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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Margin notes: Dockers and Detectives by Ken Worpole

While the buildings, gardens and artefacts of the pre-industrial world and land-owning classes are studiously preserved, there remains a cavalier attitude to the industrial heritage, and to the material cultures of working class people and the singular worlds they created and inhabited.

Dockers and Detectives Ken Worpole

Folklore has become the last redoubt of working-class identity in many but not all British cities, taking symbolic shape in the streetscapes and landscapes of remembered places.

 

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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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A Late Quartet

It is easy to feel adrift on a tide of mediocrity at times. Easy to heed the words of Oscar Wilde when he said, ‘everything popular is wrong,’ and feel that he had a little premonition of the reality shows, song and dance competitions and CGI mega-franchises we would be enduring.

But then you happen across something so perfect for you and your tired sensibilities that you wonder what the heck the marketing department were thinking in not making the particular work obvious to you at the time it was released. Why on earth did you not know that this film existed until accidentally flicking on to it one grey afternoon almost three years after it was made? So you do a bit of internet digging and realise that there was quite the publicity round and you must have had your head in the sand to miss it.

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The quartet of the title comprises Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a world-renowned group marking their 25th anniversary with a performance of Beethoven’s Opus 131 String Quartet in C-sharp major. It is a famously difficult and complex piece of music, which makes great demands on the players. Preparations are interrupted as Walken’s character, a father figure to the others, announces he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This shock news brings professional rivalries long suppressed to the surface and, as the marriage of Keener and Hoffman’s characters begins to unravel, no member of this de facto family can remain untouched by the conflict.

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It is unashamedly high-brow and I suspect will reward many further viewings. The act of playing this music is a physical and mental challenge closer to what we more commonly associate with Olympic competitors. The effects of such dedication to a craft on professional and personal relationships, on family life and on the body itself – especially as it begins to age – are considered to a depth that Hollywood is often considered incapable of reaching. The women could have been defined by their relationships to the men, with Keener in particular playing daughter, wife, mother and former lover, but she is also a committed professional woman and the one trusted to carry the quartet on.

Although this film is rooted in music and the lives of musicians, there is a lot to compare with other creators, as the actors found.

‘I thought of him as papa,’ Walken said of Peter. ‘I also thought of him as an actor. And especially it all came together in that way at the end, standing on the stage, it might as well have been in a play.’

Hoffman agreed.

I know some actors, they know how to have their life, they can compartmentalise it in a way. But me, things kind of go to pot while I’m doing a show… I think that’s also to me what the film was about. Again, it takes something from you to give on that kind of level. To commit that much. What are you willing to risk? What kind of life are you willing to lead to have that? For any serious person doing this, I think that is a question you have to answer. Or at least know that it’s a question.

If those words are a punch to your gut, knowing of their speaker’s end, his performance here will leave you aching for the loss of him.

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The lengths that the director, Yaron Zilberman, went to to have the performances look realistic are another act of dedication spurred by his love of music, and while professional musicians may not be totally convinced, with my admittedly amateur eyes it was possible to believe in the quartet’s abilities.

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This is a beautiful film, moving around a snowy New York from rehearsal space to concert hall and auction house, with clever, well-conceived things to say about family and performance and living. The characters brought to life by an acting dream team, who are never less than a joy to watch. The effort spent in searching out work of this quality is rewarded by being able to spend time in the world it creates, the viewer leaves it reluctantly, but with plenty to think about.

Christopher Walken in A Late Quartet

As Walken’s character notes, when passing on advice he was given as a younger man to a group of music students:

I can be grateful, and so must you be… for even one singular phrase, one transcendent moment

And I am.

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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.

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

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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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