Combating mediocrity in the modern world…

Quite a lot of peculiar stuff

Odd ramblings on some specific topics including (but not limited to): Philosophy, Antiques, Fashion & Style, Modern (or Postmodern if you prefer) life, Depression & Mental health and whatever else takes my fancy. Like it or don't. Use the menus up there to see posts in specific categories or just read through the latest blog posts. Do whatever you want, I'm not telling you how to live your life... Oh and if you try to comment about SEO stuff or try to sell me anything, I'll just ignore you.


Tips for selling on ebay

Well, I’ve been doing a bit of research into selling silver items on ebay and have noticed a few things which may help to maximise the final valuation on listings. I’m not sure about the psychology behind it, having read a couple of academic articles about the psychology of selling on ebay.

I’ve sold a few things on ebay in my time and have put starting prices to reflect an absolute minimum that I would want to accept for whatever the item is (I sold a lot of camera lenses in the past and am currently listing a few smaller pieces of silver). I recently sold a C19th mahogany scotch chest which I just needed to get out of the house. I was going to get rid of it to a charity shop which sell large pieces of furniture but instead thought I would list it up at 99p start. I thought that whoever would collect it would be doing me a favour so I wasn’t really all that bothered about getting much cash for it. By the end of the auction, it had 60 watchers, the page had 350+ views and it went for about £90. That’s not too bad, considering that I wouldn’t think it would attract much attention – the chest was is fair condition, but it wasn’t anything special.

While I was listing my items yesterday, I decided to start them at 99p each. Anyone interested can see my listed items here. Having finished listing them I had a quick look at one of my saved searches for hallmarked silver. There were quite a few big lots which were going for some good money. I had a look at the bids and lo & behold, the seller had started them all at 99p. These were lots which were worth a few hundred pounds. And the final prices were in the hundreds of pounds. Now, they were very good lots. Museum pieces, some of them, so not in the same league as my little list. The lesson that I found very hard to learn was that if you’re trying to sell a high-value piece on ebay, it’s a better idea to list it with a very low start price than the minimum price you’d like to get.

In the past I have started items out at something near their actual value and found it hard for them to get started. Maybe the very low start price gets people interested and encourages them to start watching and then bidding. Once you have their interest, they become involved with the auction and find it easier to bid and easier to bid to higher levels. This is just a little theory of mine and I will find out at the end of the week whether my approach has worked. Of course, in the true spirit of science, I’m going to say that “more research needs to be done”. Here’s hoping that my theory works…..

Plans for the garden this Spring

Well, it seems that the gardening season is well and truly upon us here in South East England. I know the danger of frost isn’t completely gone, as we can still get the occasional freak cold snap in March, but the mild climate down here makes regular cold spells unlikely. We had such a warm March and April last year that hardening off the seedlings only took a couple of days – and that’s from being grown indoors on a bright windowsill. There were times when I didn’t even bother to harden the seedlings off, it was warm enough to just put them straight outside! I’m not expecting this Spring to be quite as warm as last year, but even without the warm weather, it’s still mild enough to get outside and start doing some work.

Plant support

These plant supports can be very easily made at home.

Now I’m a great believer in the value of preparation in the garden. The more preparation I can do now, the less remedial work I will need to do later in the season. I’ve already got the plant supports up around some of the perennials in the garden – something which I didn’t get round to doing last year and ended up regretting. I use generic climbing support which comes in a roll. Cut it to size and form it into a cylinder then wire the overlap together to make sure it keeps its shape. Then I just thread bamboo canes through the mesh and into the ground around taller perennials. It saves having to make messy supports later in the season. The plants will grow through the mesh and hide it somewhat so that by the time summer comes around, everything will be fairly tidy and you won’t notice the supports as much. It also has the effect of discouraging cats from digging up newly planted perennials.

As I have mentioned in my previous blog post, I have a large project to be getting on with this year, so I’ll mainly be concentrating on bare maintenance in the rest of the garden. That still leaves quite a lot of maintenance work to do though. A lot of my plants are in containers which means that they’ll need top dressing and feeding this Spring. It’s still a little early for my liking to do this just yet – while things are beginning to emerge, I prefer to leave it until the end of March / beginning of April when things are really beginning to get going. There shouldn’t be too much growth at that time, which makes top dressing easier, and the plants will be starting to return to proper growth and will take advantage of the added nutrition.

Normally I would be getting on with soil improvement around this time of year as well, and I’ll certainly be digging in lots of compost into the top border which I’m renovating, but I’ll do that as I go along. The only other border in the garden is a raised bed next to the wine terrace. I’m not going to do much in the way of soil improvement in that border this year; it was only replanted last Spring / Summer so I’m going to allow it to get established before I start disturbing things. I’ll probably give the roses a slow-release feed this year (I usually dig a shallow “trench” around the plants, scatter some fish blood & bone into it, then lightly work it into the soil before backfilling and tidying), but most of the rest of the plants should be able to cope with the soil which was conditioned when they went in last year.

I’m also cutting down on the seedlings this year. I grew a lot of stuff from seed last year, including some interesting vegetables from Franchi seeds. They have a very interesting range of unusual vegetables and although the packets cost a little more than others, they are very reliable germinators and you get a lot  of seeds in the packets, so they’re great for sharing with other gardeners. I’m expecting fairly dry conditions again this year, so I’m not going to grow as much in the way of thirsty vegetables. Even though I have two water butts (both of which are up to the brim at the moment), I know that I will soon be praying for rain! My concession is that I might pick up a couple of soft fruit bushes which can go in the top border and undergo a strict regime of neglect until late summer.

Well, that’s probably more than enough to keep everyone interested in what’s happening in the garden today, so I’d better get off out and start the proper work. There’s lots to do.

Taking Stock of the Garden now Spring has Arrived

With the recent fair weather I’ve had a chance to take stock of the Garden now that Winter is over. I’ve had a few losses, mainly the tender perennials, so I’m not too bothered by those, and it gives me a chance to put something more permanent in the ground.

I suppose I should describe the garden before I go on to writing anything else about it, shouldn’t I? We have a fairly long garden by London standards. I don’t know how long as I’ve never measured it! It’s split into three areas: a courtyard by the front door, a patio at a higher level which catches the sun from late morning until nightfall (also know rather pretentiously and jokingly as “The Wine Terrace”), and then we have the top end of the garden, which has a tarmac drive bordered on one side by a lawn and the other by a long border.

The Courtyard Garden

All of the plants in the courtyard garden are in pots. There are no borders at all and the ground is paved, so if we want to get any colour in there, it has to be in pots. We decided to go for a white theme to the flowering plants as it doesn’t get an awful lot of sun and thought that would lighten it up a bit. We get hot, almost scorching midday sun across one side of the small courtyard while the other side gets no direct sunlight at all. This creates quite a challenging area to plant, but one which is quite rewarding as it offers the opportunity to get a good bit of variation into the garden. Having plants in pots also allows a bit more control over what can be planted, and sulking specimens can always be moved if they’re in the wrong place.

A distance photo of the wine terrace, with the trees which have now been removed on the left.

The wine terrace has one small raised border and is surrounded with a fence on one side, the landlord’s workshop on another and the other two sides are enclosed with trellis with small retaining walls creating a single L-shaped planter. A selection of climbing roses, Wisterias and summer Jasmine climb up the trellis, but were only planted last year, so they’re really only just getting established now. I have a collection of different Yorkshire Flowerpots and Whichford Pottery planters with a range of different plants in them, including roses, camellias and assorted perennials. The border is a mix of perennials and roses, with a few climbers (mainly Clematis and Trachelospermum jasminoides) pinned against the fence.In the last couple of years I’ve renovated the wine terrace and planted up the courtyard but this year I’m going to be working on the top garden. We had three trees cut down from the top garden last year, which has opened up the light enormously. The border to the left of the drive needs some major renovation, so that’s what I’ll be concentrating on. There will certainly be a lot of tree root to clear away and many of the plants which had been in the border have either died or overgrown their space. The soil will need a lot of improvement, so it’s a good job that I have my three compost bins at the far end to the garden. I’m going to need a lot of organic matter to dig into the border to get the soil back to some sort of quality where it’s able to sustain growth! So, with that description, I’ve probably give you a good idea of what the garden looks like at the moment. When the weather’s a little better, I’ll try to take some pictures of the top garden and post them up. It’s in a bit of a state at the moment, although I have seen much worse in my time. It definitely needs a lot of work to bring it up to scratch.

The Best Steak in London and a Complicated Farce

Thursday was my tenth wedding anniversary, and a wonderful day it was too. Following the theme of “trying to get more out of living so close to the centre of London”, my wife had booked tickets to see Noises Off! at the Old Vic theatre (shortly moving to the Gielgud I believe). We had to find a restaurant for dinner which wasn’t too far from the theatre and would serve us fairly quickly (always one of the difficulties of mid-week theatre-going, unless you want to grab fast food, which wasn’t really suitable for this occasion).

We opted for the Skylon restaurant, in the Royal Festival Hall, which we’d never been to before, but was running one of the Evening Standard promotions (two course & a glass of wine for £20). The restaurant is enormous, with high ceilings, set in the front of the festival hall, and was very busy when we went. Our table wasn’t immediately ready, so we were ushered to the bar for drinks. It was a bit cramped in the bar, which was basically an “island” in the middle of the room. There wasn’t an awful lot of room to move around, but we didn’t expect to be there for very long, so we didn’t mind too much. It was only about 10 minutes before we were called to our table (how do they do that, they seem to know exactly who to go to, even in a room full of people?). We were given a window table, in a corner right next to the waiters’ station, which was perfect. The view across the Thames, with the Savoy across the river and nightfall wrapping around the city, was wonderful.

Sadly, being gluten sensitive, there was nothing on the set menu which I could eat, so we chose from the á la Carte menu. Having expected the set meal, I was conscious of the price difference in the á la carte, so I chose the cheapest steak from the grill – the Onglet steak. I’ve never had onglet steak before, but I was delighted with what I got. I ordered it rare, and a little while later I was presented with two enormous pieces of steak with the tiniest of watercress salads (more of a garnish than a salad really). Oh my god, it was the best steak I’ve eaten in London. It was full of flavour, not like those insipid but extortionate fillets. It had more flavour than a ribeye and was much more tender – no veins of gristle here. The middle of the steak had that purple, slightly jelly-like texture while the outside was slightly blackened and full of flavour. I would definitely recommend the onglet steak to anyone who’s a fan of full-flavour rare beef.

We had our coffees and made a slow wander towards the theatre, which was maybe ten minutes on foot. I’ve never been to the Old Vic before and found the lobby and bar very busy and cramped. The seats, however, were fairly comfortable and we had a good view from the stalls.

Noises Off! is a brilliantly funny light-hearted lift. Selsdon almost steals the show in the first act...

So, the play itself… I’m in a bit of a difficult position here, as I don’t know how to describe it without spoiling the plot. Brilliantly funny is one way, I suppose, but not very descriptive… Broadly speaking, it’s a farce about a play which is itself a farce. The first act sees the cast on the night before opening, running through a technical rehearsal of the play. The second act sees the backstage during a mid-season performance, and the final act returns to front stage as the season draws to a close. The first act gently introduces the plot of the play which is being rehearsed, while the second is all done in almost complete silence backstage. This really tests the cast’s physical / slapstick skills and I thought was the funniest and most intricate part of the play (it won’t spoil anything if I say “watch out for the cactus”…). The final act sees everything falling apart onstage, as the relationships between the actors completely collapse.

I’m conscious that my description of the play is woefully inadequate, and that there are other websites which go into the plot in greater detail, but I think I wouldn’t have enjoyed the play anywhere near as much had I known the full plot. It’s good to have that fresh mind to come to the play, so with that, I don’t want to go into it in too much detail. Suffice to say that it was brilliantly funny and shows off the astounding talent of the cast. If you’ve not seen this yet, it’s well worth getting tickets while it’s still on.

Not a very good start to the day really…

Depression can be a difficult thing to describe, not least because its symptoms vary from sufferer to sufferer. One person may experience anxiety and become defensive or aggressive while another may withdraw from social contact. One person might experience anxiety in one phase of depression, then social withdrawal in another. This is oversimplifying the condition by an enormous extent, but I think it shows a point. There are some vague patterns to depression but every episode can be different and not all symptoms are experienced at the some time.

Churchill famously described his depression as his “black dog”, now a euphemism which has almost become a cliché. I don’t find such euphemisms helpful at all. They reinforce the taboo that depression and mental health are things which shouldn’t be talked about openly. Instead we should talk about it in hushed tones, using some sort of secret language lest someone find out what we are talking about. This just isn’t right, not to my sensibilities.

One of the other difficulties in trying to explain depression is that while it is possible to describe the symptoms and explain how I am feeling, it is difficult to actually show someone how it feels to be depressed. Language can go some way to describing depression but it simply can’t allow someone to experience what someone is going through.Accepting these limitations, I’m going to try to explain what I’m going through in this particular episode of depression.

Today I find myself experiencing some of the classical signs of depression. I just can’t find the energy to motivate myself to do anything today and my mood is quite low. Some people reading this will think that sounds very much like a teenage strop – I just can’t be bothered to do anything today. It’s quite a bit more complicated than that. It’s not a case of laziness (although there are times when I could be rightly accused of that…).

Nothing interests me today. I can often find something that I enjoy a lot of the time, but today that has all gone. I’m usually quite a foodie but I’m not really finding anything appealing. I enjoy watching films or playing pc games most of the time but I just can’t find anything interesting in them today. I enjoy photography and we’ve just had a snowfall so there are lots of good photo chances, but I just don’t have the desire or energy to do that today. It’s almost as if the whole drudgery of life has come bearing down on me and I feel like I’m condemned to an endless cycle of dreary, repetitive encounters or tasks. Something as simple as washing a few cups and the saucepan which presently resides in the sink will take quite a bit of effort, when usually I would just wash them and that would be that. Even trying to concentrate enough to write this post is difficult.

I’ve already mentioned laziness and I want to try to explain that I’m not just being lazy. I’m not quite sure why that perception has arisen in me and why it causes me concern – maybe it’s the perception that someone reading this might look at what I’m doing today and think “Well he’s just being lazy isn’t he? He needs to get up off his arse and pull himself together.” Of course if it were as simple as just pulling yourself together, these episodes need never happen.

I think I’ve written all I can for the moment. I know there is more to write, but I just can’t concentrate enough to make my writing make any sort of sense, so I’m going leave this part-finished. It’s such a delicate thing to try to explain that I don’t want to mess things up by writing nonsense and losing what few readers I already have… I’ll return to it when I have a bit more energy.


The Little Book of Trite Aphorisms

Well, maybe someone might have noticed my twitter feed down there on the right. There are a few mentions of Wisdom of the Undressed and The Little Book of Trite Aphorisms, so I thought I would explain what it’s all about.

I’m a relatively new initiate in the Twittersphere, and I’ve noticed quite a few followers whose biography has a link to some sort of porn website. This was going on for a couple of months, basically since I joined. Now, I have to say that this bothers me. I’m not particularly prudish in myself but I kinda don’t want spammers following me. I doubt very much that the followers are genuine… I suspect they’re bots which have been automatically programmed to tweet every so often.

The Wisdom of the Undressed

I have noticed that the spammers generally fall into two categories. The first consists of ones who have a porn link in their profile and just try following lots of people but don’t tweet anything. The second category have the same porn links in their profile, follow lots of people and tweet pseudo-philosophical nonsense. I’m completely baffled by these posts. They range in content from attempts at advice, via trite clichés to meaningless nonsense. The only reason I can think for these posts is that the spammers think they give the tweeter some sort of depth or intelligence. Quite frankly it doesn’t work.

For the first couple of weeks, I just blocked the spammers. Then I blocked them and reported them as spam. I don’t think it’s ever going to stop, but at least I feel like I’m doing my bit to keep some of the accounts offline. Then I decided that there might be some sort of comedy value in some of these tweets, so I decided to take screenshots of the posts on my phone and upload them to tumblr under a blog entitled The Little Book of Trite Aphorisms. One of my favourite posts is included over on the left there… I decided to use tumblr for a blog, rather than another wordpress site, as it seems a little more basic and the medium works well for my needs. I also wanted to keep it separate from my main blog here, which is for a more varied collection of posts. The only major gripe that I have is that I can’t see how many hits I’ve had on tumblr and no-one is posting any notes or comments just yet, so I have no clue to the levels of traffic.

Well, I hope you drop by and have a look at The little Book of Trite Aphorisms and enjoy what’s there. At the time of writing this blog, I only have twelve “Gurus” spouting forth their wise words. I have no doubt that the number will gradually increase. If you have a chance to browse over there, I’d love to hear some feedback – you can post a comment either here or on one of the tumblr posts over there.

Welsh Pottery and Antique Madness…

Well it looks like this week is going to be an interesting one for the antiques diary. I’m off out to Bonham’s in London (I’m actually not sure which branch…) for a book launch and lecture on early C19th Welsh Pottery. Jonathan Gray, a colleague of my wife’s, is an expert on Swansea pots and is launching his new book, “The Cambrian Company, Swansea Pottery in London 1806-1808″ and we have an invitation to the event. He recently launched the book in the US market at Christie’s in New York, which was very well-received.

I have to admit that I’m not very knowledgeable about Welsh Pottery. It’s quite a specialist area of expertise and seemingly very collectible. I have a copy of the book on order, which I will be interested to have a look at. If you’re interested in getting hold of a copy, you will be able to get it online from at some point in the near future. The website isn’t up and running just yet, so if you’d like a copy, you can always send me a request and I will pass it on to the author… In the meantime, I’ll post a review of the book launch and lecture soon.

I have a couple of pieces of Silver which I'm hoping will do well

Saturday the 4th of February sees another auction at one of my nearby auction houses, P.F. Windibank. I have a couple of pieces of silver in the auction this time, which I’m hoping will do well: a hallmarked George III Silver creamer, which I think is a fine piece of work, and two pieces of Richard Comyns hallmarked silver – an oval tea caddy and a round salt. I’ve been to this auction house quite a few times but only as a buyer. This is really my first proper foray into selling at auction. I say “proper” as I have sold at auction before, but it was only a small piece of pottery which didn’t cost much (and equally didn’t make much!). This is the first time I’ve properly sought to sell something with the express intention of making a profit, so it is my first foray into trading at auction.

Of course, this all sounds very charming and along the lines of the BBC’s Bargain Hunt programme. I think the reality of antique trading at auction is something quite different. For a start, you need to take into account auction fees, which seem to only rarely be mentioned. When buying, you have to account for anywhere between 12.5% and 25% buyers’ premium on top of the hammer price. There is then VAT (currently charged at 20%) charged on the buyer’s premium. When selling, you also pay commission (plus VAT) on the hammer price and there may be a few other costs involved as well. Most auction houses will value your items free of charge, so that needn’t necessarily be something to account for. At Windibank’s there is also a charge for including photos and description of the items on the online catalogue (just a small, flat fee) and a 1% fee of the hammer price to cover for insurance.

There's always a degree of uncertainty when you sell at auction

Once you include fees, you’ll see that it can be quite difficult to make any profit by buying and selling at auction. I suspect that dealers source their items elsewhere (for example, house clearances) and make their profits by selling directly to their clients, or perhaps retailing to the public. I simply don’t see how you’d be able to make enough profit otherwise. The other issue with selling at auction is that there’s no guarantee what price you’ll receive. The estimates for the two lots which I have put into the auction are realistic, but a lot lower than the price at which I bought them. Having a bit of knowledge about the auction market, I’m confident that they’ll exceed their estimates by quite some way, but there’s no guarantee of that. There’s always a degree of guesswork involved in selling at auction. This being the first auction of the new year, it could go either way; there are fewer silver lots in the auction which could mean that they stand out a little better than usual. Equally, that could mean that fewer buyers are drawn to the auction. Buyers might just be recovering from the financial hangover of Christmas and may be willing to bid, but there may be a few buyers who are still paying off the costs of the holiday season. There are so many variables that it’s difficult to gauge how it’s going to go. I must be bloody insane to be putting my neck out like this!

25 Things

This was originally one of those Facebook memes which did the rounds. You’re supposed to write 25 things about yourself, tag 25 people (so that they can write 25 things about themselves) and then post it. And the interminable chain of diarrhoea goes on and on.

This is my post:

Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app), then click publish.

1. I haven’t filled one of these litte thingies out since the first flush of excitement at having the internet and email in my own home (it was dial-up back in those days).
2.So I have no idea why I’m filling this one out now.
3.And I’ll probably struggle to think of 25 things which are interesting enough, or at least not too embarrassing, to put up here.
4.So again, I have no idea why filling this one out, only I have a different reason now.
5. I have thought of something not too embarrassing, although it may not be very interesting.
6. While I was the goalkeeper for the school U16 hockey team, we lost a match 11-2.
7. That was the last match of hockey I ever played for the school.
8. I’m not particularly fond of hockey anymore.
9. I’m running out of things to put down here.
10. So far, out of ten items on this list, I have probably only given you one actual fact from my life. That’s quite an achievement isn’t it?
11. I am not very good at typing and thinking at the same time. That will probably explain the spelling mistakes in any of my emails or messages.
12. I have an irrational fear of foreigners – this makes me literally xenophobic.
13. I am an accomplished liar (see 12, above).
14. I really am struggling to find anything else to write, and I don’t think I know 25 people who will want to read this nonsense. Oooh, does that count as 2?
15. That doesn’t count as 2, no.
16.I am a lazy creature by nature, so any housework which I do should be recognised as an enormous triumph.
17. I’m going to have to stop making up silly stuff to fill out the rest of this list.
18.It is one of my goals to stop making up silly stuff to fill out the rest of this list.
19. I’m really not sure that number 18 on this list is a realistic goal.
20. I was born in Dudley, which is a good thing as it was close to where my mum was at the time.
21. I have nearly finished this list, and most of you will know no more about me than when you began reading.
22.I have been randomly leaving a space between the numbers on this list and the beginning of the sentence. And none of you noticed did you?
23.I have no words of wisdom for anyone. Ever. So don’t ask.
24. I dislike musicals.
25. I especially dislike musicals about Nuns.

Grayson Perry’s Antiquarian Motorcycle Helmet

I had a spare few hours a couple of days ago. I was in the City with my wife and the British Museum was nearby, so we thought we’d go and have a bit of a nosey.

My wife and I live fairly close to the centre of London. Far enough away to not be stifled by the incessantly fast pace of life, but not too far to make a jolly jaunt feasible. We’ve lived down here for a couple of years and never seem to make the time to DO stuff in the city. There are some of the world’s greatest art galleries, museums and theatres on our doorstep, so this year we have decided to make a conscious effort to take advantage of it all.

I’d never been to the British Museum before. I vaguely remember going to somewhere similar when I was very very young and lived in Northern Ireland. It was either in Dublin or Belfast, I can’t remember which, and I was terrified by the embalmed body of a mummy in one of the cases. So terrified that I had nightmares about it that night. Nothing else stands out in that faded memory, so it was with almost completely fresh eyes that I visited.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer size of the building. Its great Corinthian columns which hold up the edifice could have hewn from rock by giants. The main entrance doors were absolutely dwarfed by the magnificence of the front façade. Once inside, I was in the central hall (The Great Court) which is absolutely cavernous. It is dominated by the museums’ Reading Room which is a building-within-a-building. We bought our tickets for the Grayson Perry exhibition, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, and wandered up the stairs on the outside of the reading room and into the gallery.

The first exhibit is the motorbike which Perry had custom-built for his pilgrimage with Alan Measles (his teddy bear which was given to help his recovery from a childhood illness). This is more of a metaphorical banner for the exhibition than an interesting piece in itself: an avatar for Perry’s chatroom persona. Once inside, the first piece is Perry’s “You are Here” vase, and the usual description board with Perry’s statement of intent as curator of the exhibition. “You are Here” is a witty comment on the exhibition’s potential visitors and sets the tone for the whole experience.

The gallery is divided into several sections, beginning with and introduction to Alan Measles and working its way through Cultural Conversations, Pilgrimage, Religion, Sexuality, Scary Figures and finishing with The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman. It is an amusing, intelligent and refreshing exhibition which combines Perry’s own work with pieces from the British Museum. Some of the best humour comes from the odd juxtaposition of the old and the new. In the first room is a case featuring Perry’s “Early English Motorcycle Helmet”, a cast aluminium helmet reminiscent of an antiquarian artefact straight out of the horde at Sutton Hoo. Made in 1981, it made me do a double-take, thinking it had been mis-labelled. The fault was entirely my own and gives a clue how to approach the rest of the exhibition.

Other notable pieces for me were the tapestry “Map of Truths and Beliefs”, the “Tomb Guardian” and the “Head of a Fallen Giant” from Perry’s own work, although there were many other excellent pieces which I don’t have space to mention here. Of the Museum’s own pieces, I found that the pilgrimage collection and sexuality pieces worked well, though none stood out in the same way as Perry’s work did.

The overall impression that I got from the exhibition was a positive and enjoyable one; Grayson Perry’s work comes across as thoughtful, funny, accessible and articulate. I’ve never seen any of his work before but have been aware of his presence in the media for some time, so it was good to familiarise myself with his art. It doesn’t try too hard but neither does it dumb down. It’s not an enormous, weighty exhibition and Perry’s work was endearing enough to hold my attention from start to finish. This particular exhibition reminds me very much of Julian Cope for some reason. The emphasis on religion / spirituality / pilgrimage, the conflict of male and female aspects of personality and society and the antiquarian nature of the exhibits all provoke that association for me. I would certainly recommend seeing it if you’re in the city and have an hour or so to invest.

A brief confession

I have something to confess. I am a smoker. I am a smoker who loves smoking. I’ve been smoking since I was about 17 (although not “properly” smoking and inhaling until a couple of years later…). That means that I’ve smoked for the whole of my adult life – more than 20 years.

I. Just. Love. Smoking. If I were a poet, I would write an ode to tobacco. If I were a painter, I would paint someone smoking a cigarette, trying to capture that romantic love of tobacco which occasionally makes itself overtly obvious, and which lurks behind the big knot of personal neuroses the rest of the time. It is part of my very being. My identity relies upon it. My day is imbued with it.

My life wouldn’t be the same without it. I love all of the different forms of smoking: cigarettes, cigars and even the pipe. I love all of the different rituals around smoking: when to smoke, how to smoke, what brand of cigarettes someone smokes. I am fascinated by all of the paraphernalia which accompanies smoking: elegant lighters, sophisticated cigarette cases lovingly crafted from precious metals, rolling tobacco, pipe tampers and cleaning instruments. These are all part of the activity of smoking.

I'm fascinated by all the paraphernalia of smoking

I'm fascinated by all the paraphernalia of smoking

I have tried giving up smoking a few times in the past and always ended up miserable without my cigarettes. I felt lost without them. My brain became foggy. I was unable to concentrate. I seemed to become more stupid without them. I felt like a part of my soul had been removed and I was grieving for my loss. It’s as if cigarettes somehow complete me.

And I’m not ashamed of my love for cigarettes either. I feel no sense of guilt in indulging my senses with a packet of cigarettes. Smoking is one of the new social taboos, frowned upon by righteous health evangelists. I resent other people trying to dictate to me what choices I can or cannot make, and I resent the frowns and snide remarks from disapproving micro-dictators who want to control every aspect of my life. I have made the choice (yes, it’s an informed one and I’m aware of the risks) to smoke. The key point here is that it’s a choice. I don’t enforce my smoking (either active or passive) on others, so what’s the issue?

I know that smoking carries a wide range of health risks, but as my dear old Ma says: “You pick your window, don’t you?”. The Government seems to be trying to reduce the number of adults and young children who smoke, but the fact is that the UK economy would crumble if it weren’t for us smokers. An item in The Spectator last year cited the tax revenue from tobacco to be around £9.3bn, while the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses was around £2.7bn. That’s a net income of £6.6bn into the government’s coffers. Do the politicians really want to go for an outright ban on smoking? I sincerely doubt it.

This points to the suggestion that smoking can be a consciously political act. It is at the same time rebellious (against the anti-smoking campaigners) and conformative (as far as the proceeds of tobacco duty are knowingly paid to HMRC or whichever body is legislated to collect tax on behalf of different Governments). I’m not quite sure whether I’m a rebellious smoker or a conformative smoker. For the moment I’ll just call myself a romantic smoker.