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.

Busy With Peak Beard

It’s been a pretty packed couple of weeks at and around home, and then in London. Last week’s visit to London was triggered by the opportunity to catch up with a Madagascan friend who was once a marvellous au pair for us when our kids were small. She is now living in the US but was visiting London with her husband. We had a lovely lunch at some very hospitable mutual friends. We then visited Kew Gardens with particular attention to the Orchid Festival.

When we lived in Kew, I treated Kew Gardens almost as an alternate back garden and visited them at least once a week, dragging one or more sons with me. The gardens have been developed in a number of interesting ways in the intervening 20 years but retain their beauty, neatness and scale. I shall plan a longer and more comprehensive visit later in the year when there is more colour and warmth outside the unique greenhouses.

Kew Gardens Orchids

A Small Sample Of Orchids From The Exhibition in Kew Gardens

That excursion was followed by dinner and an overnight stay at the house of some other long-standing friends in Chiswick. It has been a while since I have attended a London dinner party. After the last few months of early nights of rural entertainment, it was a shock to find myself drinking, eating and still deep in conversation at 2am. Given that interesting gins and tasty wines had been opened before 7pm, it was a wonder we got back to Gloucestershire in time for me to attend the next critical game in Forest Green Rovers’ attempt to stave off relegation.

Previous to all of this conviviality with Long Suffering Wife (LSW), I had ventured up to London to do a few things alone (while LSW fulfilled her book club commitment). As before, I stayed with eldest Son (ES) in my old Barbican flat; what an excellent arrangement this is turning out to be. After dinner with him I had breakfast with Middle Son (MS) and so was able to report back to LSW on their well-being and current hopes, fears and habits.

I also fitted in the Museum of London’s Fatberg exhibition – a fascinating and very topical 30 minutes of facts and societal concern – and a visit to the Charles I King and Collector exhibition at the Royal Academy.

The Museum of London Fatberg

The Museum of London Fatberg (A Foot Long Segment of the Biggest Fatberg Ever Found And More Interesting Than It Looks Here).

The Charles 1 exhibition was huge and impressive. The way the collection came together during Charles I’s reign, was dispersed after his head was cut off by Cromwell and then partially reassembled (and further reassembled for this exhibition) was fascinating. It also provided an opportunity to observe some interesting beard and moustache styles from the 17th century that I am tempted to reproduce with my own burgeoning facial hair.

Charles I and His LSW

Charles I With Peak Beard And His LSW

Of my New Year resolutions, perhaps that to grow a beard has been the one in which I have made most progress so far. Unsurprisingly, LSW has already vetoed the Charles 1 style handlebar moustache and, just today, she has started to make noises about the bushiness starting to exceed her tastes. The scissors are ready so peak beard is about to pass.

Peak Beard?

Peak Beard? Nearly Two Months’ Growth But Ready For A Trim?

Other events in London included one of the longest lunch (and related drinks) sessions I have had for a while. This was with another retiree with about 18 months more experience than I. It was fun talking about mutual ex-colleagues, the more frequent and extended holidays now possible without the constraints of work, and the possibilities of using some of the extra discretionary time we now have to play the credit card promotional offer ‘game’. Given the benefits, I need to try that by applying for, using and then discarding new credit cards; after all, I have the time to do so.

I also saw two films: The Shape of Water (a beautifully shot but simple love story) and Lady Bird (fine and very well acted but probably most cogent to a mother or a daughter). I had one other late night visiting a pop up art exhibition called PoptArt Gallery run by one of Youngest Son’s (YS) ex-college friends. These pop ups have been running for a couple of years and have become progressively more sophisticated. This occurrence was in a stylish private club. The art was as interesting as ever but the main attraction was to catch up with the organiser and to meet her friends, some of whom know YS.

London Graffiti

Noticed During My Walks Through London This Week: An Example of London’s Wonderful Graffiti (This By Bambi)

After all that rushing about in London, it would be very satisfactory to settle back into impending Spring in Gloucestershire (and do more decorating of the TV room of course!). Not much time for that though…. we are off to Cape Town next week. Exciting times……