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The Secret Society – How to Crash a Gallery

26 May

Like most geeks who still read Tintin and can’t quite find the drive to, y’know, get a life, I’ve always liked the idea of secret societies. I guess the appeal comes from the desire to know where you stand, without anyone else knowing you’re standing there; you’re either IN with the group or completely oblivious to the fact it exists. It’s secret, duh. Whatever- the fact is, I was pretty sure I’d never gain membership to one, and even if I did, how could it ever be sufficiently exclusive? Even the Freemasons are pretty open these days- what motive could possibly bring together a properly secret society in Twitter-age London? Well reader, I found out- and the answer was just as underwhelming as it was genuinely fucking weird.

After I left university, I ran out of money depressingly quickly. The combined circumstances created by a lofty sense of entitlement and a near-debilitating lack of competence left me jobless and hell-bent on getting drunk enough to forget it. One day, a friend who’d gone on holiday e-mailed me an invitation to a private view in Spitalfields. Having nothing particularly better to do and – I swear to God, cross my heart and hope to die – a genuine interest in contemporary art, I turned up at the allotted time, turned my nose up at a few canvases and skulked off to the reception to collect one of the showy Japanese lagers on offer.

Five beers in and paranoia had started to grip me; how come everyone here knew each other? They were primarily in their thirties and forties, sporting self-consciously shabby chic; some of them even looked vaguely familiar, from the society pages of the ES Magazine, I fancied. Every attempt to work my way into their conversation went the way of the minidisc. I turned to leave, but a tall man in glasses swayed into my path and asked me what I’d thought of the show. I stuttered out some pseudy answers and watched his face go blank; clearly, he had even less opinion than I did. I relaxed a little as he spewed out a succession of questions about my background, current circumstances, alcohol preferences etc etc. I didn’t know it then, but I was being vetted.

After that I was ushered out and led to several more openings. I was introduced to the rest of his entourage, including a former scientist who claimed to have been raised by the Aga Khan, a literary translator who professed to be on good terms with Umberto Eco and a one-time publishing mogul, current occupation undisclosed. The man who’d approached me admitted to a more prosaic background as a cityboy-turned-“entrepreneur”, but he seemed to be in charge so I did what he said.

I can’t remember what happened after that, but when I woke up the next morning feeling like a dissected cow in formaldehyde, I checked my e-mail and found a fresh message from the man in glasses. It was headed:


It contained was a list of exhibition openings colour-coded to indicate the quality of alcohol on offer. The scale went from a rare red (champagne) to a ubiquitous green (supermarket own-brand wine). Blue signified quality imported lager, turquoise spirits, maroon decent wine. At the end of the message was a brief caveat:


Alright, a secret society that exists solely for the purpose of knowing the whereabouts of free booze hardly rivals Fight Club in the intrigue stakes, but for an unemployed loser with no social life, this was the key to the city; I was sold, and very happy to keep to my benefactor’s code of confidentiality. I knew I need never go sober of an evening again.

And so began an extended bender in which I got as close as possible to the group without ever really knowing how fanciful their claims were. I quickly came to realise that my companions’ “self-consciously shabby chic” was in fact just shabby, and their familiarity came not from the pages of a glossy but from going into Soho pubs in the middle of the day, watching them nursing their halves towards the galleries’ 6pm watering call.

I made particular friends with the oldest member of the group, an art-historian-turned-bankrobber who’d spent most of the last 30 years in prison. Our sorties through Mayfair, necking everything from Ruinart to rum punch and introducing ourselves to gallerists first as ‘serious art critics’ and thence ‘major collectors’ were tremendous fun, but, alas, my companion went too far; at one gallery that Christmas, he actually attempted to buy a painting. Bad mistake; not only did the bounced cheque bring a hasty end to his parole, but his actions attracted unwanted attention to the LCAS. Galleries began to refuse entry to my chums, and on account of my association I guess, I stopped receiving the lists.

The rub is that this lot had figured out something extremely simple- too many people who might otherwise be extremely receptive to a nightly dose of free alcohol with a side-ordering of dodgy art were too intimidated to merely roll up and expect hospitality. There are a lot of galleries in London, and all are in competition to look busy when they open a show. If you can’t afford the pub and fancy cultivating the sort of mystique I initially saw in my erstwhile chums, why not do them a favour? This was my reasoning, at any rate, and secretive as they were, the society were perversely obsessed with how others perceived them. I don’t know what they’re up to these days – I see various characters waiting at bus stops looking fretfully at their watches as the afternoon slumps to its conclusion – but I wish them nothing but the finest wines available to humanity.

Digby Warde-Aldam.

Originally Published on The Urbanaut, August 2013.


Party planning

6 Jul


Tesco Inferno is 2- whoopee. Honestly, if you’d have asked me if I thought I’d still be writing this shit back in 2011, I’d have been slightly offended. Nevertheless, this birthday is cause to celebrate; I considered inviting some friends for lunch but realised that might seem a bit weird. I then decided to buy a cake but in the end I couldn’t be bothered to go to the shop- cue an agonised trawl around my kitchen for something I could stick candles in. I settled on the last remaining piece of bread in a loaf I bought last week and then ate most of it. The resulting centrepiece is, I’m sure you’ll agree, a fitting tribute to the calibre of work that this blog has proudly been publishing for the last two years.

Oh dear. At least it was Vogel’s.

Blog Posts you were bound to read some day no.1: The German Army v. Donnie Darko

5 Apr

Ever had an inkling that there might be a connection between early-noughties pseudo intellectual teen movies and the trenches of the Western Front circa 1914? Look no further- here, in a photo that my grandfather found (looted) in Germany at the end of World War II, is conclusive proof that, yes, that bunny from Donnie Darko really could travel through time…

IMG_0463… but seriously, what the fuck is going on here? Is this really an unprecedented schism in the popular culture space-time continuum? Or do Germans just like hanging out with creepy pig/rabbit effigies? And, crucially, where can I buy a hat like the jocular mustachio’d type in the foreground is wearing? Answers on a postcard, please; no-one ever sends me postcards these days.

Digby is Back! (though not quite as impressively as last time*)

4 Nov

In which this blog’s resident wannabe auteur fuckwit returns from wherever it was he said he went…

I have nothing to say.



Aaah! For the days when one could obscure a third of the title of one’s local newspaper merely by returning from one’s holiday. Fucking internet.

London Film Festival: Day One

11 Oct

WTF?!? That bastard Dilworth DIDN’T go see Frankenweenie? He won the frickin’ toss up! AND he told me he loved Tim Burton- love Tim Burton. I gotta come clean- Edward Scissorhands changed my life, and for all the failures, Burton is a genius. You don’t miss his premier. Fact.

I haven’t even got onto the shit he spewed about ME. Festival or no festival, who wants to live in a tent? There are people out there busting their asses just to get out of tents, for chrissakes. Who cares if I want to stay in a hotel for ten days? My room in the Gloucester Road Holiday Inn isn’t exactly Babylon, I’ve gotta say- in fact, it looks a little like an annexe of the Big Brother house from  Reality, Matteo Garrone’s (Gomorrah) new movie about reality TV, life, selling fish, going crazy and stuff like that. More of that in a second, once I’m through with Dilworth…

His ‘American colleague’? They pay me three times more where I work (and yeah, I am under contract- sad to tell y’all that ‘Marcus’ ain’t my birth nameΦ), and anyways, I only know him from covering Venice last year. Must I mention that I’m 24 years younger than he is? Asshole.

I may not be qualified to tell you I’m at the center of things, but this is because I’m back at the hotel listening to the new John Cale CD (awesome) and typing this onto my Mac Book Air (because I can afford one, Dilworth). What I can write is that have actually seen some of the movies screened today. Wanna hear?

The Hunt is the new feature from Thomas Vinterberg, the guy who made Festen. I haven’t enjoyed his movies for years, but this was something, and make no mistake- guys, if you don’t leave the theater with your balls in your hands and a reflex to hide your face from every preteen kid who walked past, you should most probably be locked up. The story has Lukas (Mads Mikkelsen, from Casino Royale), a recently-divorced preschool teacher, getting caught up in a web of very serious accusations by a fuck-up, throwaway remark from one of his students- can you call a three year old a “student”?- and watching everything around him fall to pieces. The movie is shot in that blurry-then-super clear European style, of which Vinterberg was a pioneer, and the suggestions given by what we actually SEE are problematic. Did Lukas molest these kids? We just don’t know, and even without the fudged outline, Vinterberg has produced his best movie in ten years. It makes me glad to be a child-phobic homosexual, I’m telling you.

Then there was Amour: well, what can I say? It’s a Michael Haneke movie. It won the Palme d’or at Cannes. It gave me an early-onset midlife crisis. I’m on expenses only for this assignment, for chrissakes.

We (members of the press- suck on it) were loaded with an embargo before writing about Blood the new feature from your beloved BBC. Seriously, what is it with you Brits? You produce good enough character actor fodder for Hollywood, and then go take it as if it’s the Lord’s blessing? GET SOME FUCKING CONFIDENCE! Your commercial movies stink- and none stinks worse than this pile of crap. Paul Bettany is totally unconvincing as a smalltown cop who kills an innocent suspect with some help from his improbable brother (Stephen Graham from Boardwalk Empire) and descends into an ass-wipingly clichéd moral crisis. The photography is dark and moody (surprise surprise) and the dialogue is as awkward as a bum in the Ritz. To see Al Capone reduced to this shit is more embarrassing for an American than the whole 8 years in Vietnam put together.

And then there was Reality- now THIS is a movie. If you’ve seen Gomorrah, you’ll know what to expect from a technical point of view. If not, just see the damn thing already. Luciano (Aniello Arena) is an outgoing guy who runs a fish store in Naples. He likes his life. He sells fish. He goes to parties. He does a transvestite act. And yet… and yet… when his family bully him into auditioning for Big Brother, he’s at first reluctant and then OBSESSED. He gets through to the second round and is called to the sacred ground of Cinècitta. He’s sure he’s made it into the final selection. So he waits. And waits. And waits. And then… all I can say is that he gets WAY too into the Orwellian implications of the show he’s competing for. This is a parable about the fever of attention, the lure of celebrity and the shopping habits of Romans on holiday. And for all that, it’s just waiting to be called a masterpiece. And I don’t do that when I’m writing for ”different” British wordpress blogs under pseudonyms.

It’s one day in, but already it looks a lot like the London Film Festival is trying- and almost succeeding- to get itself taken seriously. Cute. I’ve had a party- no, seriously, a party. I must’ve drunk twelve cognac miniatures back there. Could Dilworth do that? Ask again when he fails to post his copy tomorrow night.

Thanks. You’ve been great- and don’t answer back.

Marcus P.Hernandez

ΦI wanted to pass myself for a Brit- but thanks to a certain SOMEBODY, the secret’s out. I’m happy, you betcha- hell, I can be as much of a dumbass yankee as you Europeans seem to think I am! Kiss my ass, Dilworth.

… You Might Well Ask…

8 Aug

An Alan With a View

8 Jun