Bland Brands @ the Bush

March 9, 2010

So today I finally made it to the Westfield shopping centre at Shepherd’s Bush Green. Very impressive and clean and shiny, but somewhat dull I have to say.

It reminded me of a long stopover at Dallas Airport about 15 years ago, when I sat reading my book, surrounded by people all looking the same and bumbling around like contented zombies.

What struck me most about Westfield is the branding. There are brands and nothing else. No room for inventiveness, no room for individuality, only conformity and conformism. Perhaps something like the Church of England before Methodism.

Still, I was very happy with my chicken noodle soup from Pho, a little Vietnamese chain, whose place in Clerkenwell is a favourite. And I bought a couple of things and the sales people were friendly.

The second thing that struck me after the blandness of the branding, was the nature of the private public space, which is the thing with shopping centres. I’m sure as a young girl out shopping on Shepherd’s Bush Green in the 1930s my mother would have felt she was in an open public space, with a shape of personal freedom that has been clinically removed from the new shopping centres. People must like the security and the security cameras and the security guards and the lack of dirt and tramps and other undesirables, but I couldn’t help wondering quite where I was. I suppose the fact that there was a branch of Boots reminded me I was in England, but otherwise I could have been anywhere else in the galaxy.

Happy shopping, fellow consumers!

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Lively London Life

March 6, 2010

In spite of all the economic uncertainty and political mediocrity, there is much to celebrate culturally. This week in London has been very stimulating.

On Wednesday evening went to the French Institute in South Kensington for the launch of The Invention of Paris, by Eric Hazan. The London author, Iain Sinclair, an old friend of Saskia’s was there in conversation with Eric Hazan. The library was packed with interested and interesting people and the atmosphere refreshingly non-corporate and creatively critical; vive l’entente culturelle!

Then on Thursday evening I cycled on my two-wheeled hack to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn to see my friend Sean Campion play in “The Dead School” I’m not the best audience for theatre, but this was brilliant; fast-moving, funny, sad and sensitive about values and the pace of change in Ireland. Relevant to everyone. The staging was very inventive and good performances from all the cast.

And what’s more they have  a great bar and kitchen with charming staff. A home-cooked quarter pounder and chips for an amazing £3.90!

Last night was Friday, and thanks to Facebook I got a £5 front row seat to hear Emanuel Ax at the Barbican play Chopin, Schumann and a UK première of Thomas Adès’s Three Mazurkas, Op. 27. I could hardly believe my luck as I took my seat about 10 feet away from the Steinway and was able to see Ax’s hands at close quarters. And there was a free programme!

I had never heard Emanuel Ax play before, but what a sensitive performance. He had the score for the Adès piece, but played all the rest from memory. It never fails to amaze me how pianists can remember so much music.

I wish I had an apartment in the Barbican; imagine living above the culture beehive. You could pop downstairs to a concert or a film in two ticks. Pure honey.  And it would be particularly convenient this weekend as I’ll be back there this afternoon for a film about the Thames Liquid History, A Journey along the Thames and London’s Waterways.

Tomorrow, it’s the Barbican again for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. It’s looking good!

And it doesn’t stop, as on Monday lunchtime, I’m hoping to go to a concert at St George’s Hanover Square as part of the London Handel Festival to hear David Allsopp sing Love’s Folly

And going from Handel’s favourite place of worship to mine that evening, I shall carry on with more of his music in Covent Garden for Tamerlano.

So, although we may be going to hell in a handcart, there are certainly some great cultural moments to send us on our way…