Saturday, January 26, 2008

Elephant update

Despite the best efforts of No 1 totla cnut A. Crozier (if I now add the words "is gay" I will have crowds of visitors to this post, believe me. Why folk should want to know whether he prefers baseball to cricket I wouldn't know. If it's ammunition for derision they're after then just being Adam Crozier ought to be enough), Ashford still has one post office. While I was leaving it today, having just wasted a few of our finest pounds on the triple rollover, I happened to bump into Nimby sculptor Oliver Winconek (who was also filling in his dream ticket. We're all human). He thanked me for visiting his blog and also told me that he's been over here, which I think makes him my first celebrity visitor (apart from a world-renowned author). Nimby has been in the news again this past week because following her relocation, she was badly bruised by the vicious weather we've experienced and was, not to put too fine a point on it, wrecked. Sad.

Good news though; Oliver told me that the response to the art has been so positive that Nimby will hopefully be returning, this time made of global warming retarding metal (although probably without the attendant policemen, which I don't think is quite right but hey, let's not complain). Ashford will get a new landmark! What I don't think Oliver realises, because he's still a comparative youngster and hasn't been in the town for too long, is that the location chosen for Nimby's permanent site is within 100 yards of a Shepherd Neame bar/cafe called Oranges which, in a previous life, was a very popular pub called the Elephant and Castle.

Monday, January 21, 2008

And so to Salford

8.30 Saturday evening, sitting in the car on a sodden Salford Quayside, eating wonderful fish and chips peering through the rain-streaked windscreen and across the ship canal at the Theatre of Dreams. At that particular moment, I wouldn't have been anywhere else in the world, not because of the location but because of who was in the passenger seat for the first time in six months. I've missed her.


We'll sort it out.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Let's Ballad!

I bought this today.

No excuses. I like loud rock and roll; I like guitar solos, rough-hewn blues and a bit of bombast. But...but...when...Bugger. It's been six months and I miss her. And she's had to go into hospital for a couple of weeks in Manchester and I'm 280 miles away and...well. This is the most wonderful song I've heard in years and it works just fine, thanks.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Old School Tie

Friday, 11th January, BBC Radio 4 at 8pm. That's tomorrow. Or maybe even today. Any Questions is being broadcast from my old school. I don't recognise any of the panellists. For that matter, I barely recognise my old school.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Vegan TV

I am currently installed in what we call the extension, a largish ground floor room stuck on the end of the house. It's been a guest room for the best part of 30 years but it's big enough for me to stay in without annoying my parents. I don't want for much, I have a bed, my laptop, a DAB radio (currently blasting out "The Organist Entertains" on Radio 2. I am nothing if not catholic in my musical tastes) my guitars and lots of bits of paper with red writing on which I occasionally shred. There is also an aerial socket. It is not connected to an aerial because the aerial at this end of the house blew down. No BShiteB here - you have to pay. But I can sympathise with my Dad's reluctance to part with his hard-earned on that score as all the best stuff's on Freeview anyway. Wouldn't have mattered, I didn't have a telly.

Until last week, that is, when my little sister bought some vast piece of Japanese electric wallpaper and left her old one here. It's an old Sony Trinitron but it still works fine. So I went out on New Year's Day and bought a cheap Freeview box and an internal aerial. Didn't work. We're in a shady bit signal wise and that's not helped by having a large wood opposite either. Still, we eventually fixed something up with an old aerial and I got some limited telly in. Mainly ITV, Sky 3 and Dave. Hardly any BBC except BBC4 and Parliament. What is it with that station? However shite your reception is, you can always get BBC Parliament in. In Crewe, the previous incumbents had pointed their aerial towards Sutton Coldfield, 70 miles away instead of Manchester, 30 miles away in the opposite direction. When I attached a Freeview box all I could get in was bloody BBC Parliament. Tonight, it was like watching an extended Norman Collier sketch. You kn.. Th. ne wher. .e ....tends the isn'. F..k. I wante. t. Tag..rt. I think the wind might be the cause. And maybe this.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Elephant in the Room

Several months back, to try and take the local population's mind off the ever-present building work in the town (seems like it's been going on for the last 45 years), Ashford's burghers decided to embark on an ambitious display of public art installations located around the town's ring road, which was in the throes of being changed from a one way race track to two-way traffic as part of Europe's biggest shared space scheme (where road traffic and pedestrians use the same areas). These works included hoardings depicting local worthies, a nest of roadsigns in the shadow of the town's largest building, paintings on the road surface, performances and the papering of the shell of the old empty South Kent Tech building and then decorating it with graffiti. It was called "The Lost O", the O being the ring road itself. It was all timed to coincide with the Tour de France passing through in early July.

It has to be said that not all of this stuff was met with general approval. Such is the nature of public art and art in general; if it doesn't challenge us to view things from different perspectives then it's not really working and anyway, no artist can ever hope to be universally popular. Performance art leaves me cold - one of those things that probably seemed like a really really really brilliant idea after some medicinal fags but in reality is utter bollocks. Most of it was temporary and has gone now. It was different and naturally provided plenty of ammo for the local Sir Buftons to get worked up over in the Kentish Express.

A little background here: Ashford is a town of philistines. It's not through the want of trying but the town really has resisted all efforts to embrace culture. The local catchment is around 100,000, that's an 8 fold increase in 80 years. Yet Ashford has no theatre (I once saw Ionescu's "Rhinocerous" in the sports centre. An unfathomable play at best to an 18 year-old and the sports centre location made it like watching some over-ambitious 6th formers making arses of themselves), no music venues (no big bands ever hit Ashford, despite the sports hall. Apart from the Tygers of Pan Tang in 1980), no proper gallery and for a while it never even had a cinema after the fleapit (really called "The Cinema") was demolished to make way for the international station. The town centre Odeon, the third largest building in the town, has been a bingo hall for 30 years now. It's only since the channel tunnel opened 15 years ago that decent restaurants started to appear. It was a complete cultural vacuum. It looks like things may be changing; there are stirrings.

Oliver Winconek is an urban artist currently working in Ashford and is also chairman of Ashford Visual Artists. He's also working phenomenally hard to get Ashford to recognise what art can do in the community. Back in November he erected a self-funded piece of large-scale public art on a piece of waste ground near the station. Nimby is a lifesize wooden elephant being chased by two wooden policemen. The elephant's a humorous representation of public art and the police, the public and their attitude towards it. Gentle satire. Reaction was instantaneous as passing drivers contacted the local radio stations to announce that an elephant was heading towards the ring-road, something I wish I'd heard. It was removed when the land it was on was required for a temporary car park. Predictably, considering Ashford's antipathy towards art, there was an outcry. Not quite what you'd imagine though. There was a real outcry about the graffitid building (even though it's all gone now) and the fake road markings were confusing people as were the roadsigns (even though they were all in a bunch and nowhere near a road). No, Nimby turned out to be immensely popular. There were even letters in the paper demanding her return and I can't remember seeing one complaining about her, everyone seemed to get the joke. People want her for a landmark, something to identify the town through and that's great. She's now been given a place of her own and will shortly be erected on Elwick Road opposite the new Debenhams. On Saturday she paid a fleeting visit to Bank Street where I had a brief chat with the artist. He was utterly charming and told me that he's been completely surprised by the reception Nimby has had. He's not done too badly out of it either and has had to employ a PA. So public art is generating employment which can't be bad. There was a coincidence too when I told him that I'd lived in Crewe for several years and that it was very similar in many ways to Ashford only for him to reply that he knew because he'd also lived there years ago. Maybe the two towns should have a cultural twinning. Now there's a prospect.