Tales of the City: The bottom line in humour

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Good news for large-bottomed girls everywhere. Robert Crumb, their most enthusiastic appraiser and connoisseur, will be in London next month, and his work will be ubiquitous. His haunted, bulging-eyed, scar-faced American citizens, his long-bearded patriarchs, his melting-faced druggies, his self-loathing self-portraits will show up on every street corner and in every arty orifice in town. The counter-culture-comic art which once adorned every student wall in the 1970s (remember "Keep On Trucking" and the guy doing the complicatedly laid-back walk?) will be seen at Bonhams gallery in Bond Street, then at the Whitechapel, and also on a T-shirt designed by Stella McCartney. There'll be the launch of the 400-page The R. Crumb Handbook, and an interview at the NFT following a film retrospective.

Good news for large-bottomed girls everywhere. Robert Crumb, their most enthusiastic appraiser and connoisseur, will be in London next month, and his work will be ubiquitous. His haunted, bulging-eyed, scar-faced American citizens, his long-bearded patriarchs, his melting-faced druggies, his self-loathing self-portraits will show up on every street corner and in every arty orifice in town. The counter-culture-comic art which once adorned every student wall in the 1970s (remember "Keep On Trucking" and the guy doing the complicatedly laid-back walk?) will be seen at Bonhams gallery in Bond Street, then at the Whitechapel, and also on a T-shirt designed by Stella McCartney. There'll be the launch of the 400-page The R. Crumb Handbook, and an interview at the NFT following a film retrospective.

It's always pleasing when an artist who was a small part of your teenage life suddenly gets praised as a profound and influential milestone in cultural history. In Crumb's case, he has been called a genius by the likes of Steve Martin and Alex Garland. Robert Hughes, the pugnacious art critic of Time magazine, called him "the Brueghel of the 20th century", presumably because he drew crowded scenes of slightly grotesque humanity.

In every other respect, Hughes is quite wrong. Crumb isn't a neutral delineator of public events; what he's good at is making plain the strength of his feelings for what's being depicted. Especially lust. From Fritz the Cat to Mr Natural, his cartoons throb with horniness, bulge with priapic intent, ache to do something unspeakable to the meaty thighs of the girls he so graphically admires. The girls in his work - pictured in the street, in art galleries, bars, schools and bed - are four-square, solid-limbed, massive-cheeked, hoydenish young women, their feet fetishistically laced into enormous hiking boots, their bodies contorted to display their rear ends to maximum effect. It's here, not the Brueghel crowd scenes, that his most passionate self resided.

Which is why I hope the organisers of the Crumb interview, a month hence, take a leaf out of the pages of Getting It magazine. When they interviewed Crumb in 1999, he agreed only on condition that they supplied a female contortionist, "suitable for riding piggyback" whose limbs and accessories he was allowed to bend into any shape while answering the magazine's questions. Will he repeat the performance? It would perk up things no end at the NFT...

How I drove you to distraction

Talk about touching a raw nerve. Few subjects I've written about produced such a response as my sorrowful elegy to my car, which I'm likely to lose as a result of the court case that will follow my being nailed by speed cameras over the past few months.

The letters were all from men. The ones in support were sentimental and warm, audibly hyperventilating about the unfairness of life, and speed cameras in particular. The ones that didn't sympathise with my reduced circumstances were vile. "I was revolted by the rhetoric of [your] why-are-they-persecuting-poor-little-me whinge. You have been caught four times exceeding the speed limit and are thus a danger to other road-users," wrote a hectoring chap called Andrew from Cardiff, before suggesting that all motoring offenders should be compelled to re-take their test "and then be required to paint their cars in purple, green and white zigzag stripes, so that sensible and law-abiding road users can give them a wide berth". I hope you feel better now, Andy, and the anti-apoplexy medication has worked. Rival columnists explained sanctimoniously how to drive "sensibly", and I look forward, on meeting them one day, to driving sensibly over their feet.

A thoughtful chap called Hugh from Hampshire, who has clearly done a PhD in Speed Management, speculated about the folly of requiring drivers to creep around town at 25mph to make sure they don't put on a sudden spurt, or to check their speedometers every five seconds rather than keep their eyes on the road. He also points out that 37.5mph (or 60kph) is the urban speed limit in Australia.

My favourite letter, though, came from Patrick from Battersea, a charming missive offering sympathy (he's on six points himself, pro tempore...) and making a crucial point. Would we stand more chance of getting the speed-camera law changed if we knew how many MPs had been banned from driving - and whether MPs claim their occupation requires them to be exempted from a ban. I do not know, but I aim to find out. Once you start investigating MPs, it's a campaign.

Totally intoxicating

I finally caught up with Sideways, the movie every middle-aged filmgoer is currently sighing about, and enjoyed it immensely. I don't know by what filmic alchemy the two ex-roommate losers were transformed, by the end, into people in whose future happiness one felt a personal investment, but it all worked.

I loved the way Jack, the priapic lummox, had flashes of real insight into his buddy Miles's troubled visits to "the dark side". I loved the way sensitive Miles (Paul Giamatti) started out talking excruciating wine-speak ("It's quaffable but hardly transcendental") and became the kind of chap at a wine-tasting who insists on having a full glass and downing it in one. I really loved Virginia Madsen (who plays Maya), the instant, locker-room pin-up girl of the late-forties male.

The only thing I didn't take to about the movie was the title. It was stupid. Sideways - did it mean that your life sometimes doesn't go backwards or forwards, just, you know, sideways? Or what? It took me 10 minutes of staring at the wall to remember the scene in which Miles gives Jack a lesson in wine appreciation - how you hold up the glass, check the colour, the bouquet the taste et cetera. "Then you hold it sideways," came the injunction, "to check around the rim. If the colour's different, that's a sign of age..." Was that it? This is a film about checking for signs of age while appreciating a thing of beauty. Gosh. Brilliant title.

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