‘And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of Bell End moved across the face of the waters …’
With its sophomore squirt at the Art World behind it and a wad of frequent flyer miles in its buttock pocket, the Grand Synod of Bell End elected to pack Selwyn off to the Old Country for five days; a contemporary hybrid of sabbatical, research expedition and rehab. He’s been looking more and more like Kate Moss in recent weeks. What better bullseye at which to aim his whittled arrow than Marc Hundley’s and Matt Connors’ inaugural exhibit at Herald Street, in London’s storied East End. What to expect? Pearly Kings and Queens, Steak and Kidney Pies with fingernails in ‘em Guv’nor, Chirpy Chappie taxi drivers whippin’ yer dahn the Old Kent Road singing The Lambeth Walk, ‘alf a bottle of Vera Lynn and a finger up the Gary Glitter?
Ensconced in what used to be Mr Smedley’s office at the recently converted Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green (his pubes still garnish the skirting boards), Selwyn held court with a coterie of old lovelies from yesteryear; there was Camberwell’s finest – Paul (Betty Slocombe) Bromley and David Willis. There was Henrik Knudsen, Olivia Beasley, Julia Crouch (whose latest novel Every Vow You Break has just hit the stands) and her friend Anna. There was Jonathan Willis. And of course … there was Ian Hundley, slowly transmogrifying into Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served … and there was Marc Hundley, the Original Licking Elf. The Hundley Boys, together once more like a 40 year old zygote. Sphynx kittens, curled up on the same double bed in a converted Whitechapel Georgian, purring, like Yin and Yang.
Festivities began on Friday evening; dinner for select glitterati at Tayyabs legendary curryhouse, finest Pakistani this side of Bradford and barely a bowel-movement from Whitechapel tube. Selwyn grabbed a seat between I Gemelli in the thick of the New York refugees, and proceeded to talk dirty with Carrie Imberman, who he only ever meets at free gallery dinners. They can both be found at the end of the evening filling brown paper bags with leftovers. Fascinating to hear that her standard poodle Iolanthe is in heat; apparently the vulva turns a ripe shade of burgundy and swells up like a catcher’s mitt. More conversation and some glances down the willowy cleavage of Maryam L’Ange, whose husband Ash (along with Nicky Verber) was instrumental in bringing Hundley to the unwitting burghers of Bethnal Green. Ryan McGinley, translucently lovely in Thin White Duke mode, sipping cranberry-and-soda, scuttling off crab-like to avoid the attentions of an enormous Visigoth. Matt Connors himself, sweet, tender and reddishly-bearded (a pervasive theme, we later realised … the arthouse Chas ‘n’ Dave look). The Singha flowed, combining in the belly with fields of poppadoms, causing rapid inflation; the methane from our table alone could have lit the lamps of Olde London for a fortnight. Knobbly little lamb chops, tossed by harried waiters to the multitude, who barked and snatched them from the air like seals.
Saturday evening saw the commencement of festivities for the masses; a distinctly unprivate private view, mobbed by fay young men sporting Angora beards. A collective shearing would have yielded blankets for half the homeless of Bromley-by-Bow. Western Massachusetts has arrived in Bethnal Green and is taking no prisoners. Everyone sluiced down Kronenbourg 1664 like it was 1664; nubby bottles served by delicate twin jockeys, each decked out as Charlie Manson. We spotted Jim Colvill, who stood out from the crowd, being neither bearded nor bald. Marc and Matt shone like Uranus in retrograde, accepting the plaudits of the multitude with grace, humility and the question “do you have any ‘shrooms?”.
Then on we went, the whole House at Pooh Corner, to Whitechapel’s own LHT Urban Bar, the only pub east of Covent Garden named after a milk homogenization process. Following several mishaps involving the local constabulary, Selwyn has sworn off pubs with exteriors painted in Big Cat themes. No more trips, for instance, to The Hungry Leopard in Basingstoke, nor Johnny Cougar’s Alehouse, Parson’s Green. So it was with some trepidation that he read the ESL promotional blurb:
The LHT Urban Bar is decorated with enormous tiger striped decoration it is a lively and vibrant place, with young, friendly and energetic crowd. Located directly parallel to White Chapel Station and with late license and it is a perfect spot to have drink.
It is also home turf – he noted tremblingly – to DJ Hedgehog, The Dirty Disco Beach Party and a phenomenon known as Asbo Grooves. Setting aside the Collected Love Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins he had intended to employ as afterparty entertainment, Selwyn turned to the one man capable of accompanying him through the gaping maw of a hipster disco: Paul (‘my pussy is very agitated’) Bromley. Like Hillary and Tensing they mounted the staircase, summiting the vacant dancefloor in Sea Island Cotton just a few strokes before midnight.
And then they danced. Oh, didn’t they just? They danced and they danced, like Auntie Dorothy and Auntie Jean at Sharon and Mike’s wedding. Arms in the air, saddlebags flying like elephant jowls, they danced; and their cellulite snagged the beams of light, splintering them into a thousand tiny shards which ebbed and throbbed about the room like a giant risotto mirror-ball. And always, always half a beat behind the insistent dub-disco throb. One by one others joined them, then veered away: Ian Hundley, curled in mortified embarrassment into the corner, waving the Two Aunties off like a hermit crab. Marc Hundley, with that fixed ‘alright, you can stop now’ grin, lips peeled back like a freshly unwrapped Tutankhamun. And where, oh where was Ryan McGinley? Down the street at Basmati Karaoke Palace perfecting Life on Mars?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. At two o’clock in the morning it was time to squeeze out the colostomy bags; Auntie Jean took Auntie Dorothy’s arm, and gently, tenderly, sweatily, they eased each other off the dancefloor, their varicose veins still pulsing to the beat.
Congratulations to Marc Hundley and Matt Connors on a mighty success at Herald Street. We’re so glad we were able to send Selwyn as a Bell End representative. And we promise – we promise – never to do it again.
(all photographs: Henrik Knudsen)