This blog is in a state of suspended animation

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a wonderful exhibition just opened at modern art oxford. graham sutherland: an unfinished world curated by george shaw (a painter whose humbrol coventry landscapes i love). i had, for a long time, thought of him, along with john piper, as a rather dowdy, insular painter of half-hearted not-quite-abstractions. i was wrong. it's also a joy to see mao - a place i love - packed with warm human stuff (the artwork and the people) after some cool, cold and less-than-popular shows. 

that was sutherland, this is shaw (you knew that, of course...)

i didn't expect to like this. but i did. track one, two, three... long melancholy unrolling songs, like talk talk c. laughing stock. all rather wonderful despite the fact that one appears to be about a sexual relationship with a snowman. then track 6, the title track. and stephen fry is on it. stephen fry. being stephen fry. sounding like stephen fry. as in, snape fixed harry with his steely glare. as in hermione span on her heels and marched off in high dudgeon and so forth. reciting various words for snow in the background. i cannot imagine a more catastrophic error of judgement. except perhaps having a song about flatulence or the crisis in the eurozone (though if anyone could pull those off it would be kate bush). not that it's stephen fry's fault. he is an excellent thing in the right context. chairing qi for example, or being general melchett. but here? it's like finding fondue in your bed. or a dog in your fridge.

this coming monday is the big give. give money to one of their 453 registered charities and your donation will be doubled. and gift aid added if appropriate. there's everything on their list from bampton classical opera to the refugee council. if you asked me i'd steer you towards the latter, but i guess you can make up your own mind. if you pay 25% tax, a £50 donation becomes £125. If you are a 50%, well, you should be giving a lot more than £50 to prevent the permanent damage to your immortal soul. you can give online at any time from 10 am onwards. what's not to like?


my transsexual summer on ch4. this one caught me by surprise. genuinely moving and really interesting. it pains me slightly to use phrases like feelgood tv and restores your faith in humanity but the phrases really do apply. it also says fascinating things about sexuality and gender. specifically you don't have to watch for long before the borders we draw across those areas, which seem such a fundmental part of life for most people, start to break down and become irrelevant, for the viewer if not for those born on the wrong side of those borders. it's character that matters. it's the way we treat other people. in addition, the programme is proof, if more proof were needed, of how shallow and pointless and ultimately incomprehensible homophpobic / transgender prejudice is. it really is hard to watch this without falling slightly in love with everyone involved. though you might have to hide behind a cushion during some of the genital surgery sections...

suzanne dean at random house has designed a very beautiful cover for the red house. look carefully at the figures in the willow pattern...

the first proper winter temperatures. and the first swim in the thames in properly cold water. though i do very little swimming per se. more energetic floating. it seems safer in the winter not to head off upriver midstream. fantastic, though. it makes me joyous every time (i wonder sometimes if there might be a dash of walrus dna in there somewhere; one of my forebears geting a little too lonely during those 23 hr nights way back). the river feels like mine again...

(artist's impression; may not show actual product)

photo by jarkkoS under creative commons on flickr

toby moorcroft and i saw this from the top of twmpa / lord hereford's knob while taking a hearty walk during the crunch festival. it is, apparently, a (solar) glory surrounding a brocken spectre. perhaps you already knew that...

the other night i watched the cave of forgotten dreams, werner herzog's documentary about the chauvet caves in the limestone cliffs above the ardeche river in france, which were discovered in 1994 and which contain the oldest known cave paintings in the world, 30 - 26,000 bce. rhinoceroses, cave lions, horses, panthers, bears, the stencilled outline of an artist's right hand, repeated throughout the cave, the same man identifiable by the crooked little finger of his right hand. i'd been drawing all day and really did feel as if i'd picked up what the indigo girls once called, in a rather different context, a kind of telephone line through time.

as always, there was talk of shamanism and the spirit world and the porous border between the human and the animal. and as always i thought to myself, if you can draw well then drawing is often a source of pure pleasure, just as running or singing are often sources of pure pleasure for people who can do those things well. the orhtodox view of palaeolithic people is that they weren't as clever as us but were much more spiritual, which says, i think, more about us than it does about them. we rarely think of them as ordinary. we rarely think of them as just human beings. i see those drawings and i think, if you could draw like that would you need a reason? would you need a ceremony? would you need a job as a priest? wouldn't you just want to draw?