Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Impressions from London - day 2

(photo -GerhardRichter)

Sleep like a log – a log that’s waiting for a forest fire to catch up with it. I rarely sleep when in a strange bed. Get up sharp for breakfast and despite the feast I worked my way through last night, I eat like it’s the last breakfast I’ll ever have. I am such a greedy basturt. I then take the 10 minute walk to Groucho’s where I’m meeting the gang for a day of culture. On the way there I walk past Boots. A police van is parked outside. Through the plate glass window I can see that the double row of self-service till points each have a policeman stationed at them. There they all are with their white shirts, black stab vests and truncheons buying their “Shaper” sandwiches, mars bars and flavoured water.

At Groucho’s I have a coffee with Edie, Molly, Marilynn and Marcia. We discuss the day/evening before, declare it a huge success and ask Edie what we are going to do today. Edie is an amazing lady, one of Canada’s foremost art experts and therefore the ideal tour guide. As we sit and chat I’m thinking that apart from the Scots, Canadians have to be my favourite nation on earth. They are so polite, charming, interesting and interested. Okay, there’s bound to be a few assholes, but they probably got sick of all the gosh-darned niceness and emigrated.

The ladies go and freshen up before we set off for the galleries. While waiting I chat up the girl at reception. And why not? She tells me that Groucho’s is a member’s only club. You have to work in the media and be recommended by two members. Then there’s an eighteen-month waiting list. I smile as if impressed, as I think that’s what she’s aiming for. Meanwhile I’m thinking, who could be arsed?

We walk towards Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery. I be-moan the fact that I couldn’t pack another pair of shoes and look down at my leather clad feet. Not suitable walking shoes. It’s only 10am and they are throbbing already.

A memory pops into my head from the day before. During the buffet at the Awards Ceremony I was chatting with a thoroughly pleasant lady. She paused, thought for a moment and asked the question that had been bugging her. With an apologetic smile she asked, ’I know this is a terrible question, but are you anybody?’ The lie bubbled on my tongue, but I knew in the context she was referring to the answer should be a simple no. So I stay silent. Let her sweat a little and then tell her that if you have to ask the price of something you can’t afford it. That look of befuddlement was exactly what I was aiming for.

Everywhere I look there are billboards for “Angels and Demons” and every bookshop I pass has piles of the book at the front of the shop. I’m thinking Dan Brown has enough money. People should give another author their money. Memememememememememememememememememe.

The Gallery has two special exhibitions; Constable is one and Gerhard Richter (above) the other. Mention Constable and most people think of landscapes, but he was also a talented portrait artist. In a time when there were no cameras a portrait was a way to celebrate the life of an individual and record their likeness for all time. My inner bitch – and less face it we all have one – when face to face with some of the likenesses wonders why they bothered. Did they not have mirrors in those days? My inner bitch is also thinking that obesity isn’t just a modern phenomenon. Okay facetiousness aside, Constable didn’t try to glamourise his subjects, preferring an honest likeness. There was one lady, in her overblown Sunday best gear, but instead of looking pompous she looked vulnerable with real warmth in her half-smile.
Gerhard Richter, is an important artist, Edie tells me. His work was striking. The first section is monochromatic – I borrowed that word from Edie. At this stage in his career he was working from “found” photographs. Family snapshots of strangers, clips from newspapers, images that display the faces we want to show the world, but that give little hint of what we hold inside. Richter’s view is that these photographs cannot display reality, and instead our reality remains hidden beneath the veneer of appearance. The next time a photographer tries to accost me near a tourist spot I’m going to throw that line at them.

Talking about appearances...one old guy clearly doesn’t give a shit about his and would much rather pay tribute to the power of the media – by being the only person in London to wear a medical face mask. Next thing I notice is a CCTV camera and an idea forms. Maybe we could use one issue to deal with the other? Everyone should wear a face mask and make the scourge of CCTV completely pointless! The guy with the mask has me feeling ambivalent. On one hand I love his bloody-mindedness and his conviction in his belief. On the other I want to grab him by the lapels, call him every colour of halfwit and shake him until he gets whiplash.
Having used photographs for his earlier paintings, Richter’s more recent paintings have a photographic quality. In fact there were several where the image was so precise I was convinced they were photographs until close inspection revealed the brush strokes.
This part of the building is called the Ondaatje Wing named after the philanthropist whose money made it possible. Call me old-fashioned but shouldn’t charity be anonymous? There’s something self-congratulatory about such extravagant gifting that makes the “gift” less impressive. But hey, let’s put it to the test. Any billionaires out there who want to make a donation to the Michael Malone fund can do so and I will test to see if fits in with this impression. One can be anonymous and one can be named and we’ll see which I prefer.
The main part of the gallery was also impressive and held a group of portraits of individuals working in the world of the arts today. One woman was given what can only be described as a Marge Simpson make over – bet she loved that. Another guy’s face was faithfully represented but blown up to the size of a bus. Now, when most of us look in the mirror we lock out the bits we don’t like, don’t we? What double-chin? Well the guy this was based on has no place to hide from now on. Every crease, every pore is there and he even has a nice marbling effect on the tip of his nose that made me wonder if he has a drink problem.
Time for lunch. Edie and Molly have heard of an interesting place just off The Strand. Gordon’s Wine Bar is a cave masquerading as a cellar. I’m sure that some Londoners were down here during the blitz keeping safe and getting blitzed in an entirely a different way. The ceiling was low, the light mainly supplied by candles and it was as atmospheric a place as I’ve been in. The food was excellent, it was just a shame I could barely see it. A couple in the far corner were taking advantage of the low light and trying to see who would be the first to suck out the other one’s tongue. Tsk, tsk. Get a room. Or at least wait until I get my camera set up.
Next was the Picasso exhibit in the National Gallery. There’s a name to conjure with. I’d bet not many people in the developed world won’t have heard of Pablo. Love him or hate him what you can’t deny is his commitment to his work. What also struck me was that this wee man had a way with the burdz. He certainly liked the ladies – until they dumped him and then he got his revenge by recreating their images in a less than flattering light for all time and for all the world to see. An artist scorned and all that.
Recession, what recession? The streets are mobbed. Shoppers carry big bags with big labels.
My feet are throbbing like a basturt.
Later, at the airport my flight is late in landing, but not to worry we are told, Ryanair will turn the flight around toot sweet. The reason for their tardiness becomes apparent when the incoming passengers get off the plane and walk past us on the way out of the airport. There’s a group at the back we hear long before we see them. English-based Rangers fans are bedecked in Union Jacks and singing hate songs as loud as they can. A big guy in front of me shouts “Scum” at them, but thankfully they don’t hear. The back two rows of the plane are blocked off. They are full of litter and some liquid has been spilled on the floor and the seats.
I sit down. The big guy who shouted at the Rangers fans sits beside me with his wife. It’s their anniversary. They’ve been in London to see the new stage play of Sister Act. They pronounce it hilarious. And promptly fall asleep. They wake up just before we land. The big guy asks me, was that you snoring, big man? Naw, says I, it was your wife. I instantly regret this quip. Did I say he was a big guy? But they both laugh as if it’s the funniest thing they’ve heard in years.
Don’t you love it when the plane lands and everyone jumps to their feet, puts on their jackets and pulls their hand-luggage from the overhead compartment even before the seatbelt light goes off? What’s that all about? The big guy’s wife is still half-asleep and caught up in this group anxiety she struggles into her jacket. It’s only when they are queued up in the aisle waiting for the door to open (again, what’s that all about?) that she realises that she has her jacket on upside down.

How nice is it to get back into your own bed? Measure the contentment of Larry and one of those happy wee clams and you’ve got an inkling...

1 comment:

  1. No need to go on one of these trips - you do it all for us. Another great wee blog, Michael - although maybe not so wee.