Monday, 16 November 2009

WHAT CAN YOU TELL ABOUT A MAN FROM HIS STARSIGN?

As I was saying to a friend of mine at the weekend, the problem with men is that one can't often tell very much about them from first sight - really, they should be bar-coded like biscuits, and one should be able to scan them for quality and (emotional) price.

I expect someone inventive will soon have something like that for the iPhone, but in the meantime we'll have to make do with the tried, tested and trusted advice of the planets: here's what I think you can tell about a man from his starsign.



LEO: THE CHARISMATIC
How to spot one: Always at the centre of the room, holding court. Tells anecdotes. Aspires to being a raconteur. Usually has good hair
Good at: Making you feel like the sun just came out. Bask in the warmth of his personality
Worst habit: Not noticeably liberated. Very keen that he’s the actor and you’re the audience
Most likely to say: ‘Oh yes, I’ve been there, but I stayed at the [insert name of eleven thousand star hotel]. I hear the [insert name of the crummy B&B you went to] is very nice though’
How to play him: Flattery will get you everywhere
Reliability rating: ***** Extremely loyal
Romance rating: *** Generous and keen to impress. Good at fancy cocktails in smart bars and pretty trinkets
Sex rating: *** Very performance orientated – don’t forget to applaud

VIRGO: THE DISCERNING GENTLEMAN
How to spot one: Neat creases ironed in his jeans, bitten fingernails from all that worrying. Concerned look. Organised wallet. Nice manners
Good at: Evolving – he’s very big on self-improvement. You can train him not to leave the loo-seat up in less than twenty-four hours
Worst habit: Will also try to improve you. It’s quite tedious when someone wants to change you, particularly when they say it’s because they can see your potential
Most likely to say: ‘I’m only saying this for your own good’
How to play him: Listen to his advice and look like you’re taking it seriously. He prefers practical presents and gestures
Reliability rating:** Changes his mind as often as the weather
Romance rating: *** Very good at remembering when he said he’d phone. One of the very few men to believe in putting things in a diary
Sex rating: *** Ultra-fastidious, so not for the unwaxed. Someone who remembers that the devil’s in the detail. Expects you to write a letter thanking him for having you.



LIBRA: THE SMOOTHIE
How to spot one: charming and good-looking. Often to be found acting cool and cultured in chic restaurants and art galleries
Good at: long-term relationships rather than brief flings
Worst habit: Refuses to argue, which is plate-throwingly infuriating
Most likely to say: ‘If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?’
How to play him: Hire a stylist and a personal trainer, and always get up before he does to put your makeup back on. Libra men can be a little too appearance conscious
Reliability rating: *** As long as it doesn’t put him out of his way, and as long as you don’t let yourself go, you’re fine
Romance rating: *****Deeply, deeply smooth. The man for whom candlelit dinners were invented
Sex rating: ** Lazy, so makes you go on top, which then gives you massive anxiety about droopy boobs and remembering to hold your stomach in.

SCORPIO: THE DEMON LOVER
How to spot one: His X-ray eyes strip you to the bone: he doesn’t know it’s rude to stare
Good at: Sex – he’s very talented
Worst habit: Jealousy and possessiveness. He may be cool on the outside, but don't flaunt old - or current - flames
Most likely to say: Not much. He’s the strong, silent, staring type (no, don’t call the police)
How to play him: He’s into power-games – let him think he’s in charge
Reliability rating: **** Exceptionally loyal, but if you break up, he’ll never forgive you
Romance rating:*** Big on brooding intensity and drama. Is it just me, or does that sound the tiniest bit tiring?
Sex rating:***** Oh dear. He’ll spoil you for everyone else. Too rude, too fabulous.

SAGITTARIUS: THE FREE SPIRIT
How to spot one: An endearing combination of optimism and clumsiness, he’s the one who knocks his glass of wine all over you
Good at: Adventure – he’ll encourage you to do mad things you’d never do off your own bat
Worst habit: Doesn’t know the difference between honesty and tactlessness
Most likely to say: 'Er, yes, actually, your bum looks enormous in those jeans'
How to play him: Respect his independence
Reliability rating: * A risk-taker who may not think twice about gambling with your heart
Romance rating: **** Even the most basic model is generous, cheerful and impulsive
Sex rating: *** Values quantity above quality. Enthusiastic, yet lacking in technical merit.

CAPRICORN: THE ENTREPRENEUR
How to spot one: he’s the sign most likely to wear a jacket: even if he doesn't look like a Captain of Industry, he'll have a distinct air of gravitas
Good at: Getting serious. Capricorns are rarely commitment phobic
Worst habit: Career will always be his priority – he treats his blackberry as if it were a tamagotchi that has to be kept alive with constant attention
Most likely to say: ‘Darling, I’m afraid I’m stuck in this meeting’.
How to play him: Don’t look too enthusiastic – he’s the one who you should treat mean to keep him keen
Reliability rating: ***** Accept his work comes first and you couldn’t wish for a more constant consort
Romance rating: **** If he sets his sights on you, he won’t give up until you’re his. Buys extremely decent presents
Sex rating: ***** He’s determined to excel in every area of his life, including you.

AQUARIUS: THE ODDBALL
How to spot one: He’s the one keen to get inside your head, rather than in your pants. Slightly odd fashion-sense – either out-there trendy or, well, just badly dressed
Good at: Creating a truly equal relationship – he genuinely wants you to be yourself (as long as your true self isn’t clingy and emotional)
Worst habit: Emotionally illiterate. Even Mr Spock had more EQ
Most likely to say: ‘You’re just being irrational’
How to play him: Be challenging and ballsy, always phone when you’ve said you will. Never, ever cry or sulk
Reliability rating: ** Does what he likes, when he likes.
Romance rating: ** Doesn’t expect to have to treat the relationship like some kind of kitten that needs nurturing and fluffy ickle babba talk. If he’s said he likes you, he likes you – why do you need to hear it twice?
Sex rating: ***** Inventive. Experimental. Unshockable. Don’t let him near the fruit basket.

PISCES: THE ROMANTIC
How to spot one: Acts tough with the guys and sensitive with the girls, merging chameleon-like into his environment
Good at: Being sensitive and romantic – he’ll give you a spritz of Eau d’Empathy at every opportunity
Worst habit: Escapism – loves a romantic fantasy, not always troubled by telling the truth
Most likely to say: ‘I’ve found this poem that describes exactly how I feel about you’
How to play him: Trust him as far as you can throw him – Pisces is ruled by Neptune, planet of deception
Reliability rating:** Just as you feel the relationship might be going somewhere, he’ll drift away
Romance rating: ***** If you’re cynical, you’ll think he’s watched far too many soppy films. Otherwise, expect to be carried away by the sheer force of his poetry
Sex rating: ***** His imagination would make a Swedish porn movie seem tame. Book the chiropractor – he’s bound to put your back out.

ARIES: THE COMPETITIVE ONE
How to spot one: Hunt one down at the gym, preferably playing some kind of competitive sport
Good at: Winning – once he feels you’re the prize, he won’t stop til he’s got you
Worst habit: Appallingly impatient. Won’t wait, even for five minutes. Not even during a tube strike
Most likely to say: ‘I love you’. Ten minutes after you meet.
How to play him: He loves the thrill of the chase, so always leave him wanting
Reliability rating: **** As long as you make him feel he’s number one, he’ll come back for more
Romance rating: *** Fantastic when he’s in pursuit, pretty pants once he’s made the conquest
Sex rating: *** Aries men will try anything once. And twice if they like it.

TAURUS: THE ROCK
How to spot one: Looks strong, handsome, manly. Rarely badly dressed.
Good at: Creating an entire shelving unit out of some mystery IKEA flatpack, unblocking the lav, cooking dinner, sex
Worst habit: Pedantic. Stubborn. Mulish.
Most likely to say: ‘I can bring my toolkit round if there’s anything you need fixing’
How to play him: Cook for him at the earliest opportunity – the way to a Taurean’s heart is through his stomach
Reliability rating: **** Oh God, so reliable. And tenacious. Taureans are like porridge – easy to make, nutritious, but a devil to get off the pan once you’ve done
Romance rating: ***** Believes in men being men, women being women, and is good at buying presents. What’s not to like?
Sex rating: **** A sexual gourmet with an insatiable appetite and earthy tastes. But once he’s discovered what works, he’s reluctant to alter the routine.

GEMINI: THE FLIRT
How to spot one: Simultaneous use of iPhone and Blackberry. Fidgety. Outrageous flirt. Constant checking of Twitter.
Good at: Making you laugh and being terrific company. Gives good email, and sends saucy texts.
Worst habit: Gemini men always manage to look single. Especially at parties.
Most likely to say: ‘What are you thinking?’
How to play him: Be cool and amusing. Avoid laying any heavy emotional trips on him. Keep him guessing
Reliability rating: ** Forget it. Learn to love his unpredictability
Romance rating: *** Great at Cary Grant-style flirty quips and compliments. Always texts to say he misses you.
Sex rating: *** All gong and no dinner. Unless there’s an App for that too.

CANCER: THE SENSITIVE ONE
How to spot one: By his kind look and shy smile. Loves his mum. Thinks animals are cute. At work you’ll find him sulking in the kitchen
Good at: Hugging, stroking, getting in touch with his feminine side. He’s sensitive, sympathetic and understanding
Worst habit: Extreme moodiness – one minute it’s raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, the next he’s giving you the cold shoulder
Most likely to say: ‘If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you’
How to play him: Look after him – deep down he’s quite needy
Reliability rating: ***** A real catch (whatever you think of the above) – he’s the best starsign for commitment
Romance rating: *** Sentimental rather than romantic – but wouldn’t you prefer a great husband and father to a tough action hero?
Sex rating: *** Exceptionally good at the post-coital bit: think plenty of cuddling followed by a nice cup of tea.


AND FINALLY...THE MAN MOST LIKELY TO...
...cross dress: Aquarius - he can take his belief in gender equality a little too far
...commit: Scorpio - tops in the loyalty stakes
...jilt you at the altar: Sagittarius - 'they can't take away my freeeeeedom'
...be at B&Q on a Sunday morning: Taurus - loves tools, but isn't one
...spoil you: Leo - loves to impress with expensive gifts
...be a body fascist: Libra- break out the steamed vegetables
...be a good dancer: Pisces - clear the dance-floor
...do the housework: Virgo - bathrooms don't clean themselves, you know
...keep you in style: Capricorn - compensation for another dinner in the dog
...insist you watch the match: Aries - can't understand why you're not turned on by all the aggression
...take you for granted: Gemini - you're there to provide the entertainment, not him
...love his mum more than you: Cancer - she's the most important woman in his life, and don't you forget it

Sunday, 8 November 2009

THE KNOWN SOLDIER: IN MEMORIAM, LT BERTRAM VINCENT BROCKLEBANK

Hanging in the wardrobe at my parent's house is an aged dinner jacket. Smart, yet unostentatious, with grosgrain lapels and an elegant pleat to the trouser, it's the sort of dinner jacket worn by those in the habit of dressing for dinner. I imagine its owner enjoying a cigarette and whisky with water, perhaps a little hesitant in the company of women, and particularly shy of one, more dear to him than the rest, of whom he has hopes. I imagine him as diligent; modest about his successes and rueful of failings. I imagine him likeable; with a diffident charm. I imagine him with quiet ambition and irreproachable manners. I imagine him indulging his dreams for the family business, newly joined; his expectation of preferment and of Getting On and Going Far.

I may imagine all I like: the man for whom the dinner jacket was made, Lieutenant Bertie Brocklebank, a cousin of my grandfather, died on 31st July 1917, commanding No.4 Company, 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards. It was the first day of the campaign that came simply to be known as Passchendaele. He was twenty-five. Age shall not weary them.

The main offensive of the 3rd Battle of Ypres - Passchendaele - began at zero hour (3.50 am) on 31st July. By 9.30, Lt Brocklebank was dead.

A few years ago, my father went to the Guards museum to see if he could find further details of Bertie's death, and copied long-hand the operations report of the day. The 1st Guards Brigade (2nd Coldstream and 2nd Grenadier Guards), who were in support advanced at 8.50am to take their objectives but were held up by heavy machine gun fire, barrage and shelling and had to dig in 80 yards short of their objective. This is what the operations report has to say:

At 9.30 am the two parts of the Battalion began to consolidate and a contact aeroplane flew over the position. Flares were lit.
Unfortunately, at this moment, a German flew very low - about 100 feet - over the Battalion in a captured English aeroplane with a black cross painted very indistinctly on it. The position of consolidation was thus given away to the enemy and came under very accurate artillery fire.
There were many casualties. Lt.B.V.Brocklebank commanding No 4 Coy was killed and Lt. A.W.Kirk commanding No 3 Coy was wounded. 2nd Lt.L.C.Leggatt of No 3 Coy was killed leaving Lt.G.R.M.Caldwell as the sole surviving officer. By later on in the day, all the Sergeants had been killed or wounded.

Bertie was but one of 32,000 Allied casualties on 31st July, for an advance of around 2000 yards. I say a special prayer for him every Remembrance Sunday, not because he was especially heroic, or even a particularly close member of my family, but because every time I think of him, or see his dinner jacket, hanging there, I imagine what he, and every soldier killed in every conflict, might have become.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

LIFE IMITATES ART: CLAUDIA SCHIFFER & HARPER'S BAZAAR

The November issue of Harper's Bazaar featured a selection of exquisite portraits of Claudia Schiffer, created by some of the great and the good of contemporary art. In a unique and wonderfully ambitious venture, Bazaar commissioned Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gillian Wearing, Jason Brooks, Marc Quinn, Dexter Dalwood, Chris Bucklow, and Keith Tyson to offer their own interpretation of this platonic ideal of female beauty.

The pictures looked pretty extraordinary on the pages of the magazine, but begged to be hung and displayed properly in a gallery. So this Monday, Bazaar hosted a private view of 'Capturing Claudia' at the Colnaghi Gallery, attended by the muse herself, the artists who represented her according to their own particular vibe and vision, and vast amounts of wildly glamorous people from the art and fashion worlds, all of whom looked vaguely famous but who I was too dim and uncool to recognise.

Helpfully primed by all the pictures of her staring back at me from the walls, I did manage to recognise Claudia Schiffer. She looks so robust and statuesque in fashion shoots, yet she's rather fragile looking in real life, albeit very tall in an etiolated kind of way, like a plant that has been nurtured in the dark and grown lanky in search of a light source.

I'm afraid that when 'Capturing Claudia' myself, I used my iPhone, hardly the world's best camera, hence the rubbish blurry quality of this shot of her in front of Marc Quinn's flower portrait.




Here she is, slightly closer up. Not as close up as the Marc Quinn picture, which, though idealised in its composition, is un-retouched, and bears witness to her flawless skin. God, how few of us at thirty-nine could stand being scrutinised in close-up and displayed at such magnification?

Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hammer-Horror-meets-Hitchcock series is easily the least disturbing of anything Chapman Bros have ever produced, but no less stunning for that.

Jason Brooks' double-portrait appears at first to be the most conventional of the seven pieces, yet this starkly beautiful pencil drawing of Claudia's un-made-up face, in all its unflinching, photo-realist simplicity, relies on nothing other than the precision and skill of the artist for its power. It's a bold contradiction of the heavily re-touched, idealised and perfected images of celebrities we're used to.
I didn't get to take any iPhotos of Claudia in front of Keith Tyson's enormous seven-headed portrait. I was standing in front of it, muttering like a bag lady about how little I understood why he'd represented her as a beautiful Hydra surrounding what looked like a golf-course, when I realised I was standing next to the artist himself. Gutlessly, I turned and fled, only to be pursued by a sense of l'esprit de l'escalier: turning over in my head a dozen conversations in which I had the courage to ask him about his thinking behind the portrait, without the attendant anxiety about appearing stupid or uncool.

There is something about contemporary art that always makes me feel deeply, deeply unhip, like a Friend of the Royal Academy that's accidentally wandered into the Turner Prize. I won't say I didn't feel overawed in the company of art made flesh, and flesh made art and I'm wise enough to leave the art criticism to those that can fashion a coherent opinion but, by 'eck, they were lovely pictures, and that Claudia Schiffer's right pretty.
PS: I've just been told that if you're quick, you can pop into the gallery and see Capturing Claudia for yourself

Colnaghi Gallery
15 Old Bond Street
W1
(opposite Gucci)
Free Admission
10am - 6pm
But be quick - it's only on until this Friday, 6th November.