Archive | November, 2015

Graffiti had its day? Oh I hope not…

10 Nov

On another of my visits to the Tate Modern to see what new and expensive nonsense has filled the Turbine Hall, I took time out to check the toilet facilities which had provided so much fun the last time I popped  in(Strangers at the Tate Modern – May 2014).

My initial surprise and mild delight at the toilet ‘makeover’ soon gave way to misgivings. The place has been Tate Modernised. Black mosaic-style tiling shimmers in the sodium lighting; Armitage Shanks porcelain urinals have been replaced by a manufacturer I can’t remember. And even the Dyson Airblade has gone. Two sparkling patent-busting lookalikes called Jetfly have replaced the single Dyson blaster. The place was spotless. Jed had cleaned it ten minutes earlier. The wall-chart listed the hourly hygiene checks. There were flickering gadgets on the ceiling which might have been smoke detectors but more likely big brother surveillance. The mass of mirrors encouraged the thought of a surreal theme park. Worst of all, no sign of graffiti.

On my last visit I had delighted in the scrawled messages in my cubicle and the problems of scalding water and a sad, lonely single hand-drier. This time, nothing to report, so the Turbine exhibition had to lift my spirits. And so it did. Araham Cruzvillegas – a name that is bannered in neon-orange outside the gallery – has produced triangular wooden soil-filled boxes on scaffolding gantries all over the vast Turbine floor. A few feet in length and shaped like a wedge of brie, the receptacles house earth from three parks in Enfield. This preposterous idea is made even better by the ‘living sculpture’ being the Mexican artist’s attempt at ‘guerilla gardening’. In other words Abe hopes that visitors might toss seeds on to the hundreds of soilbeds – or that whatever organic matter is already there might flourish under the powerful arc lights. He links the cultivation of unloved plots in the teeming suburbs of Mexico City, with our allotment and park culture.

After several moments of feeling the ludicrousness of the whole thing, I started to smile. Apart from anything else I like triangles. Then, why Enfield? Then I saw a small girl tipping an envelope of seeds over the balcony. A few weeds have already appeared but, like graffiti, even they look quite good. Indeed it’s nice to see a bit of incipient green while brown mud dominates. The Hyundai Corporation commissioned the installation, hoping, perhaps, that artistic altruism might help sales of their diesel range. I’m being cynical – at least they are making a contribution. I look forward to Nike doing the same next year. Back to graffiti.

The street art of Pompeii reminds us of the timeless art of graffiti. Man seems to have scratched messages or pictures on trees, in caves and on walls since we had trees and caves and walls. My desk in the first form at secondary school (1962) had the compass gougings of previous generations preserved by annual coats of varnish. As custodian of the contraption for the year I delighted in adding my own clever witticism: Sorro wuz here, ’62.

Desks were chucked onto skips years ago. Laminate tables and plastic seats are the unimaginative order of the day. Woe betide the youngster who gets out his felt tip or sharp instrument  – compasses having been banned as lethal weapons by health and safety/risk assessors some time ago – to leave his mark, his genius. Of course defacement, vandalism, eyesore and criminal damage are terms central to the vocabulary of detractors. There is a time and a place ..and intention. There is also expression, freedom of speech, story-telling, art. God alone knows what the balance is.

Banksy and his like have reignited debates about acceptability and appropriateness. We love the anti-establishmentarianism of it all. Google Graffiti and you’ll find that the Wikipedia page on it is really interesting – and extensive. I learnt a lot! See the picture that I took on the station at Herculaneum. Lovers with graffiti and wet washing backdrop.  Somehow it works, doesn’t it?

176We moved on from the Tate and ended up watching skateboarders at the South Bank, where the graffiti/street art is inimical and strangely equal to the more formal culture of the area – National Theatre, Hayward Gallery, Festival Hall and all that.

I still moan about senseless scrawling on newly painted walls but witticisms on pub toilet walls, Tate Modern toilets and the brothels of Pompeii make me titter.

Sorro wuz here, 2015.



Remember, remember…..

9 Nov

Remember when Guy Fawkes’ night was way ahead of Halloween in the opinion polls? Penny for the Guy, rockets in milk bottles and dangerous bonfires were institutions which celebrated gunpowder, treason and plot. How wonderful to have a party to remember the nearly-blowing up of Parliament. Now witches and warlocks, pumpkins and trick-or-treating have invaded our shores. Much less radical.

Remember when sportsmen didn’t cheat (well not much)? In those far-off days when sporty types were only rewarded with sweat and certificates, there wasn’t much point in bending rules. Now power and money have brought the reward of corruption. And it’s not the just the performers – coaches, governing bodies, politicians – so many seem to have noses in the trough. Oink Oink.

Remember when the Times and Sunday Times used to be newspapers rather than extended gossip columns? With bags of national and international news to report yesterday, the S.T. led with Footballers Face £100m Meltdown – a story about overpaid soccer players getting bad investment advice. The stunning sub-lines were: 1. Top players accuse advisers of mis-selling and 2. They feel aggrieved, they feel duped – humiliated.

So much for Remembrance, Aung San Suu Kyi, dead Russian tourists, dead Russian athletics reputation for that matter etc. Luckily there was a nice picci of David Furnish kissing Elton on the front of the magazine while Michael McIntyre was on the front of the Culture. About right. I avoided the 4 page investigative pull-out on the soccer story. The S.T. has decided that anything to do with the seamy side of sport is worth throwing megabucks at to ‘reveal all’. As a sporty type myself I offer the once estimable organ this advice: don’t bother.

Remember Remembrance? Well there’s a great deal of it about with VE and VJ Days and all the rest. The British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall on Saturday was the usual brilliant Huw Edwards,  stage-managed affair with Rod Stewart improbably but effectively crooning and Pixie Lott strangling a nightingale in Berkeley Square. The poignant individual stories, as ever, brought the house down with tears and trumpetry. The following morning things continued at the Cenotaph with muted pomp. The media spotted that JC – the Corbynator – barely bowed his head after he laid his wreath. He mumbled the National Anthem as would Wayne Rooney at Wembley. Corbs had similarly half-mouthed the Lord’s Prayer the night before. Jezza – either go for it or look respectfully indifferent. Either is preferable. Toffs know how to carry off hypocrisy so much better.





9 Nov

St. Nicholas’ Church, Thames Ditton. 21st October 2015.

My mind wandered and I shifted uneasily as Tony Pritchard’s coffin was lowered onto trestles. I was in the third row of pews; my old form master’s eco-basket-casket was not quite close enough to touch.I glanced down at the order of service and a healthy, florid, memorable faced smiled back at me. Antony Cowles Lowther Prichard. I had never thought that the C and L of A.C.L. Prichard would reveal such deliciously odd names. How little we know of those who inhabit our lives.

As the service got under way I reflected on my first day at Kingston Grammar School. September 1962. A new boy in shorts and striped orange blazer was told to stand in the 1C line as my name came after Q in the alphabet. The access to 1C’s formroom was down a small flight of stairs, giving the room a cave-like quality. The desks were Victorian wrought-iron and wrinkled oak scored with the etchings of former inmates. A prefect loomed over our silence as we waited for a teacher to arrive. And there he was, ‘Prickles’, begowned, youthful, fearsomely smiling and agile as he pattered lightly down the form steps. Gown became cape as it billowed with his forward momentum. Batman had arrived.
I became fond of this strict but clever life-force of a teacher. He taught Latin in the rote style, banging a carved walking stick (Belshazzar) to a rhythmic beat as we conjugated verbs. Amo/Amas/Amat etc. Plenty of memories washed over me but as I sat in my pew it was the first batman meeting, that first encounter that returned so easily. A snapshot.

A segway to poetry. Teachers sometimes try to outsmart pupils by asking them to define poetry or verse. It’s impossible of course. However, by collecting several responses a teacher can point a class in interesting directions. One such definition was offered to me by a smartie-pants boy many years ago. A moment caught forever. Nice answer. Lots more to say, perhaps but when we think of the poems we know well, a line often stands out. The host of daffodils, kingfishers catching fire, the blast-beruffled plume, the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle, the albatross, the sound of revelry by night. Tread softly through your memory and half-forgotten lines can emerge and a door left ajar is opened again. And the poem often becomes the line and vice-versa. A representative of the whole.

So it was, a couple of weeks ago, that Tony Prichard was distilled in the moment he became Batman on first meeting. As I shifted in my pew I thought of those near and dear to me and conjured up moments, images, gestures which represented them. Gerard Manley Hopkins called it inscape – the very essence, not just of people but the entire natural world. For him it was proof that God existed through the uniqueness of his creations. It’s a romantic view which powered his poetry but I wouldn’t base my view of creation on it. But I do enjoy a bit of inscaping every now and then.
RIP, ACLP 16/11/1927 – 21/9/2015

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