Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of Tunbridge Wells

The Affection Unit takes me on a date to a public toilet in Tunbridge Wells. It's now a tiny club, which is hosting a set by Florrie, the new Xenomania act (hint: boyfriend is music journalist. According to me the members of Xenomania are Betty Boo, Betty Boo and Betty Boo. This is what gets me A Sharp Look).

But it's very exciting being in Tunbridge Wells. We are surrounded by tiny children dressed like they're the Mini Pops auditioning for Skins (Vintage cardigans: still so in if teemed with tights and nothing else).

It turns out there's a support act. The support act are White Boi Rappers who bound around yelling "Brap" and "Skank". "Are you going to die?" asks Affection Unit. I later look up the word "Brap". Urban Dictionary tells me: "A sound uttered when a heavy tune comes on usually heard in garage raves. Combine with gunfingers for best results." Which explains the strange hand gestures they kept making. AU points out that they're so young, they probably have never heard of Ali G, which kind of makes it all right. Their mums are standing right behind us. They are doing wedding dancing. With gunfingers.

The rapping young tories are accompanied by a girl. She's got an amazing voice and looks magnificently bored. At the end of the set she sulks away into the night, while the rest of the band stand around looking very pleased with themselves. "We're FS! We're FS! Look us up!" they keep saying. They don't appear to realise that FS is the name of a gay educational magazine about STDs. (AU checks twitter - apparently they are also called FSteam so may be aware of the confusion).

They are followed by another support act. It's a female singer who does really nice twirly folk, surrounded by men in tweed playing guitars. FS's mothers shake their heads sadly. I think it's rather nice.

Then nothing happens for an hour. During this time, the girls-wearing-cardigans-as-dresses are gradually joined by a lot of men who are tall and rather rugged with exciting facial hair and very large arms. There is still no sign of Florrie, but the view is very nice.

At this point, I have to leave to get the last train home. I never get to see Florrie. But I do get a text to tell me that she is amazing and that the bearded men have all taken their tops off and are dancing in their vests. I have left my boyfriend in Tunbridge Wells surrounded by hot bears. And that is my Friday night. Hmmmn.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Free Man

Spent a lovely week in Portmeirion.

I was fascinated by Clough Williams-Ellis, the village's creator. He comes across as carefully eccentric - everything about the place was invented, even the name (it was originally called something like Chilly Mouth, but Clough picked something a bit grander, but couldn't quite decide on a pronunciation).

Clough built it on a patch of land near an Uncle's estate, and made the most out of the microclimate, creating England's first purpose-built holiday village. Royalty came, Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit there, everyone was charmed by the basket-weaving hermit in the woods. It was a nice little folly that Clough picked away at in between proper work.

Then the bombshell dropped. The resort was actually making a lot of money. Wife and daughter tactfully realised that, as it was a business, it should behave like one. The dour cheese-pairing hotel manageress was replaced with a flamboyant man with a parrot called Agatha who worked the guests with charm.

Portmeirion already had a shop, but the takings tended to disappear - this was probably related to the discovery that the charming Moroccan barman slept there at nights. Instead, private garages in the villas were done away with, replaced with shops. But what were the shops to sell? Clough's daughter had a brainwave and invented Portmeirion Pottery, which soon became an internationally famous Welsh pottery brand. Curious, as she had it all shipped in from Stoke-on-Trent.

Clough was a great proponent of proper town design. Stalin offered him the role of his chief town planner, but Clough was disturbed by how much he liked the great dictator and instead contented himself with creating Stevenage. He did more than anyone else to create laws for listed buildings and planning permission - but at the same time made sure he was able to work without them at Portmeirion. Similarly, he established the Snowdownia National Park to preserve the Welsh countryside... but ensured that its borders skirted around Portmeirion.

There is a convenient fiction that it was originally established as an artisan's community, but it was always a holiday resort, and one that daytrippers flocked to. The entry price fluctuated according to demand, with a sign outside saying "In order to discourage visitors, the entry price today is __. If you wish to avoid this impost, kindly turn around".

The idea for a holiday resort was ripped off by Billy Butlin, who established a cheap-n-cheery version at Pwllheli. This was requisitioned from him during the war, and afterwards the Pwllheli town council used Clough's planning laws in order to block its reopening. They'd never cared for Butlins, and invited Clough along to the subsequent enquiry - Butlin had nicked his idea and built a tawdry resort, surely he'd be against it? Instead, Clough announced pointed out that Butlins' customers had been through a horrible war and surely they deserved a holiday? To each according to his need, and all that...

Mind you, when Clough discovered the trustees of his Uncle's estate was planning on turning the castle bordering Portmeirion into a home for wayward youth, the businessman in him swiftly decided it would be much better as another hotel.

Clough was a Welsh noble of a certain era that never actually spoke the language. Nowadays the resort is proudly Welsh and staffed by the nicest, most crisply-efficient people you could wish to meet. It's also baking hot in February. Which is surely impossible, but also beautiful.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

BBC Cult saved

You've probably seen this link already. If you'd like your very own copy of the BBC Cult site, you can download it from there.

From an intellectual copyright point of view... No, I have no idea whether this is infringement, piracy, or the bravest piece of online archive rescue ever pulled off. But it's made me happy.

Interestingly, I quietly enquired at the BBC whether it was possible to have a copy of my site before it was gone and was told it would be too tricky. Or, er, not.