'our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamaties is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.'
Guru Stotram

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Good news mes amis: domestic goddess-hood looms… finally. Last time the brownies came out liquid, albeit with a not entirely unpleasant crispy consistency to the outside. Thankfully I have generous friends so they got wolfed anyway. This time though they came out exactly as brownies ought. Even though they were vegan brownies. Which means no eggs. Pretty impressive huh? And last night I created the best French onion soup I’ve ever tasted - false modesty is not an advantage when aspiring towards domestic goddess-hood. I don’t think. Or maybe that rule is for when you’re after crack salesmanship. Oh well, much of a muchness. Which, by the by, is a phrase first used by Sir John Vanbrugh, of Castle Howard fame, in his 1728 play The Provok’d Husband. And no, I did not read that on Wikipedia. Do you know, it’s an automatic fail at Goldsmiths’ if you’re caught on Wiki. And so, as my favourite ex likes to say… think on!

Domestic goddess-hood, I’ve discovered, is something that has to be worked at like anything else. A few unexpectedly aborted head stands, ditto friendships (usually not for long though), a few outfit shockers (not that many thank you, there was a curious wonder-woman-esque thing a few weeks back; my friend called it wonder-woman, she was being kind, I looked like a failed Russian oligarch’s trophy girlfriend), a few business debacles (the head count’s slightly higher here unfortunately) a few torturous romances (always with hindsight, always!), a few bruised bottoms (horse riding is easy - step one: mount your pony. step two: stay mounted.) and a few liquefied cakes. All much of a muchness.

I haven’t achieved a great many successes in my life, not so far anyway, or not according to the traditional definition of success. Pleasingly though it’s going rather better by Winston Churchill’s definition: “success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” I do have an incredible ability to fuck stuff up, but thankfully that awesome talent seems matched by an ability to sail ever onwards leaving a trail of destruction in my wake, yet with almost no sense of disquiet and absolutely no loss of certainty about the jaw dropping success my next endeavour is sure to be. And I suppose that’s not too bad really. Maybe at some point my seemingly boundless optimism will prove right. Statistically it’s got to. Surely. On the other hand, even if it doesn’t, that’ll be alright. Of course it’ll be alright. What else is it going to be? You’re born. You life. You die. What’s to go wrong? Nothing. It’s just what it is.

There’s a good story about Larry Gagosian, the art world’s answer to Bill Gates (only sexier, errr much sexier), and the man who has made the art world what it is today, evidencing the reassuring fact that even the great and the good do occasionally cock-up, and sometimes they cock-up big style.

On 4 May 2004 at Sotheby’s New York, Picasso’s Garcon a la Pipe was going under the hammer. Larry Gagosian was bidding on his mobile phone on behalf of a collector. His bid had just been topped when he suddenly closed his phone, and according to the sale auctioneer Tobias Meyer, turned white and stared fixedly ahead. “Sir, do you need more time?” Meyer asked him, at which point Go-go hijacked his neighbour’s phone and began dialling urgently. Apparently Gagosian’s battery had gone flat at $77 million on the once in a lifetime battle ground for the picture that still holds the record for most expensive painting ever sold at auction, going under the hammer, a few seconds later, at $104.1 million.

Gagosian did rejoin the race and finished up the underbidder, but even so, compared to that, what’s a few squishy cakes? Thankfully he’s got a good memory for numbers. If that’d been me there’s no way I’d have remembered it. Maybe that’s why he’s Go-go and I’m not. Then again, I suppose I’d have called the office and had Gallery Girl read it out as I punched it in. Oh yes, I’d have found a way. It’d have been alright.

source: The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art and Auction Houses by Don Thompson
I've now discovered from Kevin Harman's My Space page that he's a Buddhist.

What seems to be the only entry on his blog reads:

"Imagin a world with no knees!!! The olympics would be fu*kin great..
How would we get in cars? up stairs? or cycle a bike!!! imagine tryin to put a pair of socks on, man im lucky i have knees.. "

Thank you Kevin, I was having a nice week-end anyway, but you've made it so much better.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Winston Churchill

Friday, 18 December 2009

I got a newsletter through last week from a yoga guru chappie I retreated with in France this summer. Not un-controversially he rarely wore clothes. I mean any clothes. He also unapologetically hit on almost everybody and could often be, by his own admission, rather silly and irritating. Surprisingly maybe, or maybe not, he turned out to be a really good egg. I’d begun the week thinking: “this idiot man is perfectly insufferable”. By the end of it I was really fond of him and his teachings have been useful to me almost every day since.

I’ve often wondered to myself how somebody so bizarre and irritating could simultaneously be so wise and integrated and I can only imagine it may have something to do with his acceptance of his own peculiarities. He doesn’t appear to give much of a stuff what anybody else thinks of him, he’s just himself, doing his thing. Not causing harm to anyone but neither causing harm to himself by denying any part of what and who he is. Just accepting the whole package deal, just as it is.

At the bottom of his newsletter he’d posed the question: “are you ready for yourself?” Hmmmm, I thought. After a few seconds of slightly traumatic brain wracking I realised, to my horror, that the answer is an unambiguous: “No”. It further occurred to me that this is not good. Panic set in.

A few days later though I began to realise that actually it’s not so bad because everything’s changing and change is good. Change, in fact, is great. Which is also good, because, let’s face it, there’s no getting away from change. And through this process of change – sometimes referred to as growing up (!) - every day I’m slowly becoming more ready for myself. I just know it in my bones. So it’s ok. Everything’s going to be alright. Remember that my friends. Everything’s going to be alright.

Then today - still vaguely wondering which of my actions bring me nearer to myself and which further away - I was reading about the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh and it occurred to me it’s a question I’d love to ask them. They’ve just taken sculptor and performance artist Kevin Harman to court over a piece of art he carried out at their gallery in November. Basically, Kevin used a scaffolding pole to smash one of their gallery windows. I know, I know, all one’s middle class sensibilities kick in. Self-righteousness floods the body. But wait… just a second. Because, firstly, Kevin had told the gallery in advance what he was planning on doing. Secondly, and extremely persuasively in my view, he unquestioningly and punctually paid the £350 it cost to replace the window. And thirdly, OK, if he’d smashed the window of someone’s home or of a business premises who didn’t give two hoots about contemporary art and neither did they pretend to, then I’d agree with the courts, of course, that would be vandalism. But that is not the case here. Kevin Harman smashed the window – and even videoed it for the purposes of archival posterity - of a contemporary art gallery whose website states: “We believe that visual art can provide experiences that change the way we look at our world and understand ourselves within it. Collective is a space where people can come to witness, to be challenged, to learn, to experience; a space where adventure is celebrated.” Well, not for poor old Kevin. His little adventure wasn’t celebrated was it?

Harman is a young, little known artist and a student. He’s already done the right thing and coughed up for the broken window, and now he’s got to pay a further £200 for nothing. Oh sorry, for “breach of the peace”. Whose peace? There’s not another sole on the street, apart from an arty looking couple walking arm in arm who seem mildly baffled. Nobody’s bothered. The peace of the Collective Gallery then I assume is what we’re talking about? But they’ve already said they’re game for a bit of adventure in the name of coming to know ourselves within the context of the world we live in. So the argument quickly becomes a circular nonsense. Or at least it does for me and probably for most people with a genuine interest in meaningful contemporary art. I’m thinking of writing to the Collective Gallery and suggesting they change their mission statement to reflect their markedly conservative actions rather than their grandiosely edgy and clearly wildly inaccurate beliefs about who they are.

The video of the work evidences its brilliance. I love the way Harman places the pole back down beside the now broken window with such gentle awareness and then walks quietly away, softly drawing his hair back from his face. What a wonderful thing - contemplative and intelligent and astonishingly gentle.

If that’d had happened at my gallery back in the day I’d have been delighted. I’d have been over the moon to know that someone’s alive out there. Someone’s got passion and bottle and common human decency. Someone’s got something to say that’s worth listening to. “Come in and have a cuppa whilst we call the glazier. Let’s hear all about it.” There’s so much more to do in life than worry about the Jones’s and the state of your bank balance. There’s life to be lived. And it’s really sad that a gallery calling itself ‘Collective’ can’t see that.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

"are you ready for yourself?"

Friday, 11 December 2009

It’s a staggering thing that a person can write 600 words a week on the subject of radio programmes and the result be near addictive every time. I never listen to the radio. Apart from in the car and that’s because the CD player’s broken and I have no idea how to fit the shockingly expensive in car ipod converter that a company called Ipod Car Kit Direct assured me, just before they took my credit card details, any idiot would have working within minutes. Disappointingly the little red LED lights on the dashboard have broken too so the radio is stuck on Heart FM – I swear I never tuned it to that - which means I have to switch the volume down to almost inaudible levels every time a calamitous tune comes on. Which is most of the time. If I’m in bombastic mood I might switch it up for Gloria Gaynor, but otherwise probably not.

I’d love to be the sort of person who listens to Front Row and Woman’s Hour and Jeremy Vine (whoever he is). But I’m just not. How I’d adore to say to friends and family and anyone unfortunate enough to be within ear shot, “oh I heard on Thought for the Day this morning…” But despite my best pretensions towards cultural middle age I just can’t do it. Even a radio programme dedicated to Richard Wright’s £25,000 victory is a turn off. Every time I switch the radio on I’m instantly and invariably gripped by the urge to switch it off again. Which I suppose makes it all the odder that I should be such a fan of Antonia Quirke’s New Statesman radio review column. I almost never have even the slightest clue what she’s talking about, but it’s thoroughly engaging nonetheless. She writes beautifully and with an idiosyncratic random humour. It’s a pleasure to get lost in the eccentricity.

Not so Enrico David’s surrealist strangeness. I can see that for some it’s probably playful and witty and obscure, but it doesn’t tickle my fancy a bit. It’s just not my bag. I do like the other three though. Particularly Roger Hiorns - on first thought more for the sparkly elephantine council house than for the atomised passenger airplane. On further thought, almost the plane more actually. Apparently planes get atomised all the time. That’s just what happens to ex-planes. Retired planes past their useful age. It’s rather a tragedy. Seeing the dust on the floor one is confronted with the theme indisputably central to human life, articulated with such haunting, almost terrifying beauty in Eliot’s immortal line: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

And I like the way Hiorns looks like a school boy. He reminds me of the really clever boy at school. The slightly gawky fellow who looked twelve but had the smarts of a wizened old man. It’s endearing. But I’d best make no further comment on that as I’ve already had my knuckles severely rapped for flagrant sexist objectification of the male of the species in my musings on Me and Orson Welles. Aha, boot on the other foot for a change. And they don’t like it any more than we do!

Former jury member Adrian Searle points out rather wonderfully – as always – that Tomma Abs is the only woman to have won the prize this decade and suggests that this imbalance needs to be addressed. I shall say nothing further on this either, as it’s much better coming from him than from me. It’s a hot one to handle and - once again - I tip my hat to you Mr Searle for having the bottle to get stuck in there.

I was also delighted to encounter the re-introduction of the word ‘beautiful’ into the lexicon of art speak this year, apparently without the encumbrance of the ill-fitting psycho baggage of its type casting in recent years as the embarrassing uncle at your big sisters wedding, who insists on pinching everyone’s bottoms, much to the mortification of all. If Stephen Deuchar and Alan Yentob are both to be heard using the ‘B’ word, seemingly in auspicious tones, to describe Richard Wright’s prize winning and almost universally lauded abstract gold-leaf murals, then it must be ok. Joy.

My favourite comment on this year’s Turner Prize exhibition though came from the perennially peachy Scotsman and former victor Martin Creed: “I think it’s really nice. The works are gentle and soft and nice.” I couldn’t agree more.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

I heard yesterday from a dear girlfriend who, I now discover, is a rubbish source of Hoxton / Hollywood gossip, that Sam Taylor Wood is seeing Zac Efron. I was like, no way, Zac Efron is, like, seventeen. How wrong could I be? A bit of googling informs me that Zac Efron is in fact twenty-two years old and as such perfect toyboy pickings. But it’s of no consequence because it transpires that Sam Taylor Wood is not dating Zac Efron, but is in fact dating some guy called Aaron Johnson. Apparently Aaron Johnson appeared in a teen movie called Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. I saw this movie on the plane back from India. Strangely, I can’t remember what happens in it.

The key fact is though that Zac Efron, star of Me and Orson Welles, looks like a baby faced Marlon Brando. Aaron Johnson slightly less so. But no matter. That he doesn’t look like Lily Allen counts for much.

It’s important to note that there are certain rules of engagement with this sort of thing - the toyboy thing that is. To claim that love knows no bounds is naïve and frankly a little tired. These days, if you’re an older man having an affair with a bimbo half your age, you’re stomping around in fairly passé territory. This argument though is particular only to the bimbo genus. If the female concerned is a thirty-something educated, articulate, demi-goddess, for example, then having an affair with an older man is just fine. However, as a forty-something glamorous, sexy and confident woman about town, taking a hot young toyboy is not only just fine, it is super cool. When I’m ready to take a toyboy - you don’t simply have a toyboy darling, you take one - I will be insisting on one golden rule: he will be at least as beautiful as me at all times. The whole point of a toyboy is that he is, first and foremost, a source of aesthetic wonderment, not just pleasing to the eye, but stomach churningly exquisite. He must, of course, also have a sense of humour, but if he doesn’t look like a Greek God to boot then really, no amount of wit is going to be enough. Zac Efron fits the bill perfectly. Who even cares if this guy is funny.

Anyway, ahem, back to the film review. Sam Taylor Wood has executed what could prove to be a seamless transition from film making as key element in her multi-disciplinary concept driven Turner Prize nominated art practice, to film as populist feature length movie, with the release of her, as they say, ‘directorial debut’, John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy, staring… you guessed it, Aaron Johnson as Lenny. For me, there’s always a huge hurdle to overcome with movies about people whose faces are iconic. It’s almost impossible to suspend disbelief. And anyway, why would you want to? Me and Orson Welles on the other hand is a cracker. And not just because of Zac Efron. Although, let’s face it, mainly because of Zac Efron. And because of Orson Welles. Oh yes, Orson Welles. Him too.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Trafalgar Square is lovely in the rain. It’s grey and shiny; timeless and romantic. The red buses, the turquoise ponds, Landseer’s immovable leonine protectors - reassuringly familiar yet curiously unexpected.

I’m standing in front of the National Gallery, my collar turned up against the December drizzle, looking out over the puddled paving slabs, hearing the ballyhoo of the fountains and listening to my companion recounting tales of the heroism from behind a desk of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park. Apparently he would never have donned such a glamorous flying outfit, but what more fitting site for poetics than our beloved Trafalgar Square.

Inside the home of the national collection of Western art from the 13th to the 19th centuries, the temporary exhibitions we saw are less engaged with the fanciful and idealising aspects of storytelling and more with drawing out the real, whatever that might mean to you or me, or to the artists or curators for that matter.

It has long seemed to me that the tendency of our ever expanding bourgeoisie to decry contemporary art for its perceived dependence on shock tactics, as if such a phenomenon were local to the contemporary alone, could perhaps suggest a want of art historical reference points. If my theory, which is probably about as peculiar to me as shock tactics are to the YBAs, were in need of evidence, it could not be more eloquently presented than by consecutive viewings of The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Paintings & Sculpture 1600 - 1700 and Ed and Nancy Kienholz’s 1980s installation The Hoerengracht, (‘Whore’s Canal’) both currently showing at the National Gallery.

Page one of the bumph describes 17th century Spanish religious art as “stark, austere and often gory, with the intention of shocking the senses and stirring the soul.” That sentence could be transposed word for word to describe the work of so many of today’s artists. Up to a point, it could also describe The Hoerengracht.

The Sacred Made Real is powerfully curated to maximize the emotive potential of the work it shows. Descending the staircase I’m already feeling on the back foot from the psychological impact of plunging downwards into the windowless basement of the Sainsbury wing on a dank rainy afternoon. Once there you’re greeted with nearly black walls and lighting so exaggeratedly spot-lit that in one room I could only just identify the figure hidden in the corner as the gallery’s security presence.

Whether you are in anyway religiously inclined or not, this show is gripping from the moment you enter to the moment you leave. There is a timeless universality that has to be experienced to be understood. Something of the divine is certainly present, perhaps because of, or perhaps despite, the literal subject matter and realistic rendering.

Surprisingly, the pieces that catapulted me most unexpectedly back to territory more familiar – contemporary art - were the sculptural images of Christ.

Occasionally these images of Christ’s suffering hint at latent homo-eroticism, or as my companion chose to put it - ironically a padre himself albeit not of a Christian disposition: “bit porno aren’t they?”

In one or two instances they do more than hint. No coincidence perhaps that Brian Sewell chose an image of Fernandez’s Ecce Homo to accompany his review of the exhibition, describing it as Michelangelesque, by which he means presumably, camp as Christmas. Neither does it come as a great surprise to discover that when the fabric loincloth was removed for restoration purposes in 1989, the genitalia were revealed fully carved beneath. Fernandez had conceived his figure totally naked.

More harrowing is the same artist’s Dead Christ, showing his tragically battered and broken body lying alone on a white sheet. Reminiscent of the notorious Jake and Dinos Chapman sculptural works after Goya’s etchings, this painted wood figure is affectingly gruesome, incorporating bone for the teeth, horn for the finger and toe nails, and glass for the eye balls, as well as the bark of a cork tree painted red to simulate the effect of still warm, coagulating blood.

This scene is usually depicted showing the lamenting figures of the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene. By omitting them, Fernandez invites us to become the mourners, an invitation almost impossible to refuse as our subconscious is powerfully engaged, whether we like it or not, by such a dynamic assault on our ancient archetypal system.

Next door in the Sunley Room a not entirely dissimilar assault is presented to our senses by The Hoerengracht, a life-size sculptural installation showing a part of Amsterdam’s red light district in the 1980s by Ed and Nancy Kienholz. Once again we’re introduced to life like mannequins, now modelled on the real dimensions of the Kienholz’s friends. This time, rather than saints and virgins, we’re being asked to engage with the suffering of prostitutes and pimps. These tragic semi-clad figures sit around in grotty twentieth century Netherlandish windows waiting to appeal to the lowest form of life.

The symbolism is a bit heavy handed. Each face is mounted behind a box frame. Clear gunge seeps down the windows and walls. Otherwise the scene is largely realistic. It isn’t real though of course, it’s art, and oddly enough, taken in that light, I’m not sure it does quite enough. How moving would The Hoerengracht have been seen on its own, rather than in the wake of Sacred?

The physical context also heightens its impact and the National Gallery are keen to highlight, or possibly run the risk of overstating, the polemic nature of the work. Is anyone under 70 really going to be that shocked by the appearance, even in the National Gallery, of explicit reference to the world’s oldest profession?

The only thing that is surprising perhaps is the National Gallery’s prostitution of itself to the demi-God of contemporary art, its pandering to the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for the now. Slightly confusing also, is the mixed message in the form of “crumbs, look how shocking and contentious we’re being” whilst at the same time implying, via the hanging in the ante-chamber to the installation a handful of Dutch master paintings of seventeenth century prostitutes, that prostitution in art has been around almost as long as the profession itself. The curation starts to look a little contrived and attention seeking, and let’s face it, we’ve got Charles Saatchi for that, we don’t need the National Gallery at it too.

Seeing the two shows consecutively they began to merge in my consciousness. After a while I found it difficult to remember where one began and the other ended. Is the spiritual distance between the disparate characters really so great? Or are these exhibitions each presenting us with the martyrs of their own time?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

I went to the launch party of a friend’s vintage couture boutique the other evening. Whilst enthusiastically knocking back the bubbles in Clerkenwell I met a woman who said she used to work for the New York Times. Apparently there were, or possibly are, seven words banned to anyone writing for the New York Times. The list includes ‘spin’. This woman was extraordinarily vociferous in her dislike of the word spin.

“Why?” I asked.

Was it, I wondered to myself, the choice and arrangement of the four letters she had difficulty with? Was it the perceived meaning of the word in its abstract sense? Or was it the implementation in relative terms of the notion of spin?

“It’s lying,” she responded rather tartly. “I don’t like people trying to manipulate me and pull the wool over my eyes. I’ve been taught to question, question, question.”

This whole interchange I found utterly baffling. Firstly, the notion that if one doesn’t like something one should ban the word that speaks of it from ones vocabulary seems a little despotic to say the least. It also seems naïve. Does making class A drugs illegal automatically rid the country of heroine? Errr, no. Will banning the word ‘spin’ from her vocabulary, or even from the vocabulary of the entire New York Times, instantly rid the country of politicians more generously endowed with the talents of recounting a good yarn than of running the country wisely? Equally not I’m afraid. In fact, pretending that something doesn’t exist by means of not openly referencing it, in my experience, usually serves to give it only greater power. Drawing attention away from it, one is effectively protecting it. It becomes the elephant in the room.

Secondly the notion of teaching someone to question is a misnomer. Or rather, if understood effectively, such a teaching will lead, ultimately, to the teaching itself being called into question. As the Buddha said: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own common sense.” So, in the New York Times scenario, if one really were to question, question, question, one would end up questioning the ban itself; probably sticking to the ban, if one values one’s job, but nonetheless questioning it. To internalise the ban and then perceive the internalising process as coming from one’s tendency to question life’s apparent truths is deluded.

And thirdly, I can’t agree that spin is the same as lying. For me there’s a complication with the notion of lying from the kick off because it assumes the notion of an absolute truth and there is almost never an absolute truth to anything. There are myriad different, simultaneous and often conflicting truths, that, when taken in combination, might be understood as some sort of truth. Every person witnessing a car crash, for example, will see something different as a result of their individual physical (and mental, and emotional) perspectives. They will all be right in one way or another. It’s physics.

However, above and beyond this definitive difficulty, to put spin on something cannot be understood in the same way as lying, even in the conventional sense of the word. To lie is to invent a perspective that is not the speaker’s own and that they believe to bear little or no resemblance to any version of the truth as they understand it, as in: “No, I did not eat the last chocolate biscuit,” munch, gulp. To put spin on something is to pick out the element of it that best suits the narrator’s purpose, to recount a story from a favoured perspective, even though one might be aware that other equally valid perspectives do concurrently exist and go unmentioned, as in: “I’m afraid I probably did eat the last chocolate biscuit, darling. They were those rather ropey bourbons you’re not keen on. I’m just nipping out now to get your favourite yummy Gǘ ones. Wait till you get your chops around those, my angel!” That’s not lying. That’s privileging one side of the story over another. We all do that ever time we open our mouths. It’s impossible not to, through the medium of speech at any rate. The only way to be absolutely truthful is to stay schtum. Which I have no intention of doing because pointless pontification is far more fun.

So, now I’ve brought everyone up to speed on the term spin, I thought I might engage in a bit on behalf of the aforementioned vintage couture boutique: www.junosayshello.com - check out that Chloe mini-dress. I want. I want. I want. Ah, now… is that spin or is that a plug? Who cares? I want that Chloe mini-dress.

Friday, 4 December 2009

I received my first Christmas card today. No sooner have you put the last Yuletide nightmare behind you and it’s time for the next. What a pointless waste. Although it’s not pointless of course. Like taxes, it exists to generate income for those smart, or cynical, enough to manipulate it. Christ lived so we could make a buck or two.

Personally I can’t be bothered any more. The whole ghastly thing makes me want to weep. Usually I try and skip the country in favour of a bit of sunshine and solitude. Escape the short days and long nights, the endless grey drizzle, the annual brawl in the turkey aisle at M&S that makes a night club on Coldharbour Lane seem convivial by comparison, and the inevitable farrago of family rows and existential discontentments played out over the backdrop of yet another re-run of Only Fools and Horses. There’s only so many times I can watch David Jason falling comedically through a gap in a bar top before it begins to drive me towards a nervous breakdown. So, usually I prefer to get on an airplane and head for a place where they can’t even pronounce Coca Cola, let alone Santa.

But not this year. This year holidays are a-coming. This year I shall be doing the same as any self respecting middle class Londoner, namely punching fellow passengers out of my path as I make a dive for the last remaining seat on the 15.33 to Crewe, in the process accidentally dribbling the cold remains of my eggnog latte onto the bald pate of the equally wretched fellow now sitting beside me. Oh God. How mind bogglingly monstrous. It makes me feel profoundly depressed. And the more I sit here feeling sorry for myself the more depressing it becomes.

But it’s equally monstrous of me to drivel on so self-pityingly. Self-pity is a pathetic sight.

So I turn my mind, reluctantly if I’m honest, to others. What of others at Christmas time? What about those people who seem not to have a family or friends with whom to share the warmth of Christmas? In this peculiar fragmented society we’ve created, what happens to them on Christmas day and for the interminable weeks running up to it? How rubbish are we to make them feel about themselves as we play out the empty charade of warmth and love under the family Christmas tree, whilst they sit alone in a chilly dank bedsit in Harlesden, or even in a plush tropical mansion block in Kensington. What difference? Loneliness is just as sorrowful in a fur coat as it is in an old fleece.

If Christmas really were the time at which we put ourselves aside and think of others then wouldn't we be doing something as a community to work together to support each other, rather than tanking up Aunty Lily on cheap sweet sherry so she doesn’t hear the domestic meltdown over who burned the goose for the umpteenth year in a row and why the gravy's gone lumpy. Maybe I’m just being naïve but it makes me sad. I feel I should be doing more, or at least doing something, to improve things for others. But what to do? It all sounds so horribly evangelical and self-gratifying.

My wonderful friend Nicky is planning to take her two charming twenty-something sons to help out at the soup kitchen for the day. What an inspiring thing. That’s what I should do and in an odd way that’s what a part of me would like to do.

But what will I do? In all likelihood I’ll sit on the sofa stuffing mince pies down myself, waiting for it to end and feeling terrible for not having done something worthwhile, something generous for a change. The irony is that even from an entirely selfish perspective I really do think it would be a far more gratifying experience to spend the day, or a part of it at least, helping other people - possibly total strangers, possibly not - who aren’t able to help themselves.

Instead of kidding myself that gift giving is my annual altruistic and kindly act, perhaps I should experiment with putting my credit cards away this Christmas and giving from my heart rather than my wallet. Why though is that so much harder than it sounds?