Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ryanair Rage

I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised, but an encounter with Ryanair staff at Stanstead Airport last Sunday typified all that's wrong with that airline.

My flight was scheduled for 20.30 but had been moved back to 19.30 and they had sent me an e-mail to alert me to this. I, being on the move in London, had missed the detail in the e-mail. And of course the small print tells you that you should reconfirm 72 hours before the flight. Legally they had me. Any road up I arrived at check-in at 18.55 - 35 minutes before departure and with only hand baggage. I was told that I was too late. I asked the supervisor to call the gate and ask would they take me. This she did in a most perfunctory and half-hearted manner. No dice, no joy, sorry mate.

The staff have obviously been trained in obduracy and hired for their hard-bitten qualities - the milk of human kindness would never flow from those dugs. As I protested to one, the others were chipping in with helpful comments such as "we are a low-cost airline and have our rules that can't be broken". I think it was the mechanical inflexibility that most disturbed me. Realising that I was getting nowhere I indulged myself in a major outburst of rage and flounced off like Malvolio in "Twelfth Night" declaring "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you". (I actually said, "I write for the Irish Times, I'll destroy you" - tee-hee.)

I will try and arrange my life so I never have to fly with them again. I mean it's always a dispiriting experience anyway: the scramble for the seats; the hustling to sell you lottery tickets; the whole tabloid travel experience.

London Can be Heaven

Back to London my old stamping ground - it was 40 years almost to the day since I first arrived (jobless, homeless, friendless) clutching a £20 note. In that distant era I stayed in a B&B off Kilburn High Road and spent the first night in an Irish pub watching Celtic beat Inter Milan 2-1 in the European Cup Final. This time I stayed in the Bonnington Hotel in Bloomsbury - small rooms, big breakfasts, wireless in rooms, great location (near Russell Square tube station and walking distance to the West End). On the whole I'd have preferred the stately splendour of the Russell Hotel but it was booked out.

First night involved catching up with old London friends - we met in the Lamb a fine old London pub (free of the ubiquitous tourists) off Aldbury Street behind the Russell Hotel . Next door was Ciao Bella a busy cheerful Italian restaurant that served splendid no bullshit food at reasonable prices - great service, great ambience and a great night was had by all. Nick sardonic, Dervilla talkative, Marietta probing, and Se avuncular and clubbable as ever. JP for once was hard pressed to get a word in.

The next day I started at Waterloo and walked along the South Bank to the Tate Modern - checking out the Rothkos there was my main aim. In truth there's not much else of note and the it contains 3 of the most contemptible pieces of 20th Century art: Carl Andre's bricks (the mundane trying to be significant ), Duchamp's urinal (a joke that has gone on far too long), and that great charlatan Beuys' detritus (flannel suits, blackboards, candles, twine etc.). The preponderance of flannel seemed apt as the ability to talk glibly and at great length about nothing seems his main talent. Little else of note except a dark and troubled seascape by Emil Nolde - an artist underrated due to his minor flirtation with the Nazis. The Rothkos have a room to themselves with subdued lighting - all the better to induce spiritual orgasms. They have a palpable looming presence that works even with the contagion of the throng.

Gormley's show is at the Hayward Gallery but it has spread itself to the roofs of dozens of nearby buildings. These are decorated with his life-size metal figures, slightly ominous and watching you. There's also one on Waterloo Bridge, brought down to earth and therefore less impactful. The show as a whole is playful and punter friendly - the kids will love it. You get to disorient yourself in a fog filled room; trip yourself up in a chamber of rods (one at a time please); walk tall amidst the skyscrapers; wonder at the giant delicately balanced Meccano-like construction; wonder at the well-wrought figures hidden in their metal cocoons; and admire mildly some delicate dark water-colours.

At the Apollo in Shaftsbury Avenue - starring the commendable Jessica Lange who relishes the part of the mother. It's a fine old Victorian theatre with lots of gilt and flourishes - it reminds me of a wider and brighter Gaiety. It's nice to bask in the sea of verbosity that is Tennessee Williams. Who cares if the mores are dated. No doubt these days the daughter would have hordes of "gentlemen callers" courtesy of the internet.




Tuesday, May 22, 2007

John Shinnors at the Taylor Gallery

Good strong show from one of our leading contemporary artists. The piece that stood out was English Garden Allotment - a large multi-faceted work on which the eye could disport itself endlessly. The large crane pieces were strong of composition and bold of colour but I have some reservations about the crane as a recurring motif. It lacks the mystery and aura of his regular motifs: scarecrows, lighthouses, and sinister dark birds. The same could be said of his washing line paintings - nice composition, shame about the mundane subject matter. But this is just me having a quibble - qua paintings they are mighty fine. There were also 2 little water colour triptychs of St. John's Cathedral that are attractive in a low-key way. Needless to say all sold.

Shinnors has also got 6 works showing currently in the John Martin Gallery in London. Four of these are little scarecrow heads and they surpass any of the smaller pieces in the Taylor show.

There was a poor enough turn out for the show - it clashed with a fashionable Scully show in the Kerlin (opened by Colm Toibin) and a large group show in the Graphic Studio Gallery. We repaired to the Shelbourne afterwards and then on to the Four Seasons where Shinnors was staying courtesy of a patron.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Shane McGowan in the Shelbourne

Sitting in the new Shelbourne - local for parvenus, fly boys and brittle blondes - I espy a strange shambling figure gimping his way to the far corner of the bar. It's Shane McGowan, dark glasses and listing to starboard. His face has got very puffy, like a boxer after a hard fight - in his case a losing battle with alcohol. He has lost that tinker chic look he had in his glory days. He also has a long cut or rash along his jaw line.

He is joined by a very colourful dark-haired woman wearing a dress that would have been a fashionable ball-gown if we were still in the Fifties. She ministers to him caringly as he sips his tea, and later some champagne. From time to time he breaks into song - but in a muted low-key way. P. is there with his camera shooting all around him (for the Shinnors opening) but he refrains from intruding on this tragic tableau. It was a subject more suited to Diane Arbus than Richard Avedon.