24 September 2020

Blowin' in the Wind

The thousand mile eye test....

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?

I've been on a road trip.  1,175 miles to be exact.

I've been testing my eyes......

I've been shaking the limbs, seeing old friends, feeling the world.

It's been a weary long time.  With the exception of one night in Oxfordshire some weeks ago, Amanda has not slept away from the house since last December, and we just needed to see a different horizon....

We were in Norfolk, where we watched birds at dusk....

Marvelling at the  shapes against the sky, whether pairs of silhouetted cormorants......

Or tangles of Knots in their thousands as the tide pushes them shorewards.....

These waders flock in murmurations like starlings as the waters rise.....

Chasing their leaders across the mud flats.....

These are sights to make a virus smile.....

Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?

The next day, we eat prawns, and crab sandwiches, and drink beer, on the beach at Wells-next-the-Sea.  It's almost like being on holiday.....

Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?

And then we head north.  

At Mount Grace Priory I am reminded that there was a time when the government could make catastrophic decisions whose effects would last for centuries.....

Not far away, a sign reminds me of James Cook.  Some people's greatness is someone else's ruin......

And then we strike on up the coast road north.  Sky and sea and land melding in the distance.  It is so good to have a view, to see somewhere else.  Cooped up like frightened creatures, threatened with terrifying consequences, deprived of light and life, we have survived.  But life should be more than survival.....  The road is to be travelled.

At North Berwick, I gaze out to the Bass Rock, just loving to see something else.  

Yes, 'n' how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?

We reach our apex at Loch Leven, where the light is dull and the birds low key.   But there's a distant beauty about the open view, the gleam of silver in the sky and the muted greens and browns of the land.  Just so different from the 'home' counties.  There's a stillness, a quietness, that is hard to find in the south.....

Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?

Then we begin the long slide back down the map.  We break the first day's journey at Cragside, where time stopped ages ago, the inventor of artillery now at peace....

And where, for me, a skinny shadow of my young self still walks in evening mists on the haughs by the Coquet at Thropton, under the Simonsides, wishing for love.....

Then we pause a while at York, whose defensive stones still draw the pilgrims,

And whose glorious Minster is sadly closed to those, who like us, didn't make it quite on time.....  Or who, somehow, don't qualify.....

Then we find ourselves back 'home.'  Though that word seems to mean less these days.  The rain falls, washing moss from the roof, and rinsing the cobwebs from my confused braincells.

A new day dawns, and we walk in quiet lanes, sunlight dappling the fresh green leaves.  And we disappear again into our impoverished routines, flicking from one press conference to another, radio news to tv news, via Prime Minister's Questions to Ministerial statements, wondering whether it will ever end......

Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take 'til he knows
That too many people have died?

I've been on a road trip.  1,175 miles to be exact.

I've been testing my eyes......

I've been shaking the limbs, seeing old friends, feeling the world.

And I still don't know if I can see.....

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind


Bob Dylan

14 September 2020

In the gallery

 The Eyes have it......

    or.... The sign of a good painting.....

I still revere Peter Cook, even though a quarter century has passed since his fatal gastrointestinal haemorrhage at the age of 57.... And to this day I cannot enter an art gallery without thinking of Pete and Dud eating their sandwiches in front of Cezanne's Les Grandes Baigneuses [Eleven female figures repose in an imaginary landscape bordered by trees.....] The painting was purchased in 1964 with a special grant and the aid of the Max Rayne Foundation.  As Pete tells Dud in their In the Gallery sketch, The Big Bathers (Pete's translation of the painting's title) cost almost as much as Tottenham Hotspur. About fifty thousand pounds a body - you could get the real nude lady for that price.....

Anyway, the art critic in Pete lectures Dud in what makes a good painting.  That's the sign of a good painting - if the eyes follow you round the room, it's a good painting.  If they don't, it isn't.

Dud queries how that works with the Big Bathers, and Pete explains that if they are facing away, then the sign of a good painting is if the bottoms follow you around the room.  And they test the theory.....

In these days of up-lock and anti-social distance, I have been thrilled to revisit some galleries, and to test Peter Cook's perspicacity.  I concentrated on the eyes of certain famous paintings (no, not the bottoms.  I have no place for drifting bits of gauze in my life.....) And I was alarmed to find that not all our treasured masterworks are looking the same way....

Take this group of Four Poor Clares, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, pictured around 1320-25 from the Chapter House of the Sienese church of San Francesco. They certainly don't seem to be following me.....

And this Virgin and Child, by Ambrogio Bergognone (c.1488-90) appears to be watching something while her boy is distracted by something else.... (and neither seem interested in the Carthusian monks behind  them, building the Charterhouse at Pavia.....)

My curiosity is raised.  Who/what are these icons gazing at?  What attracts their attention?  And why won't their eyes follow me?  Here is Giovanni Bellini's Doge Leonardo Loredan (1501-2) [looking uncannily like Pier Paolo Pasolini by the way].  His dead eyes seem to be deliberately avoiding the artist's attention.  Very cinematic (never look at the camera....)

But Albrecht Dürer's father (1497) would appear to have an eye on his son?  Or is he looking past him?  I hate to say this, but there's a touch of strabismus in the gaze.....

In Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (1434) it could be that Giovanni Arnolfini, a wealthy Italian merchant resident in Bruges, is contemplating his wife's bump, and that she is dreaming of a happy family.  But she could be looking at her husband's hand and thinking she would rather their guests (in the mirror) hadn't got off the bus.  Either way, they sure ain't looking at us.....

Rembrandt, one of my all time faves (up there with Peter Cook), could play tricks with the light, and his Belshazzar's Feast (c 1636-8) shows us shock and awe as the divine hand writes on the wall (Thou are weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.....  something of a Johnsonian nightmare, perhaps?) These eyes are never going to follow us around the room......

But when he comes to paint himself, as he did many times (he painted himself before the mirror at least forty times, etched himself 31 times and made a handful of drawn self-portraits); he is not shy.  Rembrandt van Rijn will stare us down, daring us to eyeball him back, as in this example from 1637.

His son, Titus, looks a little more abashed when painted in 1658, but he was his father's agent and factotum, and things weren't going well at the time (though they were worse ten years later when Titus died of the plague.)

There's a distinct family likeness visible in this self-portrait at the age of 63 (the year after Titus's death).  But Rembrandt is not finished.  He looks at the viewer with the hint of a smile; there's life in the old dog yet, and these eyes will not only follow you around the room, they will haunt you all the way home.....

I wander the great Galleries of London, almost alone with these darkening faces.  I almost see the paintings reacting to each other in their suspension.  

Edouard Manet's The Execution of Maximilian (1883) not surprisingly upsets the woman in pink sitting with her cat within earshot..... Her expression reminds me of someone on holiday who has just realised the people in the chalet next to her have a child with ADHD.....

And I am interested to see the interaction of others with the windows on the walls. What does this little daughter think about Georges Seurat's Bathers at Asnières (1883 - 4)?  Does she like the little red dog in the foreground?  Or does she wonder why these boys are swimming in a river so close to the smelly chimneys in the background?  Or does she wonder why no one is looking her way?

Meanwhile, other solitary browsers seem to be checking Pete's other thesis.  The Rokeby Venus [The Toilet of Venus, 1647 - 51] (Diego Velasquez's only surviving nude) has the kind of bottom that might just follow you....  (though probably only if you had a Porsche and a flat in Knightsbridge....)

Amidst all this, despite the solemnity of great art, one picture stands out.  The eyes of Frans Hals's Laughing Cavalier (1624) do definitely follow you around.  He's a confident 26 year old and he poses as a man of some vitality.  He is proud to be seen, and will watch every watcher with a view to perhaps meeting up later when the gallery closes.  

As Dud says to Pete: That's the thing about the laughing cavalier - at least he has a giggle......

In risu veritas.....

With thanks to The National Gallery and The Wallace Collection for allowing me to wander freely amongst these treasures and to take photographs (I promise I didn't take any of the pictures....) I didn't use flash and I won't benefit in any way from this blog.....

4 September 2020

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside!

August Bank Holiday....  

            Great British traditions.... 

Everyone delights to spend their summer's holiday 
down beside the side of the silvery sea. 
I'm no exception to the rule, in fact, if I'd my way, 
I'd reside by the side of the silvery sea.

Especially, I think, when it's a Bank Holiday weekend, and there's a bloody virus all about.....

But when you're just a common or garden Smith or Jones or Brown,
At business up in town, you've got to settle down.
You save up all the money you can till summer comes around
Then away you go to a spot you know where the cockleshells are found

This is just a £3 dish of cockles and whelks, with lots of vinegar (and grit....), from.....

But my friend....

had the works.... by which I mean, a pint of cockles, a pint of whelks, two pints of shell-on prawns, two dressed crabs, two punnets of jellied eels, some smoked mackerel, and almost everything else that was on offer (though I lost count.....)

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! 
I do like to be beside the sea! 
Oh I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom! 
Where the brass bands play, "Tiddely-om-pom-pom!"

So just let me be beside the seaside! 
I'll be beside myself with glee 
and there's lots of girls beside, 
I should like to be beside, beside the seaside, 
beside the sea!

Timothy went to Blackpool for the day last Eastertide 
To see what he could see by the side of the sea.
As soon as he reached the station there the first thing he espied
Was the wine lodge door stood open invitingly
Grinning to himself, he toddled inside and called out for a wine
Which grew to eight or nine, till his nose began to shine.
Said he 'What people see in the sea, I'm sure I fail to see'
Then he caught the train back home again and to his wife said he

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! 
I do like to be beside the sea! 
Oh I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom! 
Where the brass bands play, "Tiddely-om-pom-pom!"

So just let me be beside the seaside! 
I'll be beside myself with glee 
and there's lots of girls beside, 
I should like to be beside, beside the seaside, 
beside the sea!

William Sykes the burglar he'd been out to work one night
filled his bags with jewels, cash and plate. 
Constable Brown felt quite surprised when William hove in sight. 
Said he, "The hours you're keeping are far too late." 
So he grabbed him by the collar and lodged him safe and sound in jail. 
Next morning looking pale, Bill told a tearful tale. 
The judge said, "For a couple of months I'm sending you away!" 
Said Bill, "How kind! Well if you don't mind, Where I spend my holiday!"

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! 
I do like to be beside the sea! 
For the sun's always shining as I make my way,
And the brass bands play, "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay"

So just let me be beside the seaside! 
I'll be beside myself with glee 
and there's lots of girls beside, 
I should like to be beside, beside the seaside, 
beside the sea!

I have to say I love it, and I wouldn't trade it for all the tea in China (nor for all the Novichok (which actually means 'newcomer') in Russia, or elsewhere.....

"I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside is a popular British music hall song. It was written in 1907 by John Glover-Kind and made famous by music hall singer Mark Sheridan who first recorded it in 1909. It speaks of the singer's love for the seaside, and his wish to return there for his summer holidays each year. It was composed at a time when the yearly visits of the British working-class to the seaside were booming.

"It was, for a long time, used as a signature tune by Reginald Dixon MBE, who was the resident organist at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool, between 1930-70."

(Thank you Wikipedia)