Sunday, 24 October 2010


In my experience, the Welsh are generally pretty cool. The seminal Manic Street Preachers can't be wrong (4 REAL Richey!), and renegade artist Mike Ballard is no exception. Ballard's current London show 'Whose Coat Is That Jacket You're Wearing?' is on this October in a temporary exhibition space (an old tailor's shop, aptly) in Euston.

The show comprises hundreds of coats suspended from the ceiling, stolen by Ballard over a decade from London pubs and clubs (below). Upon his arrival in London from a small village in North Wales, the artist's own precious coat was stolen. His twisted punishment for the city that broke his illusions seems to have manifested itself in a compulsion to rack other peoples' coats. The pungent stench of stale fags, spilt beer and acrid sweat engulfs the visitor on arrival, adding an air of putrid authenticity to proceedings.  Each coat is labelled with a witty anecdote about its liberation or the artist's existential opinions on London life (above). Ballard's small-town musings on the big-city experience reflect his own relocation from a North Wales village to London, a journey so common to our fair city's endless multitude of foreign inhabitants. The originality and inherent humour of Ballard's show was intriguing, as was the patently absurd, fundamental stoopidity of the project. The irony remains that he didn't actually steal any of the coats' contents, instead cataloguing and photographing the items as part of the exhibition. What a waster...  

Friday, 22 October 2010


The Isle of Wight's beautiful west coast has the natural benefit of slow, dreamy sunsets descending gradually across the horizon and a more gentile, sophisticated appearance than some of the chavvier eastside towns (not mentioning any names, Sandown). The island's westerly tip features a dramatic coastal walk from the village of Freshwater ascending a gentle green hill, alongside stunning alabaster-white cliffs. A healthy batch of Super Furry Animals populated the hillside, delightfully placid toward the constant stream of huffing n puffing ramblers and fatwacs* invading their peaceful home (below).   

Upon the crest of the hill stood an imposing Celtic cross - an 1897 monument to Poet Laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson who made the island his home in 1853, until his death in 1892. This beautiful cross (below) dominates the landscape, an ominous talisman warding off the evil lurking within the foreboding, smoke-coloured skies above. Eventually the heavens opened, the mini tempest rolling over the westerly Freshwater Bay as rapidly as it had arrived.

The pretty coastal walk continued along an increasingly narrow peninsula towards the stunning outcrop of rock formations known as The Needles (below). This beautiful vista appeared island-wide on heavy rotation  across all postcard shops and deservedly so. The view was truly divine, its pure white cliffs and aquamarine water seeming somehow more Aegean Sea than Rule Britannia... 

My jaunt around the Isle of Wight's westerly nether regions concluded with a browse around the petit bougeois harbour town of Yarmouth, the island's alternative ferry port to the fatherland. The seafront housed a rickety wooden pier, atmospheric under the dwindling pink dusk light and decorated with retro life-raft donuts (good enuff to eat! - below) and a handsome, post-ironic mod couple cuddling up against the breeze, showing off their minimalist, hipster, 21st century styling. your heart out...(below bottom).

Like any pretty English village worth its salt, Yarmouth's sleepy main drag was populated with historic buildings and picturesque architecture. Cosy cottages bursting with colourful foliage, enormous barns converted into living quarters of extended bourgeois families and normal two up-two downs surrounded by fields drenched in afternoon sun (below) all contributed to the town's pleasant atmosphere. An Englishman's home is his castle, its just a shame he probably can't afford one here. Rah rah rah! We're going to smash the oiks!

A slow-burning sunset fading low over clattering yacht masts set the scene for my last glimpse of the charming Isle of Wight (bottom). The weather was great, the people welcoming and the beaches sandy...if you close your eyes you would almost believe you were not even standing on Old Albion's fine shores. Then you hear the familiar drone of a Vespa engine...and get the hell out of Sir Weller's way! Now...thats entertainment.  

* fatwac - Fat American Tourist With A Camera (c) The Artist Formerly Known As Jaybs 2007

Sunday, 17 October 2010


Seminal American Depression-era photographer Walker Evans' work currently features in a small show at The Highgate Society, a humble community hall in north London's most atmospheric village (below). The building resonates with civic charm, its dusty pink interior walls dotted with a royal Victorian coat of arms, along with marble busts of (presumably) local people of note. (below bottom).

Evans' haunting, sepia-toned images depict the dead-eyed reality of the grinding rural poverty, desolation and hopelessness characteristic of the mid-1930s American mid west. The photographer's work emanates a stark, dignified sympathy towards his subjects, while remaining unmistakably political within a subtle, almost stoic aesthetic framework. Certainly, the irony must not be lost on The Highgate Society's curators in featuring such emotive photographs of hardship and despair in one of London's most affluent boroughs during these times of modern financial armageddon. We may not be eating out of dustbins just yet but lets hope when our time comes we all appear as photogenic as Evans' 1930s models.

Saturday, 16 October 2010


Bonjour ma cheries, I'm back in da hood after my final summer sojourn, just in time to catch the start of a long, dark descent into the winter of our discontent on This Fair Isle. And so...onto the atmospheric Isle of Wight. T'was August bank holiday, arriving off the ferry from Portsmouth into the town of Ryde and I was enchanted to discover the local train was actually a retired vintage tube that shuffled out a couple of hundred metres over the rickety Victorian pier to meet the ferry (below). 

I stayed in the lovely Shanklin Old Village on the island's east coast, where the streets are awash with beautiful thatched cottages from days of yore lit up with pretty fairy lights (below top). It was here I first noticed that the thinking gentleman's favoured sartorial choice seemed to be either Fred Perry, Fred Perry or Fred Perry. I'd never seen so many middle aged beerguts straining against too-tight casual apparel. Even the charity shops featured cut price jobbies in their fabulous window displays (below bottom). When I heard the joyous din of the pissy little Lambretta motor for the millionth time, the penny finally dropped that I had landed smack bang in the midst of the 2010 Isle of Wight scooter rally. Jeeesusssss....three days of this I grumbled as I jauntily threw myself into the hedgerows under cover of darkness for the fourth time to get out of the way of Scunthorpe Scooter Club's finest.

I was impressed of course, to see this quintessentially British scooter culture very much alive and kicking against the pricks (whoever they are these days. Tescos probably). Predictably enough, The Modfather Weller was in residence doing a show at Carisbrooke Castle and most of the faithful were around the same vintage with a few young, new-school hipsters thrown in for good measure.  

Shanklin's beach was a pretty, vast expanse of calm water, full of families having crazy summer fun in the sunny weather. After hiring my deckchair and busting out the knotted handkerchief on my head, I exposed my deathly pallor to the full vitamin D experience and kicked back with a serving of Irvine Welsh. I soon realised however, the best fun to be had on the beach is still being buried up to your neck in sand while your sister fucks off into the water threatening never to return (below bottom). Good times.  

By accident I happened upon the Shanklin Chine (below), a beautiful gorge leading from the lower edges of the village out to the seafront via a tiny enchanted forest. Visitors can amble through this oasis of spectacular, fertile wilderness - featuring an imposing waterfall and more than 150 varieties of wild plants, as well as the infamous red all but extinct on mainland Britain. After an extremely pleasant stroll through the chine, I paused to examine the squawking avery of exotic birds before downing a divine cream tea - scones and cakes all homemade by the lovely chief cook and bottlewashing lady on the premises.  

There is much picturesque walking and bike riding to be done on the Isle of Wight, and the Shanklin to Ventnor section of the 67 mile coastal path almost got the better of me. After the local Tourist Information Centre battleaxe's confident advice that 'its only an hour!' I set off on my jaunt, humming a gay tune, not realising the crazy dame meant an hour uphill, carving through overgrown foliage like some wizzed-up 'Nam vet, negotiating prehistoric fallen tree trunks, slithering between rock crevices and falling on my arse through endless puddles of mud. It all became worthwhile after I stumbled upon this brilliant local enterprise (below) selling homemade wares from the Luccombe Jam Man. A table full of jam, an honesty box, a handwritten sign...job done. Won't get that down the Crapham High Street. 

Finally surfacing back into civilisation...I felt the call of a restorative snifter and came upon this curious establishment (below) in Ventnor. Not afraid to fly the the old union flag with gay abandon, this pub positively revelled in Great Britain's halcyon days, displaying paraphernalia from those long-forgotten times when the men were real men and the women were glad about it. The locals gathered round, banging on about local issues the way local people do (...are YOU local?)...and a merry atmosphere pervaded the place on this beautiful sunny August bank holiday.