Friday, October 27, 2006

Danger Global Warming

This is one of the stamps of mass destruction by James Cauty. I just scored this print on eBay. Cool, huh?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Rise and Fall of Banksy (in my eyes)

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It seems like such a short time between my initial enchantment with Banksy and his fall from grace in my eyes. I first stumbled upon pictures of his street art on Flickr when I was doing research on London and Brighton for my trip. I thought he was great -- his biting social commentary, amusing and/or powerful images, the subversive way he worked (stenciling on walls by night, sneaking his own works into museums and hanging them by day).

When Spooner asked me this summer what I wanted to do when I came across the pond, my immediate reply was "Look for Banksies." "Banksy," he growled. "What's Banksy?" I explained and the next thing I knew he was sending me a link to a front page article in the NYTimes about the opening of Banksy's
show in Los Angeles. Clearly, my say-so that something is cool means nothing, but the NYTimes has all the cred in the world.

We did have a great time looking for Banksies, and we found three -- one in Southwark, one in Chalk Farm, and one in Brighton. We also discovered a gallery in Brighton that sells limited edition prints. The three ghetto rats that were on display in the window drew us in and we talked for a while with the gallery owner. He told us that a Banksy print that went a year ago for £95 would fetch over a thousand quid today. Unbelievable!

In the gallery, we also looked at prints by some up-and-coming graphic artists. When he saw me looking at several postage stamp prints, the gallery guy told me about James Cauty, a musician-turned-artist. He creates stamps of mass destruction -- satirical pieces about the war, the monarchy, global warming, and the roles the US and the UK are playing in All Things Evil. He's run afoul of the Royal Mail with his stamps depicting Queen Elizabeth wearing a gas mask. One of his series is about 5/ll, the day Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament. Another, called America Self Destruct, shows Bugs Bunny with dynamite strapped to his waist and a detonator in his hand. Dolk Lundgren, a Norwegian street artist similar to Banksy, has done a great print of Prince Charles wearing a Burger King crown. All brilliant stuff, and still (somewhat) affordable.

So, what's my beef with Banksy? He started out as an artist of The People, going about at night with spray paint and stencils, giving the masses of London something to look at, think about, or be amused by on their daily journeys around the city. Now, he's the darling of the celebrities, and Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie pay tens of thousands of dollars for his works, which they will hang on their private walls in their guarded homes, kept far away from the grit of the streets and The People. But the power and the joy of his images comes from seeing them in the context of those streets. These aren't so much fixed images as they are temporal and transitory ones. How they are seen and perceived varies with the day, the weather, the traffic, the news, the crowds. The images change over time as they fade, are painted out by building owners or tagged over by other graffiti artists. Hiding Banksy away in the homes of the stars is just wrong.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

An Unresolved Journey

I had a bit of a problem with my Oyster card today. As Spooner would say, I "didn't understand the system." I knew how to use it on the Tube: when you enter the station, you tap the Oyster card on the yellow touch pad at the front of the cattle shoot. The gate then opens and a screen tells you how much money you have left on your card and/or how much will be debited for this journey. In order to leave the station at your destination, you must tap your card at the exit cattle shoot/gate. If you transfer to a different line at a station, you don't have to touch your card. You only use it when you enter or leave a station.

So, I had no problem taking the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf. It was my transfer to the Docklands Light Rail to go down to Greenwich where I got screwed up. I got off the tube and followed the signs to the DLR, assuming this would be like other transfers, but before I knew it I was going through a cattle shoot and I was outside. The signs to the DLR pointed me through a plaza, across the street and down a block. When I entered the DLR station, I looked for a cattle shoot but didn't see one. Signs pointed to an up escalator, so up I went and found myself on the platform. Thinking something wasn't right and maybe my Oyster couldn't be used here, I went back downstairs to look for a ticket agent, but there was just a ticket dispenser machine with nearly incomprehensible instructions and some indication that Oyster cards were okay on the DLR. Back up the escalator to the track, where the train was arriving and I got on.

When I reached Greenwich, I saw a sign that said that failure to tap Oyster card when entering and exiting would result in a £20 fine. Yikes! Then I saw the yellow Oyster tap pad mounted on the wall. I tapped and I exited.

Periodically as I walked miles and miles, uphill and down, around and through Greenwich and the park, I worried about my Oyster card and whether I'd be stopped as I tried to get on the return train. Worse yet, I worried that I'd be alright today but would be docked the £20 when I took the tube to Heathrow at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Maybe I could get Spooner to switch Oysters with me, so he'd get stuck with any fine when he next used the card. This probably isn't a realistic plan.

Dead tired, I got back on the DLR in Greenwich at around 4 p.m. and was thrilled that no alarms sounded when I tapped my card to enter. Exiting the DLR station on the other side of the Thames, I then noticed at least half a dozen wall-mounted tap pads that I must have walked right past on the way in this morning. Still mildly worried about the whole thing when I entered the Canary Wharf tube station, I saw a ticket window with a real person and decided I should get over any of my usual shyness and ask for assistance.

"I think I did something wrong with my Oyster card," I told him. I explained that I'd missed a tap on my DLR ride.

He read my card and said, "Yes. It seems you have an unresolved journey. I'll take care of that. No extra money will be taken off your card."

Whew! I got on the tube and rode to St. John's Wood where I met Spooner.

My journey on the DLR may have been temporarily unresolved, but I'd say that, on the whole, my trip to London has been fully resolved. I've done nearly everything on my high priority list (the Pearly Harvest Festival, Brighton, a few new markets, some Banksy sightings, dinner with Jamie H-B), and much of my medium priority list (Charles Dickens' house, a return to Frognal in search of the house with topiaries, a few new museums). I've had some favorite Brit foods (fish and chips, Indian take-away, tuna and sweet corn sandwich) and found some excellent new ones (Wagamama noodle dishes, veg burgers at Red Veg, veg pie and mushy peas, HobNobs digestive biscuits). I took a ton of pix, some of them pretty good. And I got around just fine on my own, despite my little Oyster screw up.
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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Greetings from London

I've made it to the UK and, except for a to-the-skin drenching on my first day when I was locked out of Roger's house on account of having a bogus key, things are going great. We've walked miles and miles and I have blisters on my feet to prove it. Thankfully, they have special plasters for blisters here.

Here's a quick list of what we've seen and done so far:
Today and tomorrow I'm on my own. The weather has been most cooperative, but today's it's raining again so my plan is to do some museums. Tomorrow the sun should be out and I'll be taking the Docklands Light Rail down to Greenwich.

Further reports to come.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Gift from America

Spooner Marley Holmes receives the offering of Zud, a most powerful substance brought from the States. He is wearing his Marley's Ghost scarf knitted by moi and examining the Zud through the magnifying glass he purchased when we went to Portobello Road Market. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"You can never have too much Zud"

That's what Spooner says, so at his request I'm taking a can of Zud to him in London. Mind you, when he was here in July, we went to the one hardware store that sells it so that he could stock up (see Adventures in Spoonerland). I suggested two cans, but he only bought one. I don't know if he's hording it or if he goes through it really quickly because he cleans the tub after every shower. "Out, out, damn lime scale!"

Rosenbeans says, "Pack your underwear in a mesh pouch. You don't know whose hands will be going through your luggage when they inspect it." I've done that. And, at her suggestion, I didn't just throw a handful of Tampax in my bag, but put them in a zip lock baggie instead.

I've taken a picture of my packed suitcase, but Blogger won't let me upload it right now. I'll try that again later.

Other things you might be wondering about: The plumber came today and installed my new kitchen faucet. It's the kind with the faucet and the sprayer integrated into one unit (the sprayer pulls out). Where the old sprayer used to be, there is now a liquid soap dispenser. Fabulous! As for the toilets, they still run intermittently, but I'm content to just jiggle the handle when they do. Sadie is cured of her most recent UTI. Her second urine sample was all within normal limits and she was, for the most part, a good girl about having antibiotic liquid squirted into her mouth twice a day for three weeks. That second urine sample was really hard to get. I pleaded with her for 13 or 14 hours to pee on the plastic liner in her litter box before she finally gave it up. That's probably way more than you wanted to know.