Sunday, 28 August 2011


I can see only one reason to love 'King' Arthur Uther Pendragon---the nom d'épée of deluded old sponge John Rothwell---and that's the mirror he holds up to religious leaders everywhere. His preposterous mixture of moral certainty and difficulty with the act of thinking reminds one strongly of George Carey's tenure in Augustine's seat; the cooked-up personal anger over the bones of the long dead puts me in mind of thicko Muslim youth declaring parts of East London a 'gay-free zone.' As 'Arthur Rex' (for so he signed the court papers) might have said: 'For verily, the Earth Goddess is mighty in anger and severe in punishment, and She looketh down in thunder upon the Unbeliever.'

Yes, he is a disgrace to thinking, and, like so many UK neo-Pagans, enemy to and fugitive from logic, sense, and taste. I should like to take him---and Carey, and the addle-pated madrassoids---to one side and explain to them that one key aspect of living in a democracy is that the intensity of your feelings is not a barometer of the seriousness with which they should be taken.

Also I'd like to say to him: get a job and STOP WASTING OUR F***ING MONEY.

Thursday, 18 August 2011


A miniature of the decline of the British education system. Twelve A-Level papers this year had serious errors on them, ranging from unanswerable questions to missing pages. Here's Mark Dawe, chief executive of the awarding body OCR: "We regret those mistakes and we are very sorry about them. We can reassure candidates that significant work has been undertaken to ensure they get the grades they deserve. You can't help but be gutted when mistakes are made."

'Gutted'? Gutted?! This just confirms my general feeling that what has been lost in British culture recently is a sense of appropriateness, here linguistic. There's nothing wrong with the word, but it's at best a slang term not suitable for a formal statement by the head of a national examination board. The man's obviously got a tin ear for register, which doesn't fill me with confidence. 'Gutted' also has overtones of a particular kind of lugubrious male self-pity which is out of place in a professional press-release. 'Gutted' is what you are when you write off your Vauxhall Corsa. 'Gutted' is what you are when your football team loses, or you find out your girlfriend of two months is pregnant. Possibly I'm just being an appalling snob here---after all, who knows? Perhaps Mr Dawe was too knackered to think straight this morning because he went down the bloody boozer last night with his new bird and they got a bit hammered. Like, ferchrissake.

[Comments welcome on how informal/jarring people find 'gutted'---or not.]

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Four fragrances

As regular readers will know, my favourite contemporary perfumer is the remarkable Bertrand Duchaufour, composer of vaporous chiaroscuro marvels like Timbuktu and Avignon. I recently bought $2 samples of four perfumes of his hitherto unknown to me, and here are some brief reviews.

Eau d'Italie, Sienne l'hiver
*** ghostly ciabatta

Interesting and strange evocation of---as the name suggests---a Tuscan winter. This is, it seems, Duchaufour's favourite among his own compositions: a cool dryness hovering beneath a mealy, bread-like iris and black olive accord. A study in muted greys and browns, there's a green note of something like geranium leaf in there too, coupled with the sweet, smoky nuttiness of chestnut skins. As a fragrance it's beautifully composed, the representation so up-close and precise as to be almost abstract. Sadly, it's simultaneously so fleeting that from the first spray it dissipates in the air like a faded memory of itself. Better on fabric than on skin, where it lingers with an odd, bitter dissonance.

Comme des Garcons, Sherbert Series: Cinnamon
** cinnamon leaf

Begins very like the clean turmeric-and-lemonade fizz of 1994's L'Eau d'Issey pour Homme, but morphs into late December in student bedsit-land: a raspy pong consisting of cheap 'Christmas Spice' joss sticks, limp clutches of ivy dessicated by the central heating, stale fags, and dry rot. Oh, innocence.

Comme des Garcons: Red Series: Sequoia
?** Baffling

Can't comment on this one: from trying it in the CdG shop in London I recall a big cedary-pine smell, and the sample I've been sent is a sweet floral oriental that smells so like the discontinued Fendi by Fendi (1985) that I suspect there's been a mislabelling somewhere.

Comme des Garcons, Incense Series: Kyoto
**** minimalist resin

Starts off smelling like hot hi-fi but rapidly turns into a pared-back incense-resinous accord, the main ingredients being cypress and the piny, terpenaceous tang of colophony, the resin used by violin players on their bow hair to make it grip the strings, also known as Rosin or Greek Pitch. Overall, serene and pleasant if a little stark.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The incomparable Terry Castle has a delightful piece in The Professor and Other Writings in which she discusses her fetishistic mania for interiors magazines: a fetish I entirely share. She writes, wonderfully:

The late Mario Praz—dandy, scholar, eccentric chronicler of interior-decorating styles through the ages—once observed that human beings could be divided into those who cared about such things and those who didn’t. An avid, even ensorcelled member of the first group, he confessed to finding people who were indifferent to décor both baffling and somewhat sinister. To discover that a friend was content to dwell in “fundamental and systematic ugliness,” he wrote in An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration: From Pompeii to Art Nouveau, was as disturbing as “turning over one of those ivory figurines carved by the German artificers of the Renaissance, which show a lovely woman on one side and a worm-ridden corpse on the other.” All the more macabre when the friend was otherwise refined:

A venerated master of mine at the University of Florence used to say, from his lectern, many learned things about the Provençal poets. I hung on his every word. But it was a grim day when I first crossed the threshold of his house. As soon as the door was opened, I was confronted by a loathsome oleograph of a Neapolitan shepherdess (that same oleograph used to turn up often in the shops where unclaimed objects from the state pawnshop, the Monte di Pietà, are sold). The shepherdess, shading her eyes with her hand, affected a simpering smile, while Vesuvius smoked in the background.

Granted, for the “loathsome oleograph” (which now sounds enchantingly kitsch) one might want to substitute any number of contemporary abominations: fur-covered kitty condos placed nonchalantly in the living room, embroidered sofa pillows that say things like “She Who Must Be Obeyed” or “Bless This Mess,” Southwestern-style bent-willow furniture (barf), neoclassical wall sconces made out of glued and gilded polyurethane, monstrous sleigh beds from Restoration Hardware, Monet water-lily refrigerator magnets, fake “bistro” clocks, and just about any item of domestic ornament with an angel or a dolphin or a picture of Frida Kahlo on it. Yet even without a tchotchke update we can all sympathize with Praz’s baffled revulsion: “It’s curious, the squalor, the unnecessary and even deliberate squalor in which people who profess a sensitivity to the fine arts choose to live, or manage to adapt themselves.”

In this tendency New Agers and academics are very much alike, just as they also share a fondness for backbiting and pointless, fissiparous argument. I too have been as startled by unfathomable decorating choices in the 500k Banbury Road homes of venerable Oxford Professors as I have in the purple velveteen-draped yurts of Moon-daughters and simple quorn-herding folk. Afflicted by the congenital good taste of a certain type of posh mox---and good taste is ultimately as constricting to the breath as the steel corsetry into which every Bayreuth Brünnhilde until Olive Fremstad was strapped---I confess the same bafflement as Praz and Castle.

* * *

Ideal Home time. When I was a child, I fantasised about having a tiny house in the woods where I would live completely alone, with candles, firewood, and a sack of flour for making bread. That dream has modulated over the years into what my friend Justine and I now refer to as 'The Retreat Centre', our common vision-house. I have a very clear image of it in my mind, into which many influences have fed; but most of all, the Normandy home of the Russian artist Yuri Kuper. His home-cum-studio is exactly, exactly, my taste. Here are some pictures of it; see Phyllis Richardson's enticing Contemporary Natural for more.

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