Artwork: Nina Kogan/AKG
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“Nina Kogan’s Geometrical Heaven”: a new poem by Clive James

Two of her little pictures grace my walls:
Suprematism in a special sense,
With all the usual bits and pieces flying
Through space, but carrying a pastel-tinged
Delicacy to lighten the strict forms
Of that hard school and blow them all sky-high,
Splinters and stoppers from the bombing of
An angel’s boudoir. When Malevich told
His pupils that their personalities
Should be suppressed, the maestro little knew
The state would soon require exactly that.
But Nina, trying as she might, could not
Rein in her individuality,
And so she made these things that I own now
And gaze at, wondering at her sad fate.
She could have got away, but wished instead
Her gift devoted to Utopia.
She painted trams, designed official posters:
Alive until the siege of Leningrad
And then gone. Given any luck, she starved:
But the purges were still rolling, and I fear
The NKVD had her on a list,
And what she faced, there at the very end,
Was the white cold. Were there an afterlife,
We might meet up, and I could tell her then
Her sumptuous fragments still went flying on
In my last hours, when I, in a warm house,
Lay on my couch to watch them coming close,
Her proofs that any vision of eternity
Is with us in the world, and beautiful
Because a mind has found the way things fit
Purely by touch. That being said, however,
I should record that out of any five
Pictures by Kogan, at least six are fakes.

 

Clive James is an Australian author, critic, broadcaster and poet, best known for his autobiographical series Unreliable Memoirs, his chat shows on British television and his prolific journalism. He has submitted several original poems for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 06 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, An empire that speaks English

Don't Tell the Bride YouTube screengrab
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How did Don’t Tell the Bride lose its spark?

Falling out of the love with reality TV’s wedding planning hit.

Steph, 23, from Nottinghamshire, is standing in a drizzly field wearing a wedding dress. Her betrothed, Billy, is running around in a tweed flat cap trying to make some pigs walk in “a continuous parade”. A man from Guinness World Records is watching with a clipboard, shaking his head. Bridesmaids gaze sorrowfully into the middle distance, each in a damp pig onesie.

Thus ends the second wedding in E4’s new series of Don’t Tell the Bride – and the programme’s integrity with it.

When the classic programme, which follows grooms attempting to plan their wedding (punchline: human males doing some organising), began a decade ago on BBC Three, it had the raw spark of unpredictability. For eight years, the show did nothing fancy with the format, and stuck with pretty ordinary couples who had few eccentric aspirations for their wedding day.

This usually resulted in run-of-the-mill, mildly disappointing weddings where the worst thing that happened would be a reception at the nearest motorway pub, or an ill-fitting New Look low heel.

It sounds dull, but anyone who has religiously watched it knows that the more low-key weddings expose what is truly intriguing about this programme: the unconditional commitment – or doomed nature – of a relationship. As one of the show’s superfans told the Radio Times a couple of years ago:

“It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony . . . Don’t Tell the Bride is not about ruined weddings, it’s about hope. Every wedding is a demonstration of how our ambitions curve away from our abilities. It’s a show about striving to deserve love and how that’s rarely enough.”

It also meant that when there were bombshells, they were stand-out episodes. High drama like Series 4’s notorious Las Vegas wedding almost resulting in a no-show bride. Or heart-warming surprises like the geezer Luke in Series 3 playing Fifa and guzzling a tinny on his wedding morning, who incongruously pulls off a stonking wedding day (complete with special permission from the Catholic Church).

For its eight years on BBC Three, a few wildcard weddings were thrown into the mix of each series. Then the show had a brief affair with BBC One, a flirt with Sky, and is now on its tenth year, 13th series and in a brand new relationship – with the more outrageous E4.

During its journey from BBC Three, the show has been losing its way. Tedious relationship preamble has been used to beef up each episode. Some of the grooms are cruel rather than clueless, or seem more pathetic and vulnerable than naïve. And wackier weddings have become the norm.

The programme has now fully split from its understated roots. Since it kicked off at the end of July, every wedding has been a publicity stunt. The pig farm nuptials are sandwiched between a Costa del Sol-based parasail monstrosity and an Eighties Neighbours-themed ceremony, for example. All facilitated by producers clearly handing the groom and best men karaoke booth-style props (sombreros! Inflatable guitars! Wigs!) to soup up the living room planning process.

Such hamminess doesn’t give us the same fly-on-the-wall flavour of a relationship as the older episodes. But maybe this level of artifice is appropriate. As one groom revealed to enraged fans in The Sun this week, the ceremonies filmed are not actually legally binding. “It makes a bit of a mockery of the process that the bride and groom go through this huge ordeal for a ceremony which isn’t even legal,” he said. Perhaps we should’ve predicted it would all eventually end in divorce – from reality.

Don’t Tell the Bride is on E4 at 9pm

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.