid homage to it with a dress in her own collection. Dresses from Matches (and they are reassuringly expensive too).