Strangers at the Tate Modern

11 May

On Saturday last I met up with some dear friends to see the Matisse exhibition. Now I’m not that arty but I visit galleries every now and then so I can drop the fact into conversation. A few pointers from my art-expert friend, Mark White, ensures that I have the required amount of bullshit at my fingertips to win friends and influence people. I use a similar approach with wine, formula 1 and world problems. Matisse’s ‘Cut-outs’ exhibition is a primary school delight. It’s hundreds of bits of coloured card stuck on paper. Fourteen rooms of it. Predicatably I liked the blue nudes (room 9) best. Anyone would enjoy this weirdly simple-but-complex series – anyone who has made a collage, Christmas decorations, been a primary school teacher or just had a childhood. Here and there I could have done with Mark W to decode something for me..but mostly I drifted through feeling more at home in an art gallery than usual.

This is not what I was going to write about, however; the first paragraph is a digression! What moved me to put fingers to keys was a toilet experience. Level 1 Tate Modern.

I was early for my meeting with friends. Comfort break, I thought; get it out of the way. The men’s loo on Level 1 is small: two urinals and one sit-down. I entered the latter and locked the door. I was surprised to see that the floor-to-ceiling door was backed with a stainless steel sheet. So too the wall behind the toilet. The rest was quite chic shiny black quartz tiling. The toilet was long and thin – you could fit two loos in there actually. I saw that some of the tiling had had graffiti scrubbed off and the mirror-shine was rough matt in places. Pity.

My attention turned to the steel surfaces. There was a mass of etchings and scratchings. Dan wuz here; Fuck off; I hate Farage. I searched for anything remotely witty or interesting but the best I could find was Gibralter? Espanol. How peculiar is it to get a sharp implement – knife, key, compass, belt buckle, coin – and apply hard pressure to a clean, smart piece of shiny, sheet metal to deface it. I can just about understand (if not embrace) the biro or felt-tip naughtiness of a real witticism which will make my public lav. experience a thing of greater joy. For example, later that day in The Hole in the Wall pub, the old Tommy Cooper classic made me chuckle as I had a pee: Went to a seafood disco the other day….pulled a muscle. Nothing like this in the level 1 toilet at the Tate Modern. Just unsightly scorings which were random, dull, stupid. I appreciated Banksy rather more. His clandestine art is, at least, designed to entertain provoke, challenge – it is witty, daring and has an aesthetic intention.

While I was examining the closet walls  heard the outer door swish. A man whistling Waterloo Sunset. He had to be over 50 and British – who else whistles the Kinks these days? Probably a Londoner too. He broke off to hawk some spittle up an gob it out. Hmmm; probably hasn’t seen that the cubicle is occupied and there is an anonymous listener. Next – a fart like a gunshot. No he can’t think anyone else is in there! Back to Waterloo Sunset; he’s a good whistler.

And now I’m out, rather depressed by the gougings of my inner sanctum. I wash my hands, water scalding. Time was when all hot water taps in these places was reliably cold. Waterloo Sunset man is next to me now. No eye contact. I turn to the hand drier. The hand towel dispenser is empty (at 10.30 on a Saturday morning?) so just the one Dyson hand blaster. Now we all know that 10 seconds doesn’t dry the well-watered hands. I repeat the process. Waterloo Sunset sighs impatiently behind me. Well, better than farting to make his point.



3 Responses to “Strangers at the Tate Modern”

  1. Matt June 1, 2014 at 4:00 pm #


    Just started Any Human Heart – can’t put it down…

    • simplysorro June 1, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

      Great! Halfway through Shantaram – really enjoying it!

      • Matt June 4, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

        Brilliant – glad you’re enjoing it!
        Just started Logan’s post war journal… Was not ready for that bomb shell (literally).

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