Thursday, May 25, 2006

GF6 600 - 20 Place for a rainy dayWhere the hell did that come from?

I know English weather is meant to be changeable, which is what makes it weather and not a climate, but sometimes I think it's doing the metrological equivalent of leaping out from behind a bush and yelling "boo!". Days and days slashing rain, and consequent conversations based on disbelieving looks and the line "it wasn't when I went out"; winds aping an orgy in hell, kicking against trees so heavy pollarded they resemble bollards, yet still have enough windage to thrumb; rooms autoexorcising as doors rend locks and windows pop. And now this; sunscorched cheeks bunched beneath the eyes as bodies sag across every ledge, bedecked in strewn jackets and sweaty watches, indifferent limbs weighting quivering pages (and in some cases reading about quivering limbs [I only read it at lunchtime and already I'm misquoting it. Fifth paragraph of Chapter 1 of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by Lawrence of Arabia, who is T.E., not as I discovered when trying to find it in the library, D.H.; that's a completely different set of quiverage. Here it's the bodies that quiver, the limbs relegated to being hot and intimate]).

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than to complain, somewhat ridiculously, that the weather's a bit better, although doing in what might be seen as either an excessively verbose or beguilingly fluid manner. Which of course I cannot sustain, for it is simply too eloquent: too Sin.

And why are neoclassical, although now somewhat classical, columns so poorly designed for those lingering against them? The bases protrude too far, and too unevenly, to comfortably support the back, and the fluting (I'm sure there is a use specific name, albeit one I can't quite recall. But then I am related to the woman who, when accosted by an Alzheimers' chugger, replied solely, "No thank you; I think I've already got it") is carefully designed to exorably crush one's head under its own weight. But it was one of those days where people sprawl, slinking ever lower as they shed possessions, coats, shoes, cigarettes marking the engulfing quest for the position of least effort; one of those days where glasses are abandoned in improbable places, leaving one to wonder if they ever return to the hosts, or simply wander into the homes of opportunistic, or perhaps into the carts of the Camden clad zealots (the same men who removed the thin red line of graffiti by gouging holes out of the pavement along its length), or maybe are lifted into the nests of pigeons magpieing all that falls before them, or even tumble and drift off, only to stumble into the Thames, where in a few decades the Tate-to-Tate boat will ground on broken stemmed wine glasses and Ty Nant bottles.

That company of course being responsible for the multicoloured seaglass of the Thames, which is scarcely seaglass, dipped in brackish water, cocooned in silt and marooned from every storm by a titanium clad chrysalis. One could drop Wedgewood's entire output off Waterloo Bridge only to find it a year later intact in a cluster under Festival Pier, still with the price stickers on the back. The city may not need a storm, but unless the river gets one, it'll be a greater shard of glass than whatever they plan for London Bridge.

Guess who, while fending off parents (i.e. spending time with them, while deftly sticking a thick blue balloon into the gaps between any of the individuals involved), made some comment about wanting to take pictures from the strand (this is completely unrelated to the state of my current camera, my lust for a big lensed digital SLR, and the indecision forced postponements of so many birthday and Christmas presents... our family have never been good with hints; maybe I'll just send them the invoice), only to discover my parents have never been on the foreshore. As it was low tide, and a fairly low one at that, we descended to the sand and scattered debris. On other beaches I hunt obsessively for small bits of seaglass, but in front of the Royal Festival Hall the fun disappears in a scrunch of half glasses. I can't even revert to beach based activity number two: skimming, as the stones, bricks and chunks of iron are all inconsiderately shaped. The only thing I can find to skim comes with a still discernable willow pattern.

But then its failings as a proper beach are compensated for by the view arching underneath Waterloo Bridge. If... I was about to write about memorial benches, and how mine would be submerged by the tide, when I realised it's not just the one view I love. There are others, many others, although dunking is a common theme. How boring it must be to be summarised by one bench alone. Here's to Trevor, who never knew anything else, who never found new places, who never looked for anything better, who never went beyond this very spot, four feet from Mabel's bench, and so who is forever infinitely superior, as he can see his house from here.

I think the best epitaph I've seen was in a churchyard. Atop a downed obelisk, or colossal brick of stone, were the words "Rest awhile". I'm not sure why it impressed me; it might simply have been an awareness that live continues even though it does not continue for all of us. It was the attempt to still have purpose, to do something useful in death, rather than be squashed beneath an arrogant memorial proclaiming all that the here under did in life, and so be yet another waste of space. I think it only worked in the context of reckless consumption; if all others heap shrines upon themselves, let your shrine acknowledge others.

But that's enough of morbid views (who are these people who wish to let everyone know that the splendour before them is only a fleeting experience? Little plaques on key scored benches serve only to state that this, all this before you, is not yours. They say only that it is theirs and that they'd like to be theirs forever. It dismisses not just those who are currently there, but the others who have been, but thought better of stamping their mark on the very good. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the dogs cocking their legs at those of the bench and the bench benefactors themselves; pissing on and pissing off even in death) and moribund thoughts.

This was intended to be a post about the V&A's Modernism exhibition, which can probably be summed up with glug of the V&A's Art Deco exhibition of a few years ago, a swig of the V&A's Arts and Crafts exhibition from a while back (including several exhibits which have been very modernly recycled), slightly more than a dash of the Tate's current Bauhaus thing (photographs and film of things currently sitting in a better lit and better designed display a couple of miles to the east), all served on the rocks, to remind us that Modernism also existed in Siberia. On the last point, this time I came prepared, dressed in clothes which would kill if worn on the Underground in late May.

There's something about the V&A. It might be the appalling signage (which way's whatever? Oh, back the way we came?). It might be dire layout of the building, which ensures that one at least gets a good walk, while apparently skirting though the boiler room. It might be the hateful staff. It might be the locked doors, which aren't meant to be locked (the museum is another branch of the Church of Please Use Other Door, only without the signs). It might be the awful display, where reflections rule and extra corners are engineered into the room, to ensure one person block three exhibits at once, while casting their shadow over the title and description of a fourth. It might be the superb lack of narrative, whereby one of the first exhibits is classed as Suprematicist, a term only defined in text further from the door. It might be the waffle of the accompanying blurb, which manages to contradict itself in a sentence (there's one, not quite memorable enough, piece which states that increasing complexity increases simplicity and adaptivity. Unfortunately, there might be instances where that is true, which just shows how badly I remembered it. The context of the sentence left few such options), or utter inane comments which scarcely scrape linguist sense, let alone any other kind; the whole thing feels, for much of the time, like plagiarism plagiarised, and so it is apparent that an endless chain of copying and slight editing has occurred, the end result of which stunningly illustrates the lack of comprehension on the part of the writer (but it's what everyone says, so it must be true. One advantage of being a teacher's son is that occasionally I was pressganged into child labour, and so into marking homework. The ones who learn by rote and so copy down verbatim what the textbooks say [give or take a few mangled words] may as well stamp "I don't get it" on the front cover of their books of worryingly round or erratically seismic Berol markings).

And this isn't even getting into the dreadful incompetence that surrounds the place like an aura. My mother is something of a connoisseur of membership schemes. She won't be renewing the V&A one.

I'm not sure whether it's because they don't have enough on to justify the cost. I'm not sure if it's because they wrote a letter which said the Inland Revenue had been terribly beastly and pointed out that the V&A had stuffed up and so, in a thoroughly unexpected move on the part of the Inland Revenue, they charged the V&A tax. I'm not sure if it's because the letter said they'd have to charge £10 more on renewals to cover it (bear in mind my parents already had it down as not worth the money). I'm not sure if it's because the V&A tried to charge my parents £10 more for the privilege of attempting to use their membership card (right, so that whole contract thing they signed, whereby you provide services and they provide the cash? You'd like to amend that after both parties have agreed to it, would you?), which was met with a look which would, if not part the Red Sea, at least freeze the thing (we'd had practice, having earlier been involved in a shoe returning incident [yes, I use my parents for moral support, and because faced with my mother and I in full volleying flow, and the one causal line, uttered in response to my father cranking up to join in, "[Father], don't worry, I'm sure it'll be fine" - there's something about calling off the dogs which is far more powerful than trying to set them on anybody - the manager who so very nearly laughed in my face strangely decided that yes, indeed, that is poor workmanship, and not any of things he'd just said, and, er, he'll just see if he can get me a replacement. In amongst all the big nosed, buck teethed, patchy stubbled genes my parents gave me must have been one for my "don't be bloody daft" look]). I'm not sure if it's because the girl behind the desk tried insisting that the letter had said so, until asked for the wording of the letter. I'm not sure if it's because the V&A have also revoked all the other benefits of the membership card. I'm not sure if it's because they close exhibitions early for the hell of it (by early I mean both time of day and month). Or it all could just be the way I instinctively turned to smile apologetically to the woman behind us in the queue, for the approaching delay, when I heard my mother drawn in breath in a certain way.

Fine, the V&A got something very badly wrong. The V&A have to find a way to cover the costs of the problem. But should the V&A do it by writing to the dear wonderful people who support them and telling the supporters that they owe the V&A money? Of course, they did it in a way which was only highly misleading rather than outright misinformation, but with luck might be read on the beneficial side. My mother said she received an ambiguous letter, and in trying to find out the true detail of the situation, suddenly this amount owing simply disappeared. Which sort of suggests the V&A didn't have much confidence in their own position, and were simply relying on no one querying it.

Of course the V&A is a publicly supported institute. It relies on donations. It is dependent on charitable generosity. Yet they wrote to all the perpetual donors with a bill for services which had already been paid for, and by the way, half those services no longer exist.

They didn't ask. They didn't request. They didn't suggest.

They told. They demanded.

Yet those same demands disappeared as soon as they were questioned. Asked to inform they change the subject. I'm thinking a round of applause for such exemplary handling of the situation.

When will there be just one Culturecard, which gives access to all the exhibits in London's galleries and museums? £100 per year, you and a friend, any exhibition you like.

Only please let the Tate run it. Membership schemes on Exhibition Road all outcompete each other in their failings. The Royal Academy, while having the cachet of the Summer Exhibition, is miserly and haughty in the extreme (if you want the twelve page blurb that comes as standard with the ticket, you have to buy it, and we're not talking 25 pence). The Tate are charming, slightly contradictory (usually "you're supposed to get tickets from the desk downstairs, but we'll let you off this time", while the desk downstairs says to go straight up) and have great view from the member's room at Tate Modern (the one at Tate Britain is less good, due largely to the lack of view and the vibrating floor; I've never known if it's bad construction, or a deliberate ploy to reduce lingering on the leather seats with a free copy of the Guardian).

Which sort of gets me to presents and holes in the road. One present for a friend involved me doing what has been termed my "full Boudicca" around London in the quest for something apt, suitable and transportable (I thought I'd failed by having to resort to a mini jigsaw of Monet's waterlilies from the National Gallery. SG was delighted as she likes the picture (I know, I was the one who showed you round. Remember the Canaletto snap?) and had never encountered a jigsaw before (sometimes I wonder about that girl. While watching Amelie [her birthday pick, but she didn't know it was in French] I made a snide comment about the montage of childhood quirks which runs under the initial titles, only to discover that the Shanghaiese don't have raspberries, and certainly have never eaten them impaled upon fingers (how horrendous was the summer when one's fingers finally outgrew them?). The existence of Chinese Hula Hoops is currently unknown.

The other present was a Mucha book from the Tate (although I later found more popular titles in the series a pound cheaper at The Works), which involved ignoring my mother ringing me to ask why I hadn't met her yet, as I tried to hurry across the junction outside Southwark station when the lights were out (and yes, some drivers did use the gas-and-hope technique).

Sort of related. I've found another hole in the road. Different road this time, with a bit less traffic. The hole beneath is at least three feet deep behind the gash, and thoughtfully someone's put a ring of red paint round it, so the drivers know where to aim, and Camden council know where to come and scrape out a ring of aggregate, lest their beautiful borough be marred by such antisocial scrawls.

And I think I've figured out why they're appearing (not sure if applies in TCR's case). Thames Water have been doing the rounds repairing age-old pipes and stopping leaks. Areas underground where chasms have been hewn out by generations of pressurised water, constantly kept up to the same pressure as the mains, have suddenly had the pressure cut off. The water has drained out of these ancient labyrinthine watercourses, and so only air fills the void as the Tesco van bounces down the road, denting the tarmac over the streams as it goes. Yet to see a car fall down one, but it's only a matter of time (heck, if it can happen outside my parent's house, in what BBC London term "the sticks", complete with hand gesture, where first a car's wheel created a puncture wound, trapping the car, and then half a day later, once the car was removed, the entire road collapsed five foot. Even the sailing club, when demolished to make way for the new one, was found to be hovering on a remarkably large reservoir of sewage).

Oh, it's quite late, and I haven't done my washing up yet.


You flatter me. I think. ;) I've yet to go to the V&A, mainly for the same reasons you've quoted in your post...and I'm not feeling any more inclinged towards it in the light of what you've written.
Flattery indeed. Whereas you irritate me for precisely the same reason.

V&A - Other parts of it are better, although that assessment is based on wandering round it waiting for someone else to sober up. But I've never been round it properly; maybe we should.

And if you want to do a Tate or RA exhibition and are feeling miserly... I'm trying to see how many times one man can go round Moholy-Nagy accompanying a different person each time. Although it probably ends before your exams do.
Irritation was never my aim! Seduction, perhaps; the hope that someone would be swept off his feet by the deluge of words and fall madly in love with me, I'll admit that. But never irritation.

I would have loved to come to an exhibit with you, but until the exams are over, I'm not going anywhere. In any case, will you be around over the summer?
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