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January 4, 2011updated 29 Jan 2016 11:36am

Cold Snap

By Alessandro Tome

Is it the timing, the unfamiliar faces, or the dreadful waffle these people talk? Whatever it is, something about Frieze Week makes me shiver, says Alessandro Tomé
IS IT MY impression or are all seasons in London blending into one? Or two? Climate change, I hear you silly sheep bleat, as you are herded into the global warming brain-washing corral. More wind turbines to blight our landscape, kill marine life, expend more energy to make than they will ever save, I hear you clamour. But at least you can use them to hang the bankers, I hear you sheepishly whisper.

That is not the debate I wish to engage in at this time, however. Perhaps it is a sensory illusion of mine, but if it weren’t for the ability to rely on sundials and therefore notice the difference in the length of the days, I wouldn’t know what time of the year it is any more. As with much of the animal kingdom, we rely on small signs of nature and the consequent triggers of social migratory habits to reset our seasonal clocks. But no longer do we find them reliable as new entrants blur the well-established patterns.

It used to be that one knew things were picking up after the lengthy winter hibernation when Ascot Week hovered on the horizon, along with the rest of the racing, tennis, and polo. Reliable as clockwork, the call for Ascot Week was time to emerge from the doldrums and announced the impending arrival of the Galloping Social Hordes. Hats and costumes at the ready, gallivanting in the first rays of warm sun, Royal Enclosure invitation in hand along with rented gloves and morning coat, not knowing which is the front end of a horse or how to spell ‘decorum’, they descended upon England in one of nature’s Great Migrations, alongside the red crabs’ and wildebeest’s own yearly travails.

And just as reliably, you knew the unreliable English Indian summer was coming to an end when the last stragglers of the Galloping Social Hordes had moved on, giving the opportunity to the local flora and fauna to get ready for the long, quieter winter, shoot a few birds to fill the larder and get the bulky tweeds out.

But now everything has been thrown out of kilter. The Galloping Social Hordes are staying on longer as they have found a new, very nutritious source of social nourishment. Not only are they staying longer, but this new social feedstuff is also attracting a whole new species of social migrant. Like its predecessors, it is potentially a threat to the indigenous species, the grey squirrel of the occasion: bigger, brasher, uglier, fatter and with more nuts stored up than the reds. They are the Arty-Farty Social Horde, attracted by this new social pabulum called Frieze Week.

Only recently emerging, this new social nectar has rapidly usurped established stalwarts such as the Red Cross Ball and innumerable charity committee memberships as the route to overall Social Herd acceptance. Even Ascot Week’s ability to nourish these hungry insecure souls is rapidly fading when compared to Frieze Week, for Frieze has all the right combinations of social drugs to satisfy these acceptance addicts and numerous advantages on the incumbents.

First of all, there is no historical tradition or expected behaviour behind Frieze that one would need to know about or respect. No need for special clothes, as long as they’re expensive or eccentric. No need to actually do any work for any committee or spend time in any unpleasant situation to show commitment. The required vocabulary is fairly small, much of it not figuring in Webster’s, enabling one to blab one’s way through most profound discourses on the subject while appearing visionary rather than ignorant.

There is a strict ‘class’ system in place as well, another great nutrient to sustain migrating social species. No need to own a horse and have it race to be accepted; merely saying you have bought a ‘Contemporary’ piece which is in storage is enough to make you a ‘Collector’. This entitles you to a plain VIP pass for the opening evening, the first rung of the Frieze ladder. Declare owning more than one piece (don’t worry — no need yet to show any of this ‘art’) and you are now a ‘Serious Collector’ and will get several passes, but still with the opening-day crowds.

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Declare at least one piece by a ‘yet unknown’ artist and you are now an ‘Expert’, and if you add a well attended dinner during Frieze Week, you are on the verge of becoming a ‘Patron’. I am afraid here you may have to actually start to ‘show’ some ‘art’ you have bought, but being short of wall space is a good shortcut. Alternatively, you could always rent some from galleries that are not selling that well.

Very few of your fellow ‘Collectors’ will know much more than you or care. It isn’t really the point. The point is to get the VVIP invitations to the pre-opening day, where only several hundred of you will be able to get advance sight of the ‘art’ on offer. As long as you are there and you can call your fellow migrants before they make it to the VIP opening and tell them what you liked or ‘bought’ or which gallery to check out, the mission is accomplished.

Just as with the exhibited ‘art’, it is all a game of exhibition and illusion. As with most great migrations, it’s about finding the best social nutrient possible to appear attractive, strong or desirable to the other migrants; for the plumage to be colourful, the coat luscious, the eyes sparkling. I recently saw a programme entitled Is Seeing Believing?. It explores the fascinating aspect of how all our senses connect and conspire to create the complete image we perceive. We don’t as much believe what we see, but rather we actually see what we believe. And isn’t Frieze Week grateful for that? Until the next Social Feed makes an appearance, the Social Migration moves on and yet again messes with the seasons.

While it is said that ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’, what about a scorned or rejected man? An easy cliché is that women are the weaker sex, that in rejection they go all emotional, chop up suits, throw acid on cars, that they are unable to accept rejection rationally and are all over the place. Meanwhile, men supposedly keep focused on solving the problem rationally, articulately and ultimately efficiently and move on.

I disagree. Even in the above well publicised examples, the women show an uncanny ability, in the midst of great hurt and anger, to analyse the situation calmly and pinpoint the most sensitive or sore part of their foe’s armour and strike surgically at it, with little or no collateral damage and not much widespread fallout.

On the other hand, what of the scorned man? ‘Blinded by rage’ or ‘the red mist has come down’ are usual descriptives. How the all-conquering males cannot handle rejection any more than the weaker sex is painfully clear; how men must find external causes and conspiracy theories to be able to manage those feelings, for victimisation excuses their behaviour; how only complete annihilation of the ‘foe’ will do; how they alienate all but the closest family members and friends, and even they remain loyal mostly for lack of choice or for self-preservation; how an innate ability for hatred and rage takes men to the point of self-destruction. Not to mention the pleasure in wallowing in the morass of it all.

When it comes to scorn and rejection, neither sex seems able to manage the emotions well. But perhaps women have a better in-built sense of survival that enables them to re-engage with life sooner and more constructively. We all know we men are little kids and given the chance we would stay in our La La Land for ever. And some just do.

So a German driver in an Austrian-backed car built in England became Formula One’s latest world champion. And he beat a Spanish driver in an Italian car. Now that’s what I call European Union and you call Eurotrash. And it is probably the only thing that has worked out as far as EU co-operation goes.

For how much longer will any Europeans other than Germans and French accept paying billions to have useless gits called MEPs sit around in luxury doing not much other than vote themselves higher salaries, more perks, new offices, immunity from serious prosecution for things we would call crimes? We Italians are accustomed to all this, but at least the food, weather and girls are better back home.

Illustration by Jeremy Leasor

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