Sunday, 31 October 2010

Ball Games in Brent

It's the Season of the Witch tonight. Sadly, it is also the season for putting bombs into toner cartridges somewhere in a dusty cess-pit in Yemen and then getting UPS to try and deliver them to Chicago via an airport in Castle Donington.

Fortunately these knavish plans were frustrated and David Cameron has again telephoned Barack Obama, presumably to inform him that the Derbyshire area is not worth visiting. He might also have told him that the UK and the US will continue to stand together to prevent angry men from the Arabian Peninsular blowing us all up.

I have also noticed on television tonight, that an American 'Football' aka 'gridiron' match is taking place at Wembley Stadium, or as I like to call it, the Flatfoot Stadium (it has a fallen arch).

The Denver Broncos are taking on the San Francisco 49'ers approximately 5,000 miles away from home. Personally if I wanted to watch grown men hurling themselves around the place in ridiculous outfits I'd watch Ninja Warrior, but judging by the packed stands it seems that plenty of us Brits are fans of this most American of sports and....well, anything that plays it's part in transatlantic harmony is fine by me.

President Barack Obama is soon to discover how popular he is in his home country as the American's go to the polls for their mid-term elections in a couple of weeks time. I'm not sure what the general mood is over there right now or whether the Democrats will be trounced by the Republicans, the Libertarians, the Tea-Party, the Karaoke Mob or anyone else but I'm just hoping that my flag will have 100 signatures by 2012 otherwise I'm going to have to find a new rhyming title for the project.

Anyway aside from all that, may I be the first person to wish you all a very Happy Halloween/ All-Saint's Day/ Samhain or watever else you call it in your own personal coven.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Signing 3 - Richard Wilson

There's no doubt about it, Richard Wilson, that classically trained star of stage, screen and Tesco Mobile Flat-Rate Tariff voiceovers is one of the nicest individuals that I have ever met and I say that for manifold reasons.

And I say 'manifold' because I love using that word.

Richard becomes the first individual from my list of 500 to have come to my aid twice, the previous time was when he tried to help me win a bet against a friend by shaking my hand in 2005 – it’s a long story (which is available for £9.89 on Amazon)

Having recently finished filming the latest series of Merlin, Richard’s agent Deborah, who turned out to be equally delightful, contacted me to tell me that I would be welcome to catch up with him at their offices in Soho where he would sign my flags.

And so yesterday morning following a healthy bran-based breakfast, which is irrelevant to this story, I found myself walking around Soho’s relatively empty streets at 10.45am. I say empty, there were a few burly, tattooed men who were rolling metal barrels towards pub basements, a couple of media types who had presumably overslept and 47-odd builders who were obviously required to dig up a two meter stretch of Berwick Street.

As I was a few minutes early and a little nervous, I toyed with the idea of knocking back a cheeky glass of whiskey in a local pub but then thought better of it, largely because the pub hadn’t yet opened and I didn’t fancy being arrested under section 9(1)(a) of the Theft Act 1968.

And so I made my way to the front door of the agency that represents Richard ie Conway van Gelder – which sounds like the name of an equine surgeon from Ghent but isn't - an unassuming doorway on an unassuming street, where pressing the buzzer had little effect....Three times.

And so just as the capillary in my eyelid was starting to flicker with stress I glanced up the road to see a man in a smart Crombie overcoat, shades and a scarf walking towards me and that this man was Richard.

I momentarily feared that he would suspect me of hovering outside the building on purpose in an attempt to pounce and catch him off guard, so after I had mouthed ‘Richard’ to him and he had responded by stating “aah you must be the man with the flags” in a familiar Scottish brogue, I quickly allayed those fears by apologising for being early and informing him that no one had responded to the buzzer.

He then pressed it himself, again no answer, which was followed by a slightly awkard little conversation between the two of us while we waited for someone to realize that we were there. If memory serves topics included Conway Van Gelder’s office move, Harry Potter films and sleet.

Fortunately, Richard is far more alert than I am since after a minute or so of us loitering around Broadwick Street like a warmly dressed Russian tourist and his son, he spotted the sign that I had missed and which read “During office hours please use the buzzer in the front hallway”.

As a result, I soon found myself in the slightly surreal position of being crammed into one of those gated lifts - a lift where even the shortest Mbuti Pygmy would have been grumbling about a lack of space - whilst standing cheek by jowl to a man whom I had last seen playing an Arthurian magician in a BBC medieval fantasy drama.

We entered the Conway offices on the second floor and Richard immediately displayed his down to earth and playful streak, informing the lady on reception, who clearly recognized him that he was seeking agent representation.

“Have you acted before?” she asked.

“A little bit, I’m classically trained though. I went to RADA.”

“Have you been in anything I might have seen?”

“No” he replied “but I’m very good.”

At that stage I decided to enter the charade

“He is actually very good. I’ve seen some of his work. I can vouch for him,” I interjected but our game was cut short when his agent Deborah appeared and offered to represent him for a nominal commission before offering me a cup of tea which was declined.

The flag signing ceremony was then carried out with the minimum of fuss, I ask Richard for his views about America and the American people and he was broadly supportive, stating that he hadn’t been there as often as he would have liked, always enjoyed trips to New York and wished he could go more often. His view on the so-called ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK– the subject matter for my book – was that there was an should be an intrinsic bond between the two countries stemming from a share of common language and ideals.

As he signed the flag, he noticed Jeffrey Archer’s message on it and opted for a more conciliatory epigram before moving on to the second ‘Jack’ the one to be auctioned off for charity and simply marked it with his signature as directed.

I thank Richard Wilson whole-heartedly for once again being kind enough to receive me and my slightly odd request and hope that a snowball that has been nudged towards the edge of a cliff will soon start to gather further momentum.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Reply - Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson has been having a bit of a tough time of it recently. A 0-0 draw with Rangers in the Champions League, Wayne Rooney's form making him look like the 'Diva Fever' of the Manchester United squad (a little X-Factor reference for you there) and to top it all, I've heard there's a move to put the price of red wine up.

That is in no way a perjorative poke at SAF's boozing habits, he would be the first to admit that he often partakes of a cheeky glass of Beaujolais Nouveau (or indeed a Beaujolais Vieux), and that reminds me of the birthday card that have I just this very day bought for my dad who celebrates a pretty hefty round number in the next few days.

It is, perhaps, lacking in subtlety somewhat, but will hopefuly make him smile.

Well anyway, whilst a statistically significant number of the 87 or so 'celebrities' that have so far received my letter have not found the need to respond, at least Sir Alex was kind enough to make me aware that he wouldn't be able to help me on this (or probably any other) occasion.

A communication sent to me hot from United's Carrington Training Ground, courtesy of young Rachel, read:

Dear Julian Further to your letter to Sir Alex Ferguson CBE. As you can imagine, we are inundated with requests for Sir Alex to sign items and unfortunately we are unable to assist with your request on this occasion. Yours sincerely Rachel Cxxxxx

I say 'young' Rachel, but that is merely a guess. However, I wouldn't be surprised if one's looks got someone a long way in applying for that particular job. What do I mean by that? I'm not really sure.

Incidentally, the crosses that form part of Rachel's surname above, were certainly not her signing off with kisses.

Just as well as were she ever to clasp eyes on me in some trendy bar in Didsbury, she might choke on her Jagerbomb. I have the sort of face that only a mother could love...and pretty short-sighted mother at that. So no, I have simply blanked out much of her surname to protect the young lass's anonymity.

On the plus side I will, next week, be meeting Sir Richard Wilson (OBE? I'm not sure) as he prepares to become the latest of the 500 to sign the flags.

So it's not all doom and gloom!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Reply - Damien Hirst

There is no doubt about it, Damien Hirst is by far and away my favourite contemporary British artist to have cut a cow in two and float it in a tank of formaldehyde (see ‘Mother & Child divided’).

If truth be told I don’t really have an encyclopedic knowledge of art, my knowledge could probably be summed up on a small pamphlet, but I do know that the good ‘ole US has had its fair share of revered painters.

There’s that guy who did prints of Marilyn Monroe and soup cans, the one who dribbled paint onto canvass in random patterns and the one who depicted his mum in a rocking chair….oh and someone else did a painting of a man with a pitchfork.

Compare these to an ornate countryside scene by Constable, one of Turner’s roaring seascapes or an original Banksy and I think you’ll agree that we British have the edge.

Damien Hirst was the 95th most popular suggestion out of the several thousand names that were voted for by the GB public on Facebook, and so makes the list and was thus sent a letter by the hero of our story, a.k.a me.

I recently received this reply from a delightful lady by the name of Amie who presumably acts as an organiser of Damien’s affairs and who I quote:

Dear Julian,

I hope this finds you well.

I am writing on behalf of Damien Hirst to thank you for requesting his signatures for your flags. Unfortunately, Damien is currently unable to offer his involvement. He is currently completely inundated with projects and charitable causes to which he gives huge amounts of time and energy, plus he is abroad a lot at the moment with various projects. He is consequently not taking on any new projects at present.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for thinking of Damien and wish you all the best with your interesting project,

Kind regards,

There you go, Damien and Amie find my project ‘interesting’, for which I am, in a manner of speaking, humbled.

I suppose I shall have to get a shift on sending out more of my letters, including to the five other artists on the list although tracking them down might not be that easy as David Hockney, I believe, lives in America, Chris Ofili, when he’s not hanging excrement onto gallery walls, is currently residing at an undisclosed location in the Caribbean and Banksy is a riddle wrapped inside an enigma enclosed in a bandana and hooded top and I've no idea who he is never mind how to write to him.

So I guess I’ll have to try Tracey Emin and Bridget Riley then.