Hunkering Down For Coronavirus? Not Quite Yet

The news is dominated by the progress of coronavirus and our response to it.  In line with one of my New Year resolutions, and to assuage Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) dislike of my chuntering on to myself in response to the radio news, I have reduced the amount of news I listen to, especially in the morning.  Nonetheless, the reports of infections, deaths, stock market collapses and empty toilet roll shelves, creates a compelling narrative and visceral sensation.

The prospects, not least for my pension, look gloomy but whether the current levels of fear of coronavirus are fully justified is not quite concrete.  As a result, and despite my natural pessimism on this sort of thing, my personal response, in terms of activities undertaken, has been uncertain and mixed.

For example, I did brave the snuffling crowds to travel up to London last week by train and tube to attend one of my regular evening sessions with old friends there.  We went to a busy pub and Russian restaurant in Soho (we are up to R in the alphabet of cuisines we are sampling).  The washing of my hands in the loo a little more self-consciously and for longer than usual, and the eschewing of handshakes, were the only concessions to the virus.  Unless, that is, we count the imbibing of a few flavoured vodkas and the antiseptic qualities of their alcohol content.

A Selection Of Vodkas, Part Finished. Best Was The Horseradish Flavoured One

A Selection Of Vodkas, Part Finished. The Horseradish Flavoured Vodka was The Best And Has Already Been Quaffed

On the other hand, I chose not to go to a Forest Green Rovers (FGR) football match in nearby Swindon which normally I would have attended.  I rejected sitting on a stuffy train or bus for an hour next to old people like me and then being packed into the ‘away’ end.  Instead, I favoured a breezy walk to an airy view of a much smaller game at Shortwood, the even more local football ground just over the hill.  I felt rotten about the decision afterwards because it felt like conceding ground to the virus while missing out on what has recently become a rare win for FGR.

Since then, I have continued retired life as I did before the advent of the coronavirus outbreak.  I continue to walk into town daily. I have been to a pub to meet a village mate.  I have attended two optional meetings on local climate change response activity and have been to a local dinner party.  LSW and I plan to go to Bath for a concert and (assuming it is on) I plan to see FGR’s game at the weekend from the (fairly) packed stand.

I keep veering along a continuum from avoiding unnecessary contact with others through thinking that what ‘will be will be’ and doing normal things but in a restrained way, to full out participation in events because it might be the last chance I get to do so for a while.

Hopefully, now spring and some warmer weather is coming, the trepidation about the virus and the more scary statistics associated with it will reduce.  However, the news readers, politicians and experts on the radio that I have listened to tell me that things will get much worse before they get better.  I suspect several limitations on normal living are imminent.  Should that be the case I will absorb myself in splendid isolation in the garden, clearing the winter weeds and clutter and digging over the vegetable patch.  In any case, that’s a task I have postponed for long enough already.

While in London last week, I did fit in an exhibition.  This was the Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography exhibition at the Barbican.  This inadvertently continued my recent run of visiting photographic exhibitions – the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, the Don McCullin exhibition at Hauser & Wirth last month, and now this.

Overall, I enjoyed it – these large exhibitions at such prestigious venues are so well thought out and always worth seeing – but my level of enjoyment fluctuated as I progressed through it and I ‘tired’ towards the end.

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

Barbican Masculinities Exhibition: Photo By Rotimi Fani-Kayode

The exhibition starts with a series of photos focusing on men as soldiers, athletes and cowboys in traditionally male roles.  However, the chosen photographs deliberately undermine the typical view of the male; the soldiers are out of combat and apparently defenceless, the athletes are barely beyond pubescence, the cowboys are of ambiguous sexuality.

Studio Photos Found Abandoned by Thomas Dworzak In Afghanistan: A Strange Mix Of Guns, Flowers and Kohl

The theme of subverting the masculine ideal here was quite interesting and the video by Jeremy Deller of cross-dressing wrestler Adrian Street was compelling enough to watch all the way through.  (It brought back memories of the routine of watching all-in wrestling on the BBC before the reading of the Saturday football results back in the 1960s and 70s.)

'Rusty' By Catherine Opie

‘Rusty’ By Catherine Opie

There was some more unexpected material on masculine spaces – fraternities in the US and Mens’ Clubs in London – and some more playful stuff on men and fatherhood on the ground floor of the exhibition.

Hans Eijkelboom's 'My Family': A Playful Set Of Photo's With Him Posing As Husband to Housewives Asked At Random To Pose With Him In Their Homes

Hans Eijkelboom’s ‘My Family’: A Playful Set Of Photo’s With Him Posing As Husband To Housewives Asked At Random To Pose With Him In Their Homes (Real Husbands Absent!)

Upstairs, as the examination into the ‘plurality of subversive masculinities’ continued, the more predictable focus was more on ‘Queer’ culture (that appears to be an ok word to use again), homosexuality and race.  I found this less interesting although I again enjoyed some of the more light-hearted pieces and there were a few impressive photos by Deana Lawson and Rotimi Fani-Kayode who’s work I have seen somewhere before.

Piotr Uklanski's 'The Nazi's': Montage Of Famous Actors Playing Nazi Leaders

Piotr Uklanski’s ‘The Nazi’s’: Montage Of Famous Actors Playing Nazi Leaders

I’m wondering if my plans to visit London again over the next month or so will remain intact during the coronavirus crisis; fingers crossed on that.  One thing for sure – I’m glad I have retired and have a choice (provided I don’t catch it!)

Home From Home

I retired about 30 months ago.  I moved back to the family home in Gloucestershire and gave up my London flat to Eldest Son (ES).  The flat is centrally and very conveniently located in the Barbican but it was, during my 18 years of mid-week living there, never more than a bolt-hole for temporary occupancy.  It rarely received any love and attention and, if I am honest, was only subjected to a proper cleanse when Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) occasionally came to visit.  (Then, I’d ‘tidy’ beforehand to create a tolerable impression, and LSW would tut at my inadequacy and grudgingly do a more thorough ‘clean’).

ES continues to live in the flat and now shares it with his girlfriend.  They were in Paris last week celebrating their birthdays.  That gave LSW and I the opportunity to pop up to London to see Middle Son, Youngest Son and some old friends, and to visit a few exhibitions.  We had a great time.

What made the trip especially nice was that our stay was anchored by a very comfortable stay in the Barbican flat.  We were able to see how it has been turned into a spotless, house-plant friendly, warm (in all senses of the word) home by ES and, especially, his girlfriend.  It’s great to see the flat still being put to such good use.

Our London trip was also helped by lovely clear blue skies.  All cities look better in sunny weather but the views of the Thames and its surrounds are especially enhanced by brilliant winter sun.

Bright London Day From Westminster Bridge

Bright London Day From Westminster Bridge

LSW and I visited the Garden Museum in Lambeth.  The tower was open and, having puffed up a long, steep, spiral, stone staircase, we came out onto a lovely view of Lambeth Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the City and, of course, the winding Thames.

View From The Tower Of The Garden Museum, Lambeth

Part of the Panoramic View From The Tower Of The Garden Museum, Lambeth

We also saw the latest exhibition in the museum.  This was a small but concisely curated history of London’s Royal Parks.  It covered their origins as royal hunting grounds in the 15th century and their gradual opening up to increasing proportions of the public during recent centuries.  It covered their use as recreation spaces (and how such recreation has changed over time), places of protest and places for celebration.  Perhaps most surprising was the section on how the parks have been used for military training including trench warfare during the First World War.

Feeding Pelicans In St James's Park

Feeding Pelicans In St James’s Park

We walked along the Embankment south of the Thames to Tate Modern; a really refreshing walk in the sun.  While LSW went off on a shopping assignment, I wandered through parts of Tate Modern and took in the Dora Maar exhibition there.  I only knew of Maar as one of Picasso’s many muses but the exhibition shows her to be a successful and diverse artist in her own right.

Kara Walker's Huge Fountain In The Turbine Room At The Tate Modern

Kara Walker’s Huge Fountain In The Turbine Room At The Tate Modern (Inspired By The History Of Slavery)

Maar’s early fashion photos are clearly impressive even to my untrained eye.  I was less satisfied with her surrealist photography, although it was interesting to see her attempts to meld the photographic capture of reality with the weirdness and spontaneity of the surrealist movement she became part of.  More interesting, were her later paintings.  One of these captured brilliantly, I thought, the inevitable tension of the period when she was living with Picasso under the same roof as his wife!

The Conversation By Dora Maar

The Conversation By Dora Maar (1937) – A Tense Moment Between Mistress and Wife?

For me, the best exhibition LSW and I visited during our stay was the Anselm Keifer exhibition at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey which had astonished me back in late November.  I loved the way the enormous art worked for me when standing right back from it and when right up close.  The exhibition was almost as impactful this time as last.  I will remember it for a long time.

Anselm Kiefer Painting at The White Cube Gallery - Standing Back And Up Close

Anselm Kiefer Work at The White Cube Gallery – Standing Back And Up Close

However, almost as good was the exhibition of colonial Indian master artists’ work at the Wallace Collection.  The art was commissioned by leaders of the East India Company at the height of colonial Britain to capture the fauna, flora and culture of paintings of India.

Indian Flora And Fauna By Shaikh Zain ud-Din (1780)

Indian Flora And Fauna By Shaikh Zain ud-Din (1780)

The exhibition showed how the Indian artists cleverly and subtly chafed against their subordinate position by portraying their masters in uncomfortable or unusual positions.  For example, a grimacing British officer was shown lying ill at ease in a coffin-like box being carried by beautifully painted natives.  Elsewhere, a daughter of an officer was portrayed on a wonderfully rendered horse surrounded by clearly proud, indigenous stable hands, but with her face hidden from view by her bonnet.

Best of all in this exhibition were the wonderfully detailed and beautifully painted pictures of the animals and plants of India.  The animals had every hair of fur meticulously drawn and the pictures of butterflies and birds in branches of trees were cleverly structured and strikingly laid out.  I love the Wallace Collection and this was another very good exhibition there.

I’m in London again next month and am looking forward to more cultural exploits then, although ES will be in town this time and so the flat’s sofa bed will have to suffice for me.

Dipping Into Culture

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I still haven’t quite planned our trip away this summer/autumn but we have both made an effort to attend some local cultural events to keep our entertainment levels up.  Indeed, as I write this, LSW is attending a couple of talks at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and will no doubt return full of much new thinking.

We went to two contrasting concerts recently.  The first was a programme of what I suppose are modern classical music composers and performers.  The concert had been arranged by a local magazine and creative arts consortium called Good On Paper.  The five performers were a mix of local and internationally renowned musicians.  All were interesting – especially avant-garde cellist Sebastian Plano and Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit – and there were passages I really enjoyed.  The final act was the now famous Lubomyr Melnyk who demonstrated his ‘continuous music’ piano playing; it was technically impressive but, by the end, for me, overbearing.

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Spindle Ensemble, Sebastian Plano, Hatis Noit and Lubomyr Melnyk At The Hidden Notes Festival At St Laurence Church, Stroud

Later in the week LSW and I went to the Tetbury Music Festiival.  Despite the proximity to our home, this was, rather shamefully, our first visit to the festival.  We saw an excellent performance of three piano trios (by Haydn, Schumann and Schubert).  This was the first classical music concert I had been to for many years and I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it.  I also surprised myself in that I actually knew the last work by Schubert; it must have been one my Dad had taken me to see played when I was a teenager and he first introduced me to classical music.

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

Chamber Music At Tetbury Music Festival

It felt good to support these local cultural events and I hope their success breeds more in the future.  The atmosphere for both was reverential and enhanced by the beautiful surroundings of a church.  Whatever the concert – modern classical, classical classical or just modern, I do like to be able to listen to the music rather than the chatter of the crowd.  A third concert I saw this week at the wonderfully eclectic Rich Mix in London also provided these sorts of listening conditions as I saw one of my favourite bands: Kefaya.

This concert was totally different from the other two.  Kefaya is a cross-cultural collective who play jazz with Middle Eastern, south and south-east Asian and Caribbean influences.  I have seen Kefaya in various guises many times over the last few years.  Here, they mostly ran through their latest album of Afghan songs fronted by an Afghani singer.  There was a lot of energy in the largely Afghani audience but, again, there was respect for the music and full attention to the band.  I loved it – especially when they let loose with their trademark jazzy duelling between guitar and keyboards, all backed up by phenomenally pacey and intricate tabla playing.

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Kefaya At Rich Mix

Apart from music LSW and I have also taken in some local art.  We have known local artist, Maggie Shaw, for many years and have bought many examples of her work; several remain our favourite pieces of art in our house.  Unfortunately she died last year.

We were honoured to be part of her memorial exhibitions at the beginning of this year and lent one of her largest pieces for this.  Last week there was a further exhibition of her more recent work alongside that of two of her companion artists.  As usual, Maggie’s work stood out for me as truly remarkable.  Had we not already been in possession of so much of her output (and not starting to think about further downsizing of our house and wall space) we might have bought another of her pictures.

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw's and Others' Work

Exhibition Of Maggie Shaw’s And Others’ Work At Stratford Park, Stroud

The absence of demands on my time from any work, continue to make it easy to fit in trips to Nottingham to visit my parents, and to London to see sons, exhibitions and gigs there.  This week, on the back of a regular meeting in London with my financial advisor and the Kefaya gig, I was able to catch up with Eldest Son, his girlfriend and Youngest Son’s girlfriend; a real pleasure.  I also visited the new exhibition at The Barbican where I am still a member and so can feel I am attending for free.

The latest exhibition at the Barbican is called Into The Night: Cabarets and Clubs In Modern Art and, as the title suggests, it is about the relationship between art and nightlife.  It examines this relationship in the period from 1880 to the late-1960s through focus on a dozen nightclubs in a variety of cities including Tehran, Ibadan in Nigeria, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City and New York.

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City

Postcard Showing Cafe De Nadie, Mexico City. It Seemed To Me To Sum Up The Atmosphere These Nightclubs Tried to Engender!

As usual, the exhibition was very well presented.  My favourite section was probably that on Vienna’s Cabaret Fledermaus (1907-13).  The posters, menus, programmes, ashtrays, flower pots, chairs and other accessories to an experience at this club were all exquisitely designed along consistent lines.  The set and costume designs for the performances were flamboyant and smacked of decadence.

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction of Cabaret Fledermaus In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

For each of the clubs chosen for the exhibition, drawings, pictures and photos helped to bring it must have been like to actually be in the nightclubs.  Aiding this further, the exhibition included reconstructions of parts of four of the nightclubs.  Particularly striking were the zinc shadow theatre models for the Chat Noir club in Paris.  For each reconstruction, despite the recorded sound, the only thing lacking was the smoke, bustle, heat and pandemonium that must have driven the fun of the customers in between – and maybe during – the cabaret and other performances.  It was a well arranged exhibition and was very enjoyable.

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir's Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Reconstruction Of Chat Noir’s Shadow Theatre Pieces In The Barbican Exhibition: Into The Night

Top tasks for this week: planting the whitebeam and cherry trees I mentioned we had bought in my last blog post, planting lots of bulbs and organising that long-considered trip away.

Nice And Nasty Birthday Surprises

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have made two trips to London in the last week. The first was to celebrate LSW’s birthday.  That was very enjoyable.  We stayed in the Barbican flat and the surrounding gardens and the window-boxes of many of the flats look lovely at this time of year.

View Of The Barbican Complex In The Sun

View Of The Barbican Complex In The Sun

The second was much more traumatic surprise.

This was a rapid and urgent scoot up to Royal London Hospital to be with Middle Son (MS).  He had been knocked down by a car in a hit-and-run accident during a police car chase.

MS is recovering but has some seriously broken bones and a lot of bruises, so he will probably spend his own upcoming birthday in hospital and has a few frustrating months of rehabilitation ahead of him.  At least now I am retired I can lend full physical as well as moral support.  MS also has great support from his partner, brothers and friends.  He’s a tough cookie too, he’s in a good hospital and he will bounce back.

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London has great museums, art galleries and restaurants.  We experienced while celebrating LSW’s birthday by visiting the Natalia Goncharova exhibition at Tate Modern, the Lee Krasner exhibition at the Barbican and eating out with Youngest Son (YS) at the buzzy and lovely Morito restaurant.

We also visited Walthamstow to get a feel for one of the areas MS and his partner have been looking to buy a house in – a project I suspect will be on hold for a bit now.  Plus I visited the Foundling Museum.

Sitting here in a hospital waiting room I can’t compose much about those visits; my head is too distracted with recent events.  However here is a quick view of the high points with some pictures added since I got back home.

The Foundling Museum was interesting but while there are some fascinating items and facts on show, the topic based layout didn’t work for me.  I struggled to build up the chronology of the way the Foundling Hospital developed from 1741 through to the modern day from the exhibits although, half way round, I did find a clear timeline in the free paper guide pamphlet so my issue was mostly my fault.

A Selection Of Tokens On Show At The Foundling Museum

A Selection Of 18th Century Tokens Used To Identify Orphaned Babies Left With The Foundling Museum

The museum’s temporary exhibit of Hogarth and his depiction of noise in his pictures and cartoons is set out more engagingly.  Different elements of a single painting by him are picked out to illustrate six different aspects of 18th century street life from street music to drinking, disease and prostitution.  There is also an exhibition of some of George Handel’s work (both Hogarth and Handel were early sponsors of the Foundling Hospital) which provided welcome comfortable chairs in which to listen to some snatches of his lovely music amid information about him and his muses.

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Hogarth’s The March Of The Guards To Finchley

I had not heard of Lee Krasner before visiting the exhibition at the Barbican.  LSW was much more in the know than I and she was very keen to go.  She was spot on; it was a fascinating exhibition and full of very impressive art.  She was married to Jackson Pollock but embraced many more styles than I associate with him.  The narrative of her life, picked out by the different sections of the art on show, was compelling, the colours were terrific.  I think I will use my Barbican membership to visit again later this year.

Detail From Two Early Krasner Paintings

The Natalia Goncharova art exhibition at The Tate Modern was also worth seeing. Again there was a clear progression to her style through the early years of her life.  She was incredibly prolific during this period and it was noticeable that there was little on show from her later years except for examples of her work in designing theatre sets and costumes.  Interesting as that aspect is, I was more impressed by her earlier work.

Harvest By Natalia Goncharova

Harvest By Natalia Goncharova

So, back to thinking about MS and his recovery…. We will be back in London soon to see his progress first hand and to slip in a few more cultural treats.

 

From Writing to Artificial Intelligence

A relatively quiet week or so has been punctuated by another trip to London and the return from Australia of Youngest Son (YS).  YS and his Northern Irish girlfriend have been working (and playing) successfully in Australia for almost three years.  It’s great to have YS back in closer proximity after so long but I’m sorry we no longer have such a good excuse to visit Australia!

YS At Heathrow.  Big Hug Imminent!

YS At Heathrow. Big Hug Imminent!

It will be interesting to see how things work out for YS and his girlfriend in London during such a precarious time for the United Kingdom.  Fortunately, they very excited by the prospect and are far more optimistic about life in general than I.  They made a great life in Australia from a standing start and I’m sure they will employ their energy and contacts to do the same in London.

I continue to make the most of my opportunities to visit the excitement of London with overnight stays in my old flat.  I based my trip up to London this time around another reunion of old work colleagues – this time from a bank I worked at 15 years ago.  Once that get together was in the diary I could fit in other things around it.  I saw a film (High Life) with Eldest Son (ES) (which was more interesting than truly enjoyable) and, as has become my norm, went to The Lantern Society Folk Club and a couple of exhibitions.

The first of these exhibitions was a history of Writing at the British Library.  This shows how different types of writing emerged amongst early human communities roughly simultaneously in a several different places across the globe.  This accounts for the huge variation in language types and structures and also the variety of writing styles and media through modern history and today.

A Limestone Stela With Classical Heiroglyphs

A Limestone Stela With Classical Hieroglyphs (The Oldest Object Held By The British Library)

The exhibition then focuses on the development of our alphabet from images (e.g. an ox head shape for the letter ‘a’) used in Egypt.  These were refined progressively through simplification and transformation by the Phoenicians, the Greeks then the Italians and, especially, the Romans (who got us writing from left to right).  Further evolution of our western writing styles, fonts and media to develop readability, speed of writing and then mass production are explained clearly and interestingly with lots of tangible examples.  I became thoroughly absorbed in the exhibition.

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A Japanese ‘Four Treasures Of The Study’ – Ink (Made From Grinding An Ink Stone With Drops Of Water) And Brushes In A Beautiful Box

The British Library has such beautiful texts in its possession to illustrate every development in the art and science of writing.  In addition to the examples of writing, there were sections on writing materials spanning examples of use of clay, wax, metal, stone, skin, palm leaves and, of course, the early efforts to produce paper (by the Chinese).  Printing innovations, writing implements (including a comparison between mass produced BIC biros and Montblanc fountain pens) and much more is covered.  It is a multi-faceted and fascinating exhibition.

A 1977 Vintage Macintosh Apple II Computer

A 1977 Vintage Macintosh Apple II Computer (Part Of The Section Illustrating Progression of Typewriters to Computers And Word Processing)

Less successful is the exhibition of Artificial Intelligence (AI); More Than Human at the Barbican.  I am very interested in this topic and was looking forward to the exhibition.  It is large and I spent three hours viewing it.  However, I left vaguely unsatisfied; I’m not sure I have worked out all the reasons why yet.

I went on the first day of the exhibition and some of the interactive exhibits needed tweaking to be successful.  But a more fundamental weakness is the amount of space devoted to cultural roots relating to the human desire to animate the inanimate and to create non-human life (Frankenstein for example).  This meant that, for me, there was insufficient focus on current and future use of AI.

The history of AI is laid out in detail and was a little overwhelming.  I invested a lot of time in understanding the key developmental moments, the surges in optimism surrounding the AI technology (the ‘Golden Ages’) and the periodic ‘winters’ when that optimism seemed misplaced.  There is also good information that I recall from when I used to work in Information Technology on the differences between Expert Systems and Learning Systems, and between simulation, understanding and intelligence.

Exhibits In The AI: More Than Human Exhibition

Exhibits In The AI: More Than Human Exhibition (An Interactive Model For City Planning, Aibo The Robot Dog And A Robot Able To Mimic Human Movement)

That laid a good foundation for the latter sections of the exhibition which focus on current and, to a degree, future practical use of AI.  The examples on show, though, often seemed a little perfunctory and rather unconnected.  Some demonstrated what I would consider to be advanced computer power not, specifically, AI.

However, there were some good examples too.  These include those showing how AI is accelerating and improving areas as diverse as medical understanding and treatments, pedestrian and driver safety, city planning, customer problem solving, education and even dating.  There are also sections (too brief in my view) on the ethics of AI.  For instance, these include the dangers of AI in war, the risk of bias being built into the algorithms, and of AI being used to undermine our privacy, freedom and perception of the truth.  The exhibit showing AI helping lip-synching of Barack Obama was a rather chilling demonstration of the latter.

Since I’m a Barbican Member, I can go again for free and will plan to take ES who is also interested in the potential (and dangers) of AI.  Maybe with his insights alongside me, I will enjoy the exhibition more.

Back home, the focus is on catching up with YS (while he stays with us to gird himself for his move to London) and on gardening.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has got large parts of the garden looking very full and attractive.

Foxgloves, Erigeron, Geraniums And Flowering Weeds At The Back Of Our House

Foxgloves, Erysimum, Geraniums And Other Flowers At The Back Of Our House

My vegetable seedlings are planted and just await proper rain and, no doubt, a slug onslaught.  The meadow is looking lush and healthy. Just a few more degrees of heat and summer will be here…..

Our Favourite Irises In Our Garden

Our Favourite Irises In Our Garden

 

Two Exhibitions And More

For those who followed my last post, no, I didn’t write this on the train home from London.  No, I didn’t stay awake either but I didn’t snore (surely not!).

I was tired after my trip to London.  I didn’t get back until late on Monday from seeing Malcolm Middleton (an indie-rock Scottish depressive who somehow always manages to cheer me up with what he calls his ‘downbeat shite’) in a converted old men’s club in Hackney.  Then, on Tuesday, I went to see the Japanese film and Palme D’Or winner called Shoplifters with Eldest and Middle Sons and that didn’t finish until quite late.  Those relatively late nights were each followed by a couple of nights on a sofa bed which is never as restful as my own bed, a lot of walking through Christmassy streets and a nice lunch with an old ex-work colleague.

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

Malcolm Middleton And Band At The Moth Club

Quite a lot of the walking was around a couple of exhibitions.

The first was Fashioned From Nature at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) which is on for another month or so and which I would recommend.  The V&A has an amazing permanent collection of fashion but this exhibition was more interesting for me (I am hardly a fashionista!) because it dealt more with the social and environmental impact of fashion than the development of fashion through the ages.

There were certainly some remarkable individual pieces of clothing but the focus was on how humans initially used nature to cloth ourselves – using flax for linen, fur, cotton, silk, bone, feathers and even beetle shells – and then how fashion and clothing manufacture has damaged nature through mass production/consumption.

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

Fashioned From Nature Exhibition At The V&A

That environmental damage began even before the industrial revolution.  I learnt, for example, that the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’ came from the mercury poisoning common among those who made felt hats.  They breathed in the mercury nitrate they used and that disoriented them before they flushed it into the water supply.  As synthetic materials were developed and mass produced, so the risk of chemical damage increased, the demand for agricultural monocultures grew, slavery became rife, and the problems of pollution and waste (such as management of micro-plastics resulting from clothing) became more complex.

There were a wide range of interesting exhibits showing sustainable fashion.  Others illustrated how fashion has been used to highlight the importance of clothing reuse and repair, and the impact of fashion on nature.  Overall it was an impressive, relevant exhibition and an absorbing hour or two.

I also visited the Modern Couples exhibition at the Barbican which was subtitled Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde.  This exhibition pulls together work of 40 couples active in art in the last century.  It attempts to show how these couples, through their passion, ideas, contacts and often experimental and strange relationships, influenced the work they produced.

As with the Fashioned from Nature exhibition, there were some very strong individual pieces on show.  Many of the relationships that were described were very interesting with several of the featured artists (Max Ernst and Man Ray, for example) cropping up two or three times in apparently intense but short-lived liaisons.  Some of couples’ relationships ended in suicide or murders of passion.  As I navigated the exhibition, I became increasingly thankful for my rather more straightforward and stable married relationship.

I Am Beautiful by Rodin

I Am Beautiful by Rodin (An Amalgam Of Two Previously Separate Works In Celebration Of His Love)

Over 40 interwoven themes were explored across the 40 couples presented – including how the men in the relationship tended to become the more famous even where the participants were libertarian and feminist.  These themes and the sheer number of couples covered made the exhibition large and rather complex.  It was impressive but I confess that I had to absorb it over two sessions; fortunately I now have the time to do that sort of pacing.

In other news: the Volkswagen is back.  Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) has been grudgingly reliant on my ailing and rust-ridden Saab to get to work.  But now the local garage has replaced the Volkswagen’s engine (and more) following the cam-belt assembly failure a couple of weekends ago.  They did this all at their cost since it was the cam-belt replacement they had done that prompted the problem.  The garage even gave us a bottle of wine for our trouble so we will continue to use them and recommend them – provided the car gets us to the airport tomorrow on our way to the Christmas markets of Cologne.  We’re looking forward to them.

London's Regent Street Christmas Lights

London’s Regent Street Christmas Lights

Excuses To Visit London

Before retirement, I sometimes planned to work when travelling by train.  Now, I often get on the train with great resolve to read my current book or the newspaper.  Almost invariably, though, then and now, reading sends me falling into that unsatisfactory doze state never refreshes.  Indeed, such dozing is not really relaxing since I worry subconsciously during, and then afterwards, that I have been snoring loudly and irritating (or, worse, amusing) fellow passengers.  The one thing that always keeps me awake on the train is using my computer keyboard.  So, there is something energising about writing these blog posts on the train.

This is my second trip to London in a few days – I need very little excuse to fulfil my London fix and escape from the country (lovely as The Cotswolds are).

The first was in my ailing, misfiring and rusting Saab which was brought into action while Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) Volkswagen is read what may be the Last Rites in the garage.  LSW and I came up London to attend a 60th birthday dinner party of a long standing friend in Kew – a very amusing reconstruction of a party we had attended 20 years before.

Impressive Birthday Cake!

Impressive Birthday Cake!

We took the opportunity to visit the Annie Albers exhibition at Tate Modern and to see the new, up-market shopping centre just north of Kings Cross (Coal Drops Yard).

The Annie Albers exhibition was diverse.  Alongside the expected textiles were paintings, drawings and ingenious necklaces (my favourite exhibits since they were so simple and inspiringly made from everyday objects).  It was an interesting history of a very impressive artist and some of the items were lovely, but, perhaps because of the diversity, the exhibition never really took off for me.

Selection of Annie Albers’ Work

Our visit to Coal Drops Yard was, in some ways, just a normal window-shopping trip.  But it’s clearly a cut above most shopping centres with some of the shops like art galleries with beautiful artefacts and prices I hardly dare look at.  Also, the architecture, mostly by Thomas Heatherwick, is remarkable – especially the gasometers converted into luxury flats overlooking the new coal yard restoration and transformation.  The best aspect of the visit was trying to recall what this area looked like when it used to be one of our youthful haunts in the late 70s and 80s; the canal isn’t much changed but, truly, Kings Cross has been transformed almost entirely since then.

Coal Drops Yard

Unfortunately, after the birthday party and a very late night, we had to leave London relatively early on Sunday – albeit after a wonderfully various and hearty breakfast provided by the family of our birthday-girl.  This was to enable a return in my rust bucket car in time for a memorial service for an artist friend of ours who died a couple of months ago.  LSW and many others spoke very movingly and humorously about their memories of an artist whose work is well represented in our house.

Now, rested and ready to go again, I’m on my way back to London for a gig and a dental appointment (which is my excuse for this trip).

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I didn’t have time to finish the blog on the train (but I didn’t fall asleep, I promise).

I have since had another eventful day in London – visiting the Fashioned From Nature exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and then seeing Malcolm Middleton for the sixth time in a club in Hackney.  Both were very worthwhile.

Today I’m going to try the Barbican exhibition on Modern Couples and then meet Eldest and Middle Sons for a drink, some food and a film – oh, and I’ll fit the dentist in.  Such freedom and fun in this retired life!  I’ll say more in my next post – maybe to be authored on my return train trip…..

Pleasantly Full Days

Life seems to have been particularly busy in the last ten days or so since my last trip to London.  There I got a dental check-up (my teeth are fine), visited the Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece Exhibition (fascinating and beautifully laid out) and took Middle and Eldest Son to dinner and The Lantern Society, my favourite Folk Club (what a treat to catch up with them both!)

At The Lantern Society

At The Lantern Society

Rodin's The Thinker And The Kiss

Rodin’s The Thinker And The Kiss – Two Items In An Intriguing British Museum Exhibition

The weather has been highly conducive to gardening.  We have had long periods of sun, but reasonable temperatures, and just enough rain.  As a result, many days have been dominated by clearing weeds, planting out seedlings, localised manual watering and working out how to keep the destructive birds, mammals, molluscs and insects at bay.  Almost everything that needs protection now has some form fencing, netting or other damage prevention measure in place.  I will now sit back, wait and watch the ways the animals will thwart me anyway.

In my last post, I compared the post-modernist house of Erno Goldfinger to a previous house of ours.  My last visit to London and overnight stay in the Barbican reminded me, too, that the post-modernist gardens there are now being echoed by Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) planting of our new walled garden.  Our final load of gravel and the water feature have now arrived and so our new garden just lacks maturity, but there are already some similarities with the Barbican gardens (although the scale there is massive compared to that of our ex-car parking area).  It has certainly been pleasant sitting in the new garden in the sun with a glass of wine after sweating over weeds, seedlings, bean poles and netting.

Our New Garden and The Barbican Gardens

Our New Garden And The Barbican Gardens; Ours Has Some Maturing To Do!

LSW and I have also been enjoying the annual Nailsworth Festival and, especially, two walks arranged under the auspices of the festival.  The first was a history walk in the vicinity of our house.  It added to our knowledge of the footpaths, industry and religious history of the area – particularly the historic presence of the Quakers and Baptists in what was once one of the largest non-conformist settlements in the country.

History Walk

An Attentive Audience On The Nailsworth History Walk

The second was a 12 mile walk billed as being a walk from Nailsworth to ‘the sea’. In fact, ‘the sea’ was the tidal estuary of the River Severn at a point where a number of sea going ships were beached to bolster the coastline alongside the canal along which we had walked. The so-called Purton Hulks, were an interesting climax to a full day of walking up and down the Cotswold escarpment and across the Severn valley in perfect walking weather. LSW and I certainly pushed up our daily step count averages that day!

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Views During Our Walk Nailsworth To The Sea

Purton Hulks

Purton Hulks

We also had a good day out walking in New Quay and Aberaeron in West Wales. We were staying with friends who have a second home there in what seems to be a lively and familiar community of second-homers based in London, Birmingham and South Wales. The health benefits of all the recent walking were offset by rather too much tasty food and drink in New Quay. On the route back from Wales, these indulgences continued as we stopped off at a family party celebrating a brief visit of one of LSW’s first cousins (once removed) from Singapore; lovely!

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

Views Of New Quay, Wales And Nearby Cliffs

The food, drink and merriment isn’t going to stop this week with more of the World Cup to watch and celebrate (I hope), and the marking of LSW’s birthday with dinner in London on the way to a weekend in Paris.

So: busy and full days, full weeks and, as I near 12 months of retirement, I will shortly look back on a full year.

I’m Outta Here!

It’s been a happy couple of weeks, and momentous ones. I have been weaning myself off London living. Last week was spent clearing the Barbican flat ready for ES and his partners’ occupation. This week I returned to just be a comfortable tourist. Now I am back in Gloucestershire with a bunch of tourist photos and ticket stubs. ES moves into the flat today and it is the end of an era for me.

Recently LSW and I have established a pattern of doing things around the flat that should have been done years ago and which are now too late for me to benefit from; for example, putting up decent curtains, fixing the thermostat on the kitchen sink water supply, and affixing a metal panel that has been loosely dangling from the wall. All should have been done 10 years ago!

I continued that pattern this week by finally going on one of the popular Barbican Architectural Tours on my last day of living there. It underlined how interesting the estate and its history is and pointed out a lot of things I didn’t know. The great weather allowed some decent shots of the site, its mix of Roman, Medieval, and brutalist architecture, the latter softened by uniquely populated window boxes. I’m glad I did the tour, even so late in my time there; my experience of living in Ben Jonson House (pictures below) felt rounded out.

I will miss London loads though. In the last two weeks I have seen friends and family there, been to informal but excellent restaurants, and sampled the sights and culture of what might currently be the greatest city in the world. The British Museum was impressive, wandering around Greenwich was fun and the Fahrelnissa Zeid exhibition at the Tate Modern was uplifting.

But the highlight was probably a (final?) visit to the Lantern Society – a folk club in Farringdon (http://www.thelanternsociety.co.uk/). I love the intimate atmosphere and that about 50% of the audience are the performers. I recommend it to everyone.

The availability of all these sources of culture and pleasure in and so close to the Barbican has been wonderful for me in recent years. I’ll just have to search and plan harder in Gloucestershire to find things to fill the gap that leaving London has created. I’ll keep you informed of the discoveries I make.

Clearing Away The Past

 

LSW and I spent most of the week clearing and cleaning the Barbican flat ready for ES to move in next weekend.  Fortunately the Barbican Estate has great facilities for re-cycling and waste collection.  With LSW’s eye for de-cluttering and minimalism, we got rid of a huge amount of stuff – from threadbare clothes, to cups that don’t match our Gloucestershire décor, to soil.  The flat has been a rather grubby bolt hole for me to sleep in and to go to work from. Now it is fresh, almost sparkling, and ready to live in properly.

Some things we did will definitely round out the experience of living there. The window boxes – an original and intrinsic part of the overall Barbican design – are now ready for planting. They are on the way to being transformed from the barren dirt bowls that have stared back at me for 18 years. Goodness knows why I didn’t put the effort in to fix them up years ago and then use them for herbs.

It’s the same with storage. It was only this week that we got around to adding decent bedside tables and a chest of drawers instead of living out of a suitcase during the week as I have effectively done for almost two decades.

There are some important, common experiences that have come to me late in life. Constructing furniture from IKEA flat packs is one of them. This is something that, prior to retirement I would have avoided or rushed (and botched as a result). Now I had plenty of time and relaxation to apply to the task, and my first attempt was successful. Admittedly, the bedside table was the simplest item I could have done but it was a start! No worries about me taking up DIY though – the memories of the collapsible shelves I made in our first house in 1986 are still too laughable.

I remembered to update LinkedIn with my new retired status this week; I’m cleaning and clearing away the past and moving on…… with flat pack construction my first new skill!