Category Archives: The Golden Country

Mr Heming IS watching

DISCLAIMER: I definitely would not recommend reading this book if you are in the process of selling or buying a house.

What is it about creeps that captivate the modern reader? Think about it, think about literary characters. There is Patrick Bateman in American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, or Barbra Covett in Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller, and not forgetting the archetypal villain, Norman Bates in Psycho by Robert Bloch.

Barbara Covett

Now to add to the cast of sociopaths in the world of the written word we have Mr. Heming. He appears in the brilliantly creepy A PLEASURE AND A CALLING by Phil Hogan. This character is an estate agent, a consummate professional and outwardly noble citizen who loves the still tranquillity of the suburban village he chooses to reside in. But behind his air of real estate expertise, he is a prowler who snoops on the people he sells houses to. He copies the keys of the properties once sold and has an inventory of facts and notes on all the owners and their families. Heming scrutinises their schedules with microsurgical precision, sneaking into their private homes when unoccupied to have a cup of tea, sit in a favourite chair, or forage in their refrigerators. Sometimes he steals souvenirs, mere insignificant items, trophies of his triumph in deception.

What appears at first to be the descriptions of an eccentric yet disturbed gentleman start to transform into that of a warped sociopath who becomes increasingly more and more toxic. Heming becomes obsessed with an arrogant lothario, Mr. Sharp and his steamy affair with an English rose, librarian Abigail.

Phil Hogan’s novel analyses what lies beneath. Behind the carefully manicured lawns and conservatories, behind the closed doors of the dream homes, there is a malignancy slowly choking. A chilling novel that is like witnessing a car crash, you don’t want to look but still do. This piece of fiction will offer you a sinister perspective of suburbia and is all the more unsettling because the deception takes place in a domestic setting.

a pleasure and a calling

I can liken it to the way the original John Carpenter horror film Halloween was all the more harrowing because the action took place in the ‘safety’ of suburbia. The very title of the book A PLEASURE AND A CALLING, ignited an inner debate in the aftermath of reading it, on whether this was appropriate or not, fitting or in fact bad taste?

HERE AMONG STRANGERS BELONGINGS’, IS WHERE I AM MOST AT HOME, MOVING QUIETLY AND SURELY. I KNOW WHERE THEY KEEP THEIR PRIVATE THINGS, HOW THEY ARRANGE THEIR LIVES. I FOLLOW THEIR PLANS AND MAKE MINE AROUND THEM. I TRY NOT TO ENQUIRE DEEPLY INTO THE WHY, BUT HUMBLY ACCEPT MY GIFT, THE EXHILARATION OF BEING HERE, OF BREATHING THE AIR AT THIS ALTITUDE. I WILL CONFESS THERE IS RITUAL. I LEAVE MY MARK USING THE KEY TO A RED MONEYBOX MY MOTHER GAVE ME. I WILL EAT OR DRINK SOMETHING, PERHAPS TAKE A SMALL KEEPSAKE – A TEASPOON, A SOCK. BUT I ALSO HAVE MY STANDARDS. NO HIDDEN CAMERA’S, WIRES OR MICROPHONES ARE USED IN THE MAKING OF MY “ART”. I DON’T PEEP THROUGH WINDOWS. WHERE IS THE PLEASURE IN THAT? I AM NOT A STALKER, OR A VOYEUR. I AM SIMPLY SHARING AN EXPERIENCE, A LIFE AS IT HAPPENS.

THINK OF ME AS AN INVISIBLE BROTHER OR UNCLE OR BOYFRIEND. I’M NO TROUBLE.

What disturbed me about Hemings’ antics was that it tapped into a deep rooted phobia of my very own. On occasion over the years I’ve come home to an empty flat or house and had a strange instinct that it felt like someone had been there before I arrived. A smell of coffee, a burnt match or just a scent that I don’t recognise. But then I just cast it out of my mind. This book evoked that memory and I wonder if others who read it have had similar experiences?

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Do not disturb: Welcome to Hotel Babylon

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Last weekend, staying in my friend’s cottage in Sale, I had the luxury of being able to read the book Hotel Babylon into the wee small hours. The next day the tell-tale marks of reading late had taken its toll on my face. I had bags under my eyes like a spaniel’s ears. But it was worth it.

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The manager of an exclusive luxury hotel (known as Anonymous) exposes the goings on in the trade. Imogen Edwards-Jones sculpts a career’s worth of experience and anecdotes from Mr. A into one action-packed day, told through the eyes of a ‘receptionist’. Each of the 24 chapters narrates the events of a single hour, from 7 am Friday to 7 am Saturday.

THE STAY:

It is a 24 hour trawl through the decadence, depravity and downright debauchery of the hotel industry. After paying an astronomically large fee for a room, guests feel this gives them an immediate licence to be rude and obnoxious. The polite, respectable citizen can be transformed into an ignoramus who thinks they can act however they choose.

Something strange occurs to guests as soon as they check in, even if in real life they are perfectly well-mannered, decent people with proper balanced relationships, as soon as they spin through the revolving hotel doors the normal rules of behavior no longer seem to apply.

The reader is taken absolutely everywhere in the hotel, from the reception area to the back offices, the exclusive bar, restaurant, kitchens and of course the varied rooms from the ludicrously extravagant to the over-priced boxes. It is a candid observation of what really goes on behind the painted smiles of sycophantic members of staff.

Lavish drug parties, calculating call girls, nude guests, massive telephone porn bills and bathtubs filled with Evian, it’s all here. The residents’ swimming in a lake of liquor, mounds of cocaine and unadulterated raw sex. The reader is plunged into a double shift crammed with outrageous incidents, requests and scandals. And the cast of characters are memorable, dictator-like chefs, cleaners curling up to catch a sneaky 40 winks, vamps, tramps and dead bodies.

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I would remind anybody who is tempted to try the ‘white worm’ – commonly called cocaine – to really think about snorting unknown powder. The so-called glamour of this drug is highlighted with the rock band who end up with diarrhea and have to wipe their bottoms on curtains once the paper has run out.

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If you would like to spend more time in the world of the hotelier, I would recommend seeing the fabulous vintage film Grand Hotel. Further reading could include Arnold Bennett’s The Grand Babylon Hotel published in 1902. This expose depicts what the staff and guests of a luxury establishment get up to.

Nothing much has really changed!

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Watching the painter, painting

On the eve of showing new work at Candid Arts in Islington, London, ten minutes hate caught up with Chester-born artist Gary Roberts to talk paint, influences and rebel kids.

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10mh: Tell us about the exhibition.

My new collection of paintings is homage to the rebel kids. I have investigated themes such as nature vs nurture, sibling rivalry and the pressure of masculinity in a man’s youth. The work is autobiographical and covers the story of my brother and I and the different paths we have chosen in life.

10mh: Which creative people do you feel have influenced your work?

Stephen King has been a huge inspiration to me. He is an incredible character writer; he has taught me the values of hidden depths. Each portrait I paint you can take at face value, but the viewer also has the option to explore the layers to get the characters back story.

Joni Mitchell has also influenced my work. She has mastered the art of the autobiographical piece without it sounding too self-gratifying.

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10mh: Can you remember the first thing you painted?

I went to a very religious school. Whenever we would do bible studies there was always an opportunity to draw some disturbing imagery, usually drenched in blood. I think I have the Bible to thank for my love of the macabre and the grotesque.

10mh: Do you have a ritual/routine before an exhibition opens?

I try my best to have a day off before I show my work. I will meditate, catch up on sleep, and walk my dogs. Anything to centre me. The work is very personal to me and putting it out in the world can be a very daunting task. So I try to be in the best possible place, mentally.

10mh: If you had to be a colour of paint what would you be and why?

I would be flesh tint. That way I could be 100s of colours at once.

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10mh: What music do you play in the studio?

Music is very important to me. I listen to Radio 6 Music most of the time. Alternative music is the place to go if you enjoy something sonically creative. The mainstream doesn’t excite me as it used to. Other than that – Kate Bush, Laura Marling, Father John Misty, Haim, Hole, Madonna, Kings of Leon, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, Baroque music. If nothing is stimulating me musically I stick on an audiobook. Ideally I would like to read and paint at the same time but that’s pretty much impossible.

10mh: If you could meet just one artist who would it be and why?

Joni Mitchell (Well, she’s technically an artist as well). And I would ask her the exact location of The Mermaid Café.

Roberts finished a degree at Liverpool John Moores University and studied under Dutch portrait artist Ed Van Der Kooy in The Hague.

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The New Artist Fair runs between 27th-29th March at Candid Galleries.

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Sandi Hughes’ Vie en Rose

What a funky lady Ms. Sandi Hughes happens to be.

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She has been documenting the LGBT gay scene in Liverpool since the seventies. Sandi is currently in the process of developing her archive to exhibit her work in the Pool of Life; the very waters she has swam and danced through.

I meet lots of people to interview for ten minutes hate, but I must confess this was my first meeting scheduled to last for only 45 minutes that turned into five hours! Time that seemed like five minutes and climaxed with a little boogie-woogie in a discotheque to Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda. In between striking a few poses, ten minutes hate managed to ask this maverick lady a few questions about her creative work and what makes her tick.

10mh: Sandi, can you describe your archive in five words?

Liverpool stories in my house.

10mh: If your life had a soundtrack what tunes would you have to include?

Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed
Four Door Aventador – Nicki Minaj
Billie Jean – Shinehead
Same Love – Angel Haze
Feeling Good – Nina Simone
You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) – Sylvester
Selassie Love We – Vybz Kartel
I Feel Love – Diana Ross
La Vie En Rose – Grace Jones
Rigor Mortis (I Love You) – Flesh and Bones
Can’t Knock the Hustle – Jay-Z
Sexy Chick – David Guetta ft Akon
Have U Eva – MC Lyte

10mh: LGBT history has gone through many changes, what have been the standout moments for you?

The Capital of Culture paying me to film Liverpool’s Black Gay stories, being able to adopt kids and get married, Liverpool Pride, UK Black Pride, Homotopia, featuring in the Lord Mayor’s Parade, Museum of Liverpool representing transgender stories (2014) and LGBT stories (2015).

10mh: If you had to be a type of food what would you be?

A pistachio nut.

10mh: The best piece of advice so far?

‘Don’t believe everything you hear.’ Jayne Casey.

10mh: Who are your LGBT heroes and heroines?

Myself! Lady Sian, Tracy Wilder, Gary Everett, Elaine Clarke, Holly Johnson, Frank Mason, Chris Bernard, Frank Clarke, Shaun Duggan, Tony Burns, Jennifer Johns, Peter Tatchell, Lady Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Queen Latifah.

10mh: What are your plans for 2015?

  •  Capture the love again and go deeper with my girlfriend

  • Finish Level 2 Music Technology in the City of Liverpool College and carry on to Level 3

  • Produce an exhibition with my LGBT video archive for the Museum of Liverpool

  • Take the above exhibition to the gay cinema in Chicago

  • DJ in the Hector Peterson Residential Home for the LB unseen party (which will be shown in the Museum of Liverpool in April

  • DJ at the Kaya Art festival in August in South Wales

  • Produce an album of soundtrack to fit the moving images of my video archives

  • DJ at Sound City Liverpool.

Keep on dancing Ms. Hughes. Let that glitter ball keep on spinning!

You can hear Sandi’s work on Mixcloud.

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The Peculiarium

Family portraits are some of the most surreal forced expressions of togetherness. All aching smiles and laboured enthusiasm. In some cases to hide deep rooted resentment and bitter tears. All together now for a brief moment and then the picture is uploaded and thrown onto the net, for we are all now our own Public Relations agents.

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I came across the work of Colin Batty in a newspaper and this led me to further investigate the curious, the bizarre collected in The Peculiarium. His images are like a photographic depiction of a Victorian-esque Twin Peaks world.

Nothing is what it seems! 

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The teenage girl metamorphosing into a caterpillar.

slug boy

The sailor boy uniformed smart with groomed curls hiding a slug like tale.

hairy bat legged twins

The hairy bat legged twins.

The works are a series of cabinet cards – late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century formal portraits – which he modifies painstakingly by hand.

The photos suggest their own stories, some are just crying out for me to stick something in there.

People are obsessed with oddities and creating them. I recall being in a music festival in Scotland, a guy went into one of the Portaloo cabins. It was blazing heat so he wore only a kilt and a six-pack stomach that had long been lost, shaped now by six packs of cheap lager. His troop of friends, very kindly decided whilst their buddy was making his toilet that they would tip up the booth. After lots of jovial laughter and angry cries from inside the upturned box, the chap emerged from the wreckage all blue, laced with wet, used toilet paper and other foreign objects. He looked like a 1970s Dr Who monster. People knew to stare at this oddity was wrong but still did. Alas at least a little water (really a sharp strong shower) would rob him of this deed. However, it was one day into a four day festival and I hazard a guess by the drunken clan that they would not be ‘glamping’, but sleeping where they fell down.

This obsession with things that look out of place, can be excellently illustrated in cinematic classics, Freaks and The Elephant Man. In modern times look at the rise of the reality show, the odder the behaviour the higher the ratings.

I think I may take inspiration from Batty and re-visit some of my own family albums. I am sure that the odd distant relative could benefit from a bit of a freak up. After all, one of my Dad’s side actually sold the house of forty years and blew her kids’ inheritance on her very own re-maintenance programme. Now she looks younger than a foetus!

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Margin notes: bird by bird by Anne Lamott

I wonder if every writer gets to this page in Anne Lamott’s bird by bird:

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And then looks over one shoulder and wonders exactly how Ms. Lamott can see inside their heads.

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The words of the prophets are written on the (Subway) walls

Sometimes a simple statement, a simple phrase, can have maximum impact. Less can indeed be sometimes more. A match when struck and left on a pile of paper can cause an inferno. I find graffiti can have a similar effect on me. Just glancing over a statement can play on my mind for the rest of the day.

To complement the fabulous art galleries in Liverpool like the Fallout Factory, TATE and the Walker – to name but a few – there is another type of canvas on display all around the Pool of Life. Art pieces randomly pop up creating an external gallery populated by the graffiti artist.

Happiness is a journey

As a lover of words it is the notable turns of phrase picked up on the streets that really have a deep impact on me. Like, for example, the ‘Happiness is a journey, not a destination’ painted in bold yellow on Maryland Street. ‘Dream Big, Dare to fail.’ Found etched in gaffer tape in the window of a College. Or the simple ‘Money eats brain.’ I first encountered this simple piece of syntax walking past a disused public toilet by the St. Georges Hall. It made me chuckle and really think about how cash can in fact rot the cranium.

There is also a Banksy in Liverpool. I still to this day mourn the loss of the giant rat that was sadly annihilated by property developers, like so many beautiful things in Liverpool.

Banksy rat

We also have our own spray can legend, TOMO.

While the student club BUMPER always offers advice outside on its billboard. Just before term erupted last September there was the warning:

HIDE THE NOODLES, THE STUDENTS ARE COMING

and recently in the aftermath of the Christmas selfie avalanche that bamboozled the internet:

Ann Summers has been selling selfie sticks for years.

I am aware the influence pointing out graffiti art has had on my ten year-old niece, as we bomb around the city together on a Saturday.

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The ginger minx presented me with a drawing of her own.

heartair balloon

Shame the kid wants to be an accountant. Apologies to people who work in finance and the world of filthy lucre, but let’s just get one thing straight, all the worlds’ top economists and financial experts did not predict or see the triple dip recession coming at all. An equation that for me simply does not add up!

Please keep your eyes on the hunt for any interesting pieces of street art and let ten minutes hate know. And you will soon see that sometimes the City’s best galleries can be outside on the very streets.

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