Three London Exhibitions

A couple of weeks ago, during visits to London to meet up with friends I hadn’t seen for the couple of years of the pandemic, I slotted three art exhibitions into my schedule.  Exhibitions in the great cultural centres of London are almost invariably well thought-out, well presented and well worth seeing.  These three were no exception even though I didn’t enjoy them quite as much as some of the truly outstanding exhibitions I have seen in London over the last few years.

For the first exhibition, I followed in Long-Suffering Wife’s (LSW’s) footsteps by attending an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’ recent work at the Hayward Gallery; LSW recommended it having visited with an old friend a couple of weeks earlier. 

Variety of Typical Work By Louise Bourgeois (Note The Cow Bone Coathangers!) At Tate Modern

The exhibition, called Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child focuses on her use of textiles.  She often sewed fabric to create sculptures set in mobiles or in large vitrines or cages.  I found those on the first floor of the exhibition rather oppressive but, upstairs, the colours were brighter and I warmed to the themes of her work. 

Various Works By Louise Bourgeois
Various Works By Louise Bourgeois

I particularly liked the sets of print and fabric compositions based around spiders’ webs and the concept of spiders as a weaver and repairer of its woven lairs that dominated the second half of the exhibition. The large sculpture of a mother spider, surrounded by a cage and a host of artefacts hinting at threat, protective motherhood and Louise’s own childhood memories, seemed to reflect and oversee a number of other nearby works.  I ended up really enjoying the exhibition and the way it was laid out.

Spider by Louise Bourgeois (1997) At Tate Modern

I then went to the latest exhibition at The Barbican: Postwar Modern: New Art in Britain 1945-1965.  Again, it took me a while to ‘get into’ the content of the exhibition.  As usual, it was very well curated and presented with, I found, just the right amount of information in a great space for art.  Many different themes were portrayed with each allocated a room or distinct area of the exhibition. 

Bronze Figures By Eduardo Paolozzi (1957/8)

Perhaps I didn’t quite get the overall point about a ‘rough poetry’ that underpinned and, apparently, linked the work on display.  But I certainly could see some overarching points about dislocation, rebuilding and hope for the future.   The location, in the heart of the Barbican, which is itself a remarkable monument to post war brutalist rebuilding, created a perfect context for the Postwar Modern scope.

The Barbican – Such A Wonderful Space For An Art Exhibition

There were several artists represented that I am familiar with but there were several others that were entirely new to me.  Inevitably I enjoyed some rooms/areas – each given poignant names like ‘Horizon’, ‘Concrete’, ‘Scars’ and ‘Strange Universe’ – much more than others but, overall, it was absorbing and impressive.  Given that I saw it on its second day and it is on until late June, I may visit again.

I loved This – A Bowl By Lucy Rie and Hans Coper (1955)

Finally, LSW and I visited the ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’ exhibition at the Tate Modern.  I went in not knowing much about the exhibition and perhaps it was a mistake not to have read more about it beforehand and not to give it more time than we had. 

No Surrealist Art Exhibition Complete Without A Lobster Phone By Salvador Dali!

It is a very broad exhibition (hence the ‘Beyond Borders’ title).  Although the rooms tried to compartmentalise this breadth around geographies (Cairo, Mexico, The Caribbean for example) or themes (portrayals of dreams, desire and the ‘uncanny’ for example), I struggled to build in my head either a time line or logic to the exhibition as a whole.

‘Deification Of A Soldier’ By Yamashita Kikuji (1967) – Seemed Apt For Our Current Times

In addition, and unlike the Louise Bourgeois and Postwar Modern exhibitions, there just weren’t many works that I really liked.  Too many were unsettling (as I’m sure they are meant to be) to the point of ugliness; I just don’t think I appreciate surrealist art as much as other styles.  However, it’s always good to have the opportunity to visit such exhibitions even if it merely confirms ones predilections.

The Painting I Enjoyed Most In The Surrealism Exhibition, By Alice Rahon (1955)

I shall miss the relatively high frequency of my tours of London art and museum exhibitions once we lose our base there (the flat I used on weekdays before I retired), but I’m sure I will find new excuses to get up to London in the future and will squeeze a few more exhibition visits in.

Old Mates, New Gig

In the last two weeks I have revived two lines of enjoyment that have been very constrained since the start of the pandemic two years ago: going to a gig and meeting up with groups of old friends on London. 

London – Always A Treat To Visit This Great City

It was on the 13 March 2020 that Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to Bath to see a concert by Faeland.  It was a similar length of time ago when I last met up with a bunch of old, London-based friends as part of an ongoing set of get-togethers to visit restaurants representing each, in turn, a letter of the alphabet.  We had been stuck on ‘S’ (for Spain as it turned out) for around two years.

It’s always good to visit London and always great to catch up with old friends there.  Not only did I get to meet with my alphabetically-sequenced restaurant group of mates (at Donostia) but I also separately caught up with a few other long-standing ex-workmates and friends over lunch at Ombra.  Both restaurants were small-dish-based (Basque and Italian respectively).  Neither was inexpensive but the food was tasty, the wine flowed and the company was very welcome after such a long break from group conviviality.

Views From Our Barbican Flat – Now For Sale (Sadly)

LSW and I also caught up with some old friends before going on to a concert by Hope Tala at Village Underground.  This is a great, medium-sized venue that I have been to many times before, but not since retirement getting on for 5 years ago.  We met up beforehand at the bar at Tavla with a couple of female friends from our time living in Kew.   At this moment in the Covid pandemic recovery, it’s a very relaxed and convenient bar for these purposes – buzzy but not too crowded with good value drinks and friendly service – and it has become our go-to bar in East London.

Getting Busier Again – Whitecross Street Lunch Market Next To Our Flat

Hope Tala is a good friend of the daughter of one of these Kew friends – hence the choice of concert.  The daughter is now doing many of Hope’s music videos.  This is a line of work that has become more interesting to me since Youngest Son (YS) dabbled in music video as part his mainstream video business (at Wilson Archer Films).  Hope played an energetic and vibrant gig that was full of poppy riffs with a Latin tinge.  I’ve surprised myself with the extent the songs have stayed in my head for the days since.  Based on what I heard, Hope Tala will go far and I hope that creates a platform for more video creation for our friend’s daughter.

Hope Tala And Band At Village Underground

While in London, I fitted in a three exhibitions but I’ll take a breath and post separately on those.  Following the recent meetings of groups of London-based friends, a gig (at last!), and a few exhibition visits, life seems to be returning to normal.  Next week we are off to Edinburgh to see First Grandchild (FG) again.  This time we are planning to take my Dad up in our new electric car so he can meet his great grandchild for the first time.  We saw FG just a couple of weeks ago when he and his parents flew down to see us for FG’s first trip out of Edinburgh.  Now I can’t wait to see his further development since (which seems to include the discovery of his ability to squeal loudly!)

In the midst of the dreadfulness of what is going on in Ukraine it seems incongruous to be having a good time and moving back fully to what I would probably call normality.  All we can do is hope that some semblance of normality returns quickly in Eastern Europe too.  It seems that maybe only one man can make that happen!

Late Winter Skies On A Local Walk Home

London 2 Edinburgh 1; But Edinburgh Wins

Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I have travelled twice to London and once to Edinburgh in the last couple of weeks.  Our trips to London related to our preparations to sell our flat in the Barbican.  It is no longer required now that I have retired and our sons no longer have any great need for it.  I shall be sad to see it go – it was my base 5 days a week for pretty much 20 years of London working – but go it must.

We got those preparations for sale done very satisfactorily and the flat is on the market.  However, we also found time to visit a few exhibitions and bar and restaurant venues; London is always a great place to visit and the flat was, as ever, a very comfortable place to stay. 

Our Barbican Flat, Ready For Sale

Our trip to Edinburgh was sandwiched between those London trips.  Edinburgh is, of course, a much smaller city than London but it is a national capital and has many of the same sorts of sights and attractions.  Above all, it now is home to our First Grandchild (FG) and we currently need no greater attraction.  As any parent or grandparent will know, it is amazing how fast babies develop and start to take on a character of their own.  We are lucky to be able to see this with FG and it was such an enjoyable trip!

Once again we stayed in the Premier Inn Hub in Rose Street.  It is inexpensive, very comfortable, small but perfectly formed.  It is close to where Eldest Son (ES) and his partner live.  It is central and close to all the main city sights.  The Premier Inn Hub chain has become our go-to hotel and, once the London flat is sold, I can envisage us using it in London too.

Once again too, we visited the Joan Eardley exhibition (now finished) at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.  I enjoyed it hugely during our first visit.  This time we had FG duties (very willingly undertaken) so the visit was briefer but, not having heard of Eardley before last Autumn, she now has a firm place in my compendium of favourite artists.  FG wasn’t fussed by the art but seemed to like the ceiling lights.

‘Boats On The Shore’ By Joan Eardley (1963)

We also visited an exhibition (also now finished) in the Scottish National Gallery of JMW Turner watercolours.  These had been collected by Henry Vaughan , a great admirer of Turner, and then bequeathed by him to the Gallery in 1900.  As he did so, he specified that, to preserve their colour, they only be shown in the typically dull days of January.  This exhibition was a rare occasion when all 38 had been brought together in a single show. 

Turner is definitely one of my long standing artists and the exhibition demonstrated many of his best traits – the atmospheric glows of storms and skies, the complex colouring and the huge vistas.  There were also some more delicate portrayals such as an empty chair indicating the recent death of a friend.  No one painting felt great but the ‘whole’ created by the 38 pictures was interesting.

JMW Turner Watercolours From The Henry Vaughan Bequest At The Scottish National Gallery

Another highlight from this Edinburgh trip was our first walk all the way to Leith. 

Andrew Gormley Sculpture On The Walk To Leith

Leith has a rather different feel from the other parts of Edinburgh we have come to know.  Whereas large parts of the New Town area where ES lives are unchanged in a hundred years, Leith is developing quickly and has a slightly different, almost East London, buzz about it. 

Leith (Old Customs House To The Left)

In New Town, LSW and I spent an afternoon perusing the high quality art galleries in ES’s street (Dundas Street) and then had a relaxed drink or two in a relatively new bar called Spry.  Incredibly, despite it only apparently having about a dozen seats, we got a table by the window and liked the ambience very much.

Exotic And Rather Lovely Baskets By Gudrun Pagter and Baba Tea Company (Ghana) At The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh

As on previous trips, we ate well.  ES’s partner produced another lovely meal, we had a surprisingly relaxed evening at Pizza Express with a sleepy FG, and a substantial Indian takeaway.  It was great to meet up with ES’s partner’s parents again (especially as the football team I support happen to have beaten one of the teams her Dad supports in the afternoon 🙂 ).  And it was especially great to see FG smiling, growing and, between rather sleep-deprived nights, giving his new Mum and Dad some real joy.

Back in London, I visited the National Maritime Museum to see the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition.  I’ve seen this exhibition in previous years and, while I don’t understand the techniques used in taking the photographs, I love seeing the results.  It’s a little-known pleasure.

Astronomy Photographers Of The Year At The National Maritime Museum

LSW and I also had another pleasant (and, incredibly, free) dose of Isamu Noguchi; this time an exhibition of his relatively recent work in the large spaces of the White Cube Gallery.  It was, of course, a much smaller exhibition than that we had seen last month at the Barbican, but it reflected many of the same themes which I found reinforcing and strangely comforting. 

Works By Isamu Noguchi At The White Cube Gallery

On the way, we discovered a good new breakfast venue: Watch House at Tower Bridge.  Ozone, which is our normal breakfast haunt is also very good and both are open early.  Edinburgh has some excellent breakfast places but few open early enough for us.  It’s a small area for potential improvement in the comparison between London and Edinburgh.  However, First Grandchild puts a gloss on Edinburgh that makes it the go to city for me at the moment!

LSW and FGs’ Hands

New Year Resolution Trips

Since retiring over 4 years ago, I have been pretty diligent at making and tracking progress against annual New Year resolutions.  Progress this year was patchy.  I met my alcohol-free days and alcohol unit reduction targets.  I also exceeded my target of an average of 15,000 steps a day, and my weight has just about stayed within the target range.  However, intentions to step up organisation of the vegetable garden and composting facilities have remained unfulfilled and I read a woefully small number of books this year. 

This time last year, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I made a new, joint resolution to travel around the UK more.  Covid has, of course, restricted overseas trips and our sons are now living all around the UK – in Belfast, London and Edinburgh.  So perhaps inevitably, we have done more travelling around the UK than in the past, culminating in our Christmas on Skye, Scotland

Memories of Skye at Christmas

Our joint New Year resolution this year is to step up and renew our familiarity with the UK even more.  We have already started with a few trips this January and are lucky enough to have the prospect of many more this year.

I Never Tire Of London And Views Of The Thames; This One At Dusk

We had to travel up to London briefly to prepare the Barbican flat for sale.  There is another such trip later this week.  London is always a pleasure for me; there is so much going on to see and do (even in a pandemic).  This time, as well as seeing Middle Son and his partner for dinner at one of our long-time favourite restaurants (Moro), we went to exhibitions in the Barbican and in Tate Modern.  Plus, I managed a couple of hours in the Imperial War Museum.

Lubaina Himid Exhibition At Tate Modern

Lubaina Himid’s exhibition at Tate Modern was substantial and well done.  The vibrant colours and range of work were impressive but I can’t say I was entirely convinced or entranced by the pieces on show.  The pictures sometimes captured movement but didn’t generate dynamism for me and the sonic works, while interesting and atmospheric, weren’t arresting.  However, we both liked the bright colours and thought it was an exhibition worth seeing – especially as LSW is a member so tickets were available and felt free.

‘Old Boat/New Money’ (Accompanied By Sounds of Sea And Ships) By Lubaina Himid At Tate Modern

We both thought that the Isamu Noguchi exhibition at the Barbican was much more interesting.  The Guardian newspaper review of the exhibition rather poo-pooed the exhibition as being more like a luxury lighting show room.  Certainly there were a lot of lovely lighting exhibits on show but there was so much more.  I enjoyed a lot of the sculptures, some of the ceramics and, especially, the way the exhibition juxtaposed these with the light-based works. 

Views Of The Noguchi Exhibition At The Barbican

As usual, too, the Barbican had put together a clear explanation of the progression of Noguchi’s ideas as they developed through his life.  I thought it was an excellent exhibition.

More Views Of The Noguchi Exhibition At The Barbican

A friend in our village recently recommended a visit to the London Imperial War Museum.  So, when I found myself nearby, while LSW was shopping near Borough Market, I took myself off there to investigate the recently commissioned Holocaust Galleries.  These build up a picture of the Second World War Holocaust through hundreds of photos and the telling of many stories of Jews and other minority groups persecuted by the Nazis in run up to the war and then during it.

Imperial War Museum, London

This bottom up approach required time to absorb but had a layering and relentlessness to it that I found very powerful.  The portrayal of the seemingly inexorable drive to horror, from before the First World War to the Final Solution, was well done and did not shy away from the relative indifference of the world until it was too late.  The history is well known but, nonetheless, rather depressing and the exhibition’s intermingling of the stories of individuals with items indicating the sheer scale of the atrocities was as shocking as ever.  My brief tour of some of the other sections of the museum showing uniforms, planes, tanks and rockets felt a bit trivial afterwards and I’ll have to revisit those another day.

Prior to our London trip we made our first visit of the year to The Newt Garden in East Somerset.  As readers of this blog will know, we have been a few times before.  We love it because it is already a spectacular garden and it is continuing to evolve so there always seems to be something new to see (this time, a Japanese Garden and a ‘Beezantium’ – an exhibition about bees).  There is also a lovely restaurant.

View Of The Newt Hotel From The Gardens

We are now members and to justify the cost of membership we will have to go a few more times this year – what a hardship!

Hen Houses In The Newt Gardens

Then, after London, we had a day out at Compton Verney which is an exhibition space and park that we had not visited before.  LSW had seen a recommendation on one of the many social media connections she has.  Specifically this was for two exhibitions that were coming to a close.  One was of Grinling Gibbons, a master woodcarver (2021 was the 300th anniversary of his death) the other was of paintings by John Nash (younger brother of the more famous wartime painter, Paul Nash).

Sea Of Aconites In Front Of Compton Verney House

Both exhibitions were popular, a little crowded and worth seeing.  Grinling Gibbons’s background (initially around the docks in Holland) and his drive to network and commercialise as he built up his business in England was described clearly and interestingly and the pieces on show were terrifically detailed and impressive.  However, the full impact of his work would be best appreciated in the houses where his carvings still decorate walls today and I’d have liked to have found out more about how the work was done.

Example Of The Detailed Carvings Of Grinling Gibbons

The John Nash exhibition was also well put together and illustrated carefully how his career developed through the First World War, through his love of the countryside, then as a War artist in the Second World war and finally as a retiree travelling the UK and settling in his rural surroundings (as, among other things, a seed catalog and gardening book illustrator).  Unfortunately, apart from a few notable exceptions (see ‘Over The Top’ below), I didn’t like the paintings as much as I had hoped (or expected); insufficient liveliness of colour in too many of the works for my liking. 

‘Over The Top’ By John Nash

The house grounds, designed by Capability Brown, were lovely in the sun (though muddy underfoot) and the lunch in the restaurant was very reasonable.  It was another good day out very much in line with our New Year resolution to get out of the house and our immediate locale rather more.  Later this week: London and Edinburgh!

January Sunrise At Home. Trips Are Nice, But Home Is Too!

Momentous November

It’s been a very good month for me.  Early in November, our new, first grandchild arrived safely.  We were able to visit his city of birth, Edinburgh, to congratulate the new parents in person and hold and cuddle the little fella for the first time.  Even in those first few days we saw him change and settle into a routine that is destabilising and sleep depriving for his parents but which looked normal.  We miss him already and can’t wait to return to Edinburgh just before Christmas and again in 2022.

The First Of The New Baby Congratulations Cards

I’ve been looking forward to being a Grandad for a few years.  So far, it is just as I expected.  I feel proud and loving, but glad I can feel all that emotional warmth without all the challenge and awkward practicality of having to be a new parent.  That looks as demanding as ever but Eldest Son (ES) and his partner are more than coping and their rewards will be immense too.

It is so great that I’m now retired and so we can pop up to Edinburgh without having to slip the visits between any work commitments.  Also, the fact that the pandemic has curtailed any plans for exotic holidays abroad over the last year or so means that we can splash out on the rail travel and hotels without feeling too extravagant.  If our other sons have children too (say, in Belfast and/or Bristol) than I can see these sorts of lovely, spirit-lifting Grandad visits are going to become a major preoccupation!

Edinburgh On A Sunny Day

We saw Edinburgh this time in cold but mainly sunny weather – the haar was nowhere to be seen.  As before, we were impressed by the number of small independent shops and cafes.  Two of our three breakfasts (at Urban Angel and Union Brew Lab) were really excellent.  We even managed a lunch and a coffee break in a couple of cool and friendly places with a completely relaxed grandchild.

The Royal Botanic Garden and Inverleith Park were also lovely and the preparations for the Christmas light show in the former looked very promising.  We had a very pleasant time walking miles around the city and practicing our pram pushing skills.  We also were able to meet with the other grandparents again over a tasty Indian takeaway meal they provided while the little one snoozed in his Moses basket.  I understand that he snoozed a bit less after we left!

This month was also momentous for the passing of my Dad’s 90th birthday.  I was able to visit him briefly in Nottingham to celebrate this big milestone.  We marked the occasion with a very substantial and very satisfactory meal at Côte, which is an old favourite, and with a tipple or two from my Dad’s impressive collection of liqueurs.  He misses my Mum, as we all do, but we had a quietly relaxed and convivial time comforted by the knowledge that at least she was aware, earlier this year, that her great grandchild was on his way.

In between all this celebration, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I also managed a rather ad hoc visit to London to see LSW’s sister and then our Middle Son (MS) and his partner.  I love going up to London to catch up with developments around the City and the East End, visit the galleries and just absorb the bustle.

I Won’t Ever Tire Of The London Skyline

Of course, that bustle is reduced during the ongoing pandemic.  Nonetheless, the restaurant MS took us to (Sager & Wilde) was busy and had a great atmosphere (as well as good food) and the exhibitions at Tate Modern were booked up.  Still, I loved meandering around the Tate Modern.  The Turbine Hall had an interesting mobile exhibit and the general collection I walked through on the 3rd floor was, as usual, a little staggering in terms of the quality of the art.

‘In Love With The World’ By Anicka Yi In The Turbine Hall Of Tate Modern; Like Floating Jellyfish
Works By Emily Karne Kngwarreye And John Mawurndjul In An Exhibition Of Australian Art At Tate Modern

Back in Gloucestershire, in the gaps between all these excursions, I have managed to sustain the normal routines of watching my football team (Forest Green Rovers still ‘top of the league and having a laugh’), walking, cooking, a bit of garden clearance ahead of winter, and some activity around our local Horsley Climate Action Network (HCAN) group. 

Watching The Village Football Team On Weekends When Forest Green Rovers Don’t Have A Game

A particular relief is that, following the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), I have managed to write and publish our quarterly HCAN newsletter.   LSW and I plan to travel to Edinburgh on a more frequent basis next year to watch our new grandchild develop and we will also visit MS and Youngest Son when we can.  Therefore my commitment to HCAN may reduce to simply sustaining that newsletter routine.  It’s been a momentous month and momentum around family is going to continue to be the priority as we move towards, and into, 2022.

Autumn Colour On The Way Into Town

Overstepping The Mark To Normality?

Over the last couple of weeks I have done a number of things that have pushed my risk of catching Covid 19.  I haven’t caught it – presumably thanks to being double vaccinated – but have felt in jeopardy on a few occasions.  With the exception of our planned trips to Scotland (lockdown restrictions permitting) when Eldest Son and his fiancés’ baby arrives and then for Christmas, I plan to reduce my exposure to the pandemic a bit in the next few weeks.

For the first time since the pandemic struck, Long-suffering Wife (LSW) and I went to a large indoor event.  We attended two very interesting talks at the Cheltenham Literary Festival along with a few hundred others who were mostly masked and who were, by and large of the age that would have been double vaccinated.  Any feeling of risk of contagion was quickly overtaken by my interest in what was being said.

Feargal Cochrane And Patrick McGuire Discussing Northern Ireland At The Cheltenham Literary Festival

The first talk was about the Labour Party and whether it has any chance of winning an election any time soon.  The conclusion between three Labour party sympathisers seemed to be a resounding ‘no’ but the reasons and the possible deflections to that verdict were well set out in arguments that seemed to spill new thoughts and ideas every few seconds.

The second talk concerned the recent history of Northern Ireland.  This is of particular interest because Youngest Son (YS) and his Belfast-born partner are now making their careers and lives in Northern Ireland.  Having visited a couple of times, we love the country and want it to succeed.  The risks to that success are rooted in history there, recent disinterest in Westminster, and the touch-paper lit by Brexit.  It was a fascinating talk and increased my wish that the current difficulties around the new Northern Ireland Protocol agreement with the European Union can be resolved soon and relatively painlessly.

Then, last week, I travelled up to London.  I hunkered down in a corner on the train up and then walked across London to our flat.  On the way I visited the new Marble Arch Mound.  The Mound and the view from it was a lot less impressive than the scaffolding on which it is built but the light show inside was a nice bonus.

The main purpose of my London trip was to visit my dentist there for a check-up and hygienist appointment that had been postponed several times over the last year due to the pandemic.  The Covid protocols in the dental surgery made me feel very safe and I got away with just a couple of bloodied gums and some new dental hygiene advice.

I felt less safe on the tube to and from a football match (it wasn’t quite coincidence that my football team – table topping Forest Green Rovers – were playing at Leyton Orient the day after my dental appointment!).  Despite guidance that masks should be worn, only a minority did so.  Fortunately I only needed to be on the tube for four stops each way. 

At the match itself, masks were completely absent but the excitement of the football always swamps any feelings I have of Covid risk during games.

Celebrating Shared Spoils After A Tight Game (Nice Orient Mascots!)

The visit to London was a lovely break.  I visited an unusual and stimulating exhibition by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama at the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey.  His art there incorporated old maps (which I love), ideas about colonialism and the story of his renovation of a bat infested grain silo complex.  The White Cube is a wonderful space and it’s free to visit.

Variety Of Ibrahim Mahama’s Work At The White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey
Ibrahim Mahama’s ‘Capital Corpses’ – 100 Rusty Sewing Machines That Bash Away On Vintage Desks (Its Quite a Noise!)

I also got to see Middle Son (MS) and his partner at the football match but also for dinner and lunch.  It was great to catch up with what they are up to. Dinner at Bottega Prelibato was excellent and felt pretty safe. 

However, it was during that dinner that I decided that I would forgo another planned London trip the following week during which I was scheduled to see the band Tourist with MS.  The idea of being in a cavernous, enclosed space with several bouncing and singing, young and partially vaccinated people felt like an overstepping of the Covid risks.  MS and his partner were able to use the tickets and I’m left with regret but well-being.

Other safe events were a visit by YS and his mate on their way to a holiday in Wales and a simultaneous visit by a couple who have been decades-long friends from London.  All had gone beyond the call of duty by having recent lateral flow tests – something I need to get in the habit of doing – before visiting us.  It was an extremely convivial weekend full of chats, walks, good food and a local art exhibition by a West Country chap called Stuart Voaden.  His day was made too by the fact that our friends purchased some of his work.  We all had fun.

What felt less safe – although it was fun too – was a visit to the local pub last week.  For a few weeks now, since the weather got colder, I have been drinking inside rather than in the pub garden.  Even during the busy recent Quiz Night the environment felt relatively Covid-free.  However, the ‘Jam Night’ last week was a night of full blown sing songs and, as I left after a few noisy beers, I wondered if that had been my peak risk of infection during the last few weeks.  I’m going to go to the pub on quieter nights for a while.

Everyone has a different feel for the balance of risk in relation to Covid.  I know that I’m lucky that I can choose how much risk I take.  The last few weeks have been interesting in helping me determine what is and what is not ok for me in advance of my booster jab and, one hopes, a final decline in Covid cases.

Postscript: Just one more shout out for our Café-au-Lait dahlias which have given me so much pleasure as cut blooms over the last few months.  They will continue for a little while yet until they are blasted by the first frost. 

Also, I am pleased that my limited range of vegetable harvest has been decent again this year.  I can’t grow a lot of things since I struggle to protect them from mammals both large (deer, badgers) and small (voles, mice).  However, some basic fencing and conservative plant choices have meant we have plenty of squash, chard, beetroot, onions and potatoes stored in the old stables as we enter winter.

Home Grown Veg! The Crown Prince Squash (Top Right And 1 of 5) Is A Whopping Stone In Weight

London Exhibitions At Last: Paula Rego and Jean Dubuffet

One of the things I have missed most during the coronavirus pandemic has been London and one of the things I enjoyed most during my London visits was going to the art and topic-based exhibitions curated there.  Last week, at last, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) visited London again for the first time since the first pandemic lockdown.  We both loved the blip out of our relatively rural semi isolation (notwithstanding our trips to Belfast and Edinburgh in the last year).

Back In London Among Its Familiar Landmarks!

During the trip, I saw two art exhibitions: one a life retrospective of Paula Rego (a contemporary Portuguese artist) at Tate Britain and the other a similar retrospective of Jean Dubuffet’s work at the Barbican (it’s now finished).  It was a welcome cultural binge.

The fundamental reason for our London trip was just to break up our routine for a couple of days.  Also, it was an opportunity to catch up with Middle Son (MS) and his partner in their new flat in Haggerston.  They recently moved out of their stop-gap rental of our flat in the Barbican, so that was available to us.  Although the flat is now bare and looking a little tired, it remains a very comfortable, central and convenient bolt hole for this sort of visit.  We are very lucky to still have it until we finally sell this retirement nest egg, probably, next year.

After driving up in our e-car (which in combination with the flat made the trip itself near free of incremental cost), the weather was kind enough to enable us to make a lengthy walk along the Thames Embankment to Tate Britain. 

The Thames: Bridge, Skyline And Unused Tourist Boats

There, the exhibition of Paula Rego’s work was substantial and comprehensive.  What I love about these elite retrospective exhibitions is that one can trace the development of the artists thinking over time while seeing the consistent themes beneath and between the changes in technique and subject matter.  Much of her work depicted the sexuality, strength and resilience of women in hardship; the Dog Women series was an example. 

Paula Rego: ‘Dog Woman’ (1994)

I enjoyed the exhibition a lot but suspect that was as much a function of the novelty of being in a classy exhibition as it was the art.

Paula Rego: ‘The Artist In Her Studio’ (1993)

The exhibition of French contemporary artist Jean Dubuffet’s work was also chronologically ordered to enable understanding of development of his ideas.  The work on show was more varied than that of Rego and I really only liked some of the series of work.  Again, though, some aspects of his style were satisfyingly constant – not least the strange, bloated heads on the figures in many of the works and the use of natural materials with unusual paint type combinations.

Jean Dubuffet: ‘Caught In The Act’ (1961)

The Barbican presented the works very nicely.  Some of the more colourful pieces were lit so they appeared luminous and the pandemic has made London art exhibitions less crowded than they were so there was plenty of room to view everything. 

Jean Dubuffet: Part Of His Performance Art ‘Coucou Bazar’ (1971)

However, although the Barbican tried, I didn’t really understand the Art Brut movement that Dubuffet first named and for which he was a lead exponent of through much of his career.  Maybe the video at the end of the exhibition that explained his counter-cultural aims would have been better placed at the start of the exhibition alongside Dubuffet’s quote (which sounded about right):

“Art should always make you laugh a little and fear a little.  Anything but bore”

Jean Dubuffet: ‘Les Vicissitudes’ (1977)

The weather was too nice to be indoors soaking up art exhibitions for too long.  Apart from the initial riverside walk to Tate Britain, LSW and I also tried out the new Uber riverboat service to get us back to our flat.  It was refreshing and it’s always good to see London from the perspective of the river.

Travelling By Uber Boat And More London Landmarks

We also went to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London.  We followed a newly signposted art trail (‘The Line’) south from the Park down the tangle of man-made and natural waterways leading back to the Thames. 

The area is, of course, changed out of all recognition since we lived in Bow in the 1980s.  Everywhere there are new complexes of flats but, in between, there are signs that the environment and leisure activity is being properly considered.  Certainly, the Olympic Park itself is a lot less bleak than when I last visited.  Now the planting and trees are maturing along the walkways.  I’m looking forward to visiting again and doing some more strolling around the Park and along the nearby waterways.

One Of The Sculptures Along ‘The Line’ Art Trail, East London (Thomas J. Price: ‘Reaching Out’)

LSW and I ate out at Smokestak which is an old haunt of mine and ours.  That was good but better was the dinner we had with MS and his partner at Bistrotheque.  East London seems to continue to be almost as well populated with good restaurants and cafes as ever despite the pandemic and the reduced customer numbers.  Drinking holes on the way to Bistrotheque at Signature Brew and, on the way back, at Ombra were conspicuously quiet.  But that just meant that we could get prime tables and attentive service; very nice!

I have a couple of long and often postponed gigs to see in September and October in London and, at some point, LSW and I will need to decorate the Barbican flat to make it ready for sale.  Those should all be opportunities to spend more time in London – even if these visits become swansongs – to take in more of the excellent exhibitions and art and architecture trails there.

The Olympic (West Ham United) Stadium and The Orbit

Meanwhile there is the significant and emotional matter of my Mum’s funeral.  Thankfully she died peacefully.  After a year or so in which she had, regretfully, to come to terms with being in a care home (a very good one as it turned out), in which she contracted Covid, and then in which she gradually faded, her passing was no shock.  Nonetheless, Mum’s funeral will be a sad closing of a long and fruitful life.  There will be tears and then we are compelled to move on with our memories.

Four Exhibitions, Three Sons, Two Breakfasts And One Gig

For much of my working life, I was in London while the family were in Gloucestershire.  I usually only got to see Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and our three sons during weekends when work often intruded and I wanted to rest.  Then the sons grew up and each of them spent time with me sleeping on the floor of my London flat while they took their first steps into the world of work.  The flat is very small so, although I got to know each so much better, the close proximity and sleeping arrangements were sometimes a stress.

Now, Eldest Son (ES), Middle Son (MS) and Youngest Son (YS) are all based in London and I have entered something of a golden period as a parent.  Now I am able to see them in short spells and in a relaxed way – over dinner, at breakfast, at a gig or in an exhibition. All I have to do is schedule the rendezvous around their diaries and enjoy the moment.  I plan to make the most of these arrangements while they last.

Last week, I was up in London again and was able to see all three sons.  The main reason for visiting London was to see a gig by Nuria Graham.  I first saw her in 2015 at Rough Trade and have now seen her twice since.  She is Spanish with some Irish heritage and writes some great tunes with intriguing English lyrics.  YS and I saw her at Jazz Servant Quarters which was just the type of venue I like: tiny (capacity for only 40 people) with a great sound system.  I loved the whole evening and plan to visit Jazz Servant Quarters again and also see Nuria once more next April.

Nuria Graham At Jazz Servant Quarters

Nuria Graham At Jazz Servant Quarters

Next morning, having stayed with YS overnight on their ailing inflatable bed, we went with his girlfriend for breakfast at the new Ozone Cafe in Hackney.  I love the treat of breakfast in London.  It often includes unusual and quality ingredients, it sets me up for the day of city exploration and usually obviates the need for lunch.

Ozone, Hackney

Ozone, Hackney

The previous day I had breakfasted at one of my favourite cafes – Ask For Janice in Smithfield – and had felt full most of the day.  At Ozone, I was a little more restrained since I was meeting an old friend for lunch at The Coach in Clerkenwell later.  Nonetheless, breakfast was ample and excellent and, of course, given its Ozone pedigree already tried elsewhere in the City, achingly trendy.

While in London I also went for dinner at Smokestak with MS, ES and his girlfriend.  Smokestak is only one or two steps up from fast food – we were in and out in an hour – but the food was great and the atmosphere was buzzy.  As MS said, despite the restaurant being famous for its meat dishes (and I loved the fried ox cheek), the vegetarian plates were perhaps the best.  I certainly ate well during my London visit.

Across the two days I was in London I went to four exhibitions.  On LSW’s recommendation from the previous weekend, I went to the Royal Academy to see the large Antony Gormley exhibition (now finished).  It was certainly impressive – not least the engineering that had gone into making several of the rooms dramatic, single-piece displays.

More Anthony Gormley At The Royal Academy

Iron Baby (1999), Matrix (2019) and Clearing VII (2019) By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

One room was filled with seemingly continuous loops of metal (8 kilometres worth) resembling a huge circular scribble.  Another was a room filled with silt and water.  Another had two huge cast iron baubles hanging from the roof.  And then another had Gormley’s trademark human forms, also cast in iron, set at various angles and amongst which the crowds could meander.

Host (2019), Piles (2018), Lost Horizon (2008) and Fruit (1993) By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

Host (2019), Piles (2018), Lost Horizon (2008) and Fruit (1993) By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

These were all certainly memorable but, at the time, I confess I enjoyed looking at his numerous workbooks more.  These showed how the ideas were generated rather than the final forms and it was more calming to look at these rather than negotiate the crowds in the rooms holding Gormley’s main works.

Some Of Antony Gormley's Workbooks

Some Of Antony Gormley’s Workbooks

Subject II By Anthony Gormley At The Royal Academy

Subject II By Antony Gormley At The Royal Academy

The Bridget Riley Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery was also impressive.  Photos of much of her work don’t work because they play with our way of seeing so much.  For example, Horizontal Vibration (1961) really does seem to vibrate before your eyes. ‘Current’ (1964) is like an optical illusion that feels destabilising if looked at for more than a few seconds.  These are clever and, I’m sure, were ground-breaking in their time but I love her brightly coloured works with stripes and diagonals more.

Though organised by topic rather than chronologically, the exhibition did a good job of tracing her thinking from her early drawings and the influence of Seurat on her work.  It covered her black and white visual exercises, her moves into curves and then colour and, finally, recent works that resembled Hirst’s dot paintings but which were clearly rooted in what she has done before.  The exhibition was an enlightening and cheering way to pass an afternoon.

Stripes And Diagonals By Bridget Riley At The Hayward Gallery

Currents (1961) And Stripes And Diagonals By Bridget Riley At The Hayward Gallery

I squeezed in a visit to the British Library to see the Buddhism exhibition there. Most of the exhibits were brilliantly, brightly coloured 19th century picture books showing the events in the life of the historical Buddah. There were also much older scrolls, wood panels and palm leaves inscribed with delicate texts and images. Once more, it was hard not to be impressed but, for me, the exhibition lacked a theme and was little more than the sum of its parts.

A Scroll Depicting Mahakala (A Protector Deity) And Tales From The Historical Buddha's Life In Folding Books

A 16th Century Tibetan Scroll Depicting Mahakala (A Protector Deity) And Tales From The Historical Buddha’s Life In 19th Century Folding Books

Nepalese Buddhist Palm Leaf Texts (17th and 12th Century)

Nepalese Buddhist Palm Leaf Texts (17th and 12th Century)

The fourth (and, in my view, best) exhibition I saw was that of a recent body of work by Anselm Keifer at White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey.  Anselm had been featured the day before I visited in the Guardian newspaper and the exhibition had been recommended by a friend.  I had not heard of Anselm previously and I went with no great expectations.

As soon as I entered the gallery I was blown away by the rhythm and enormity of the work in the central hall and then, as I moved into the adjoining rooms, by the scale of the paintings, their depth and the overall sense of brooding dystopia.  The paintings worked from a distance and right up close and I was fascinated even though I didn’t really understand what I was seeing.

Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot By Anselm Keifer

Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot By Anselm Keifer (Here Showing Just Part Of A 30 Vitrine Installation)

The White Cube is a tremendous, huge space; it needed to be to accommodate the work.  The exhibition is on until 26 January next year and I would like to go again (unlike the other exhibitions I saw, its free!).

The White Cube Gallery With Anselm Keifer Paintings

The White Cube Gallery With Anselm Keifer Paintings

Anselm Keifer At White Cube

The Gordian Knot By Anselm Keifer At White Cube (With A Real Axe And Real Blackened Branches)

Superstrings By Anselm Kiefer At White Cube Gallery

Superstrings By Anselm Kiefer At White Cube Gallery

I’m planning one more visit to London before Christmas.  I’m looking forward to another round of exhibitions, breakfasts and meeting up with one or more of our sons.

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.

Recoveries And Retirement

I once again have a rather bizarre (and misplaced) sense of intrepid traveller and blogger as I wrote the bulk of this post during a train journey to and from Nottingham.  I confess that the journey is more mundane than some I had imagined I would be taking prior to retirement.  There is always a little twist of excitement in a train journey and in watching the fields flash by and in seeing the towns, back gardens, and industrial developments and wastelands, all from unusual angles.  That is somehow enhanced by writing about it ‘real-time’ on my phone.

Near Oddingly, En-Route From Nottingham

Near Oddingly, En-Route From Nottingham

I have been to Nottingham to observe the welcome and speedy recovery of my Mum from a fall in which she broke her leg about three weeks ago.  Mercifully, she is out of hospital and back at home and my Dad is looking after her well and as independently as possible.  That is a relief all round (although a further minor fall while I was with them shows that the path to recovery is rarely straight)!

It’s been a good week for monitoring recoveries.  Middle Son (MS) visited us in Gloucestershire last weekend and we were able to see for ourselves how far he has come since his serious accident almost three months ago.  There is a long way to go to retrieve full function but he is mastering crutches, very independent and progressing every day.  That again is a relief all round (though, again, a further visit to hospital today for a residual ailment shows the skewed path to full recovery)!

As I ponder my train-side view, I am considering the past couple of weeks and the conversations I have had regarding my retirement and how I have found the experience.  I went to a retirement celebration for a past work colleague and friend that brought back many memories of work in the 1980’s.  I also participated in another occurrence of a regular restaurant event with a bunch of male friends of similar age to myself who I first met in London decades ago.  At both, I answered about my retirement life, confirmed that I continue to enjoy it a lot, and wondered why so many of my contemporaries continue to work.

Views From The Gherkin, London During A Retirement Party There

Some of the responses to my question about why my friends and ex-work colleagues (especially) still work were along the lines of how they need to so as to maintain their life style.  In some cases I think this may be cover for admitting that they actually enjoy work and would miss it too much.  That would be a more honest response and one I can understand.

Each to his or her own!  It so happened that I did not enjoy work as much, nor as consistently, as my friends apparently do.  Work has provided income to enable a very comfortable life and, now (so far, at least) a comfortable retirement.  But I was very happy to finish working and I continue to be very happy that I can devote the hours previously spent at work to things that I often felt I had to rush or failed to find time for.  I want to do that while I still have reasonable health.

The flexibility retirement affords has been liberating.  I no longer have to squeeze visits (to my parents for example) between work commitments.  I can visit London when I want, and now I have more opportunities to see friends elsewhere in the country and can combine that with watching my football team play away from home.

I did exactly that two weekends ago when I visited my Best Man (BM) and saw Forest Green Rovers (FGR) in Cambridge.  FGR won and that capped an excellent weekend of walking, wine, beer, food and chatting about our different lives.  BM is certainly someone who to loves his work and my hopes that he will retire, and so be able to spend more time enlivening my own retirement, are firmly in abeyance.

View Of The River Cam, Cambridge

Views Of Gamlingay In Cambridgeshire (top) and the Royal Society For Protection Of Birds (RSPB) Near Sandy (Bedfordshire)

Views Of Gamlingay In Cambridgeshire (top) and the Royal Society For Protection Of Birds (RSPB) Site Near Sandy (Bedfordshire)

Other highpoints of the last two weeks – and I am deliberately picking these to highlight the variety – have included harvesting my onions and a brief visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.  The onion (and my beetroot) harvest have been magnificent this year. If I manage to store them properly, we should have onions to last until Christmas.

Just prior to meeting up with my old friends for dinner, I saw an exhibition called Architecture of London at the Guildhall Art Gallery.  This was, as almost all these kinds of curated exhibitions are, interesting and contained some fine works and information.  I was almost a lone visitor and could take my time in taking in the show.

Works By Thomas, Bach, Egonu, Lowe And Beavon

Works By Thomas, Bach, Egonu, Lowe And Bach In The Architecture Of London Exhibition At The Guildhall Art Gallery

The exhibition covered the transformations following the Great Fire of London and the Second World War blitz particularly well.  I especially enjoyed the mix of vintages of the art on show and the inclusion of abstract art.  The scope of the exhibition was perhaps too large and the art on show to demonstrate the points being made felt, in places, a little random.  However, the Guildhall Art Gallery is a quiet and edifying place to spend an hour or two and I enjoyed it.

Paintings By Piper and Johnson at The Guildhall Art Gallery

London From Crowwell Tower, Barbican By Richard Ian Bentham Walker (1977)

London From Cromwell Tower, Barbican By Richard Ian Bentham Walker (1977) at The Guildhall Art Gallery. Always Nice To See Views Of The Barbican (But Unfortunately Not My Flat)

Returning to the here and now, the only problem with blogging on the train is that the tables are so small and the space is so cramped.  I’ll be glad to get off and stretch this stiffness out….  ‘Til next time.