Do you like chocolate – or is that a stupid question? We were down in London last week, not a place I ever want to stay too long. But our hangout was Brick Lane, next to the Old Truman Brewery. On the corner was a café-cum-shop called Dark Sugars.
Heavy, African-infused beats were pumping out of the open doors into the street. Wafting out of those same doors was the seductive scent of raw cocoa.
Inside, it was choc-a-bloc. Displayed in enormous conch shells were chocolates infused with mandarins and gin, chocolate-wrapped dates and some enormous lumps of truffley-looking chocolate labeled simply Overdose.
I took advantage of the free samples and nearly passed out with pleasure. We’d come in for coffee, though. I asked for a Mocha and was surprised when the ginger-Afroed barista fetched over a giant steak knife.
Onto a chopping board she thudded an immense slab of chocolate as her colleague got my coffee ready.
She started shaving slices off it with her foot-long blade then, grabbing my coffee, she tipped about two ounces of pure chocolate into the fresh caffeine. When I say that my cup runneth over, well, it really did.
It’s around £22 to get in to see Hearts or Hibs these days. Pretty steep for a day out. But at the Tate Britain, it’s only £18 to get in to see David Hockney, inset, and he’s not likely to let you down.
The man’s one of the few artists alive today who we can rightfully call a legend. He’s never played it safe. He gets bored easily. As soon as he gets recognised for doing a certain kind of painting he moves on and takes you by surprise.
The Polaroid’s pretty much dead now but back when it was all the rage, Hockney would make one portrait of one person, building up the picture using Polaroids of small sections of their face and body. It still looks fresh today. Then he discovered the iPad. So on the walls of the gallery are pictures of faces and views out of windows that build up and build up over three minutes as each stroke of colour animates in layers onto the tablet screen.
But the biggest thrill of all was seeing his famous, simple, colour-blocked pictures of Californian swimming pools.
I’d only ever seen them postcard-size before. Here they were gigantic and mind-blowingly good.
It’s a crime not to make a city look beautiful
Last week I went to a talk by a German designer called Stefan Sagmeister. I don’t know why, but I like to listen to people speaking English with a German accent – must be all those old war movies.
Sagmeister achieved worldwide notoriety about 20 years ago when he won the world’s most important award for typography by cutting a huge headline from his chest down to his groin with a razor. Surprising then that his talk this time was all about beauty.
His theory was that a bunch of German architects in the 30s, 40s and 50s had “fallen asleep at the wheel” and become so obsessed with the function of buildings that they stopped caring whether they looked ugly or not.
He went on to argue quite convincingly that making places beautiful reduces crime. He cited the New York High Line, above, an elevated, linear park that follows the route of a disused railway line. It’s a beautiful tree-shaded oasis high above the bustle of the city and since it was installed and planted, not a single crime has been recorded along its length.
The other evidence he brought to his argument was the negative and positive responses to two New York stations – Penn Station, which is as ugly as sin, and Grand Central, which is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world.
To reach their conclusions, all they did was measure social media comment from each place and map it in relevant shades, red for negative, green for positive.
On the New York map, ugly Penn Station is bright red and trails a long thread of insulting tweets from the people who have to use it on their daily commute. Grand Central is a vibrant green, five stars on TripAdvisor.
As the cranes spring up around Edinburgh, let’s pray that the new buildings that appear out of the dust are more beautiful than the ones we had to tear down.
Theresa’s not so strong and stable
When a friend told New York writer and socialite Dorothy Parker that American president Calvin Coolidge had died, she said: “How can they tell?”
Our PM, Theresa May, is an equally personality-free zone. Worse than that, she’s unable to handle a live interview. She twitches and frets like a nervous mare.
Unable to compose any conversational answers to reasonable questions, she simply shoehorns the soundbite “strong and stable” at least twice into every sentence, as if repeating it will make it sound any less fatuous.
I used to think Gordon Brown was at the back of the queue when the charisma was getting handed out but now I’m convinced Theresa May was standing right behind him. Every time she opens her mouth, another potential Tory voter drifts off.
Thandie has to get her act together
It’s almost compulsory to watch six-part police procedurals like Line Of Duty, if only because it whisks you back to a time before we all began binge-watching boxed sets and seasons on Netflix. We used to look forward to our Sunday worship at the altar of the gogglebox, as the whole nation tuned in to find out what happens next.
The only trouble with this series of Line Of Duty was the actress selected to play the part of the central character Ros Huntley. I say ‘actress’ but Thandie Newton just can’t act. She has the emotional range of a sheet of chipboard.
Her face shifts back and forward between stony and agonised. And to be fair, she did manage to squeeze out the occasional wince when her gangrenous arm was giving her gyp.
But listen, if you disagree with me, check her out on Netflix. She plays another cop in a series called Rogue. It’s American and she manages the accent OK. But the face? The acting? Just the same.