Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Some sort of milestone!

Half a Million!

It hardly seems believable, but I have now had over 500,000 visitors to this site!  I have reached some sort of significant point in my writing.  Or not, of course.  I know that some kids have millions of followers who regularly read their work; I have two or three followers and a silent readership!
            But I appreciate other eyes getting something from my writing and I look forward to the next half million so that I can reach seven figures!
            Readers are the reason that I keep writing.  So, thank you!  All of you!

Essays now and then

My itching fingers return to the keys to write further episodes in my life in Catalonia.  The gap has been due to the pressures of not writing my final piece of work for the OU course that I have now completed as the penultimate step towards squaring my BA!  I may not have been writing my final essay submission, but not writing something (in academic terms) is a full time occupation and precludes doing anything else.  And the more you don’t do, the more time doing nothing takes up time!  Prevarication is bloody hard work!
            However, now the EMA is done.  Or at least it is sent off.  There was much more that I could have done and even as I sit here typing I realise that there are minor and major elements that should have been written in a slightly different way.  But there is only so much that you can do before you begin to think that the rock of Sisyphus was a mere speck of grit compared to completing an essay.
            I do not make things simple for myself by wanting (always) to take a slightly off-centre approach to what we have been asked to do.  This is not the Open University way and I am determined that my next (and final) course will exemplify a more coherent and strictly OU line on what I do.  Probably.
            As a sign of how I intend to work from October of next year, I have, already, written in the deadlines of each of the assignments that I have to complete.  I have also started a general bibliography in which I am determined to list all of the texts that I have and I refer to so that the writing of the assignment bibliography is not the final fatal icing on the cake when you least need complications.  There are, as there always are, simple ways to make academic life easier.  And I intend to find out the truth of the suggestions that I have assiduously ignored throughout my career.  Many of these approaches, of course, I have taught – but that is just another case of the ‘do as I say and not as I do’ approach to life.  Perhaps it is time for me to follow the advice that I have been peddling throughout my time as a teacher and actually apply it to my life as a student.
            Although the end of module essay is finished, or at least as finished as I am prepared to make it, I do not think that it is in the form that people outside the OU will appreciate – so I am considering rewriting it to reflect more the pseudo-research that I did to complete it.  I do not think that the final essay reflects my interest in the art of Guevara, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the extent of the generosity of the owners of the Guevara paintings that I was allowed to see and photograph in the private collection in London.
            I think that a rewritten essay could reflect more of the work that I have seen, rather than being restricted to one major piece by Guevara.  Let’s face it, my other chosen painter, Hockney, is hardly obscure and it is very easy to find reproductions of any of his works.  The same cannot be said for Guevara and my work should, I think, do something to keep the memory of Guevara alive and anything written about his works should have a wider circulation. 
And that is where Ignacio’s work about his great-grand uncle comes into play.  I have been invited to contribute version of my essay to be placed on a site which Ignacio is setting up and which will contain modern references to the artist.  It will be especially gratifying to have work completed for a couple of tutors give a wider audience.  All it needs is writing – and this time I can take a freer approach.  In theory.  Let’s see how it works out.  At least I have said that I am going to do it, and this site is a place to check up on my progress!

Flesh Can Be Bright

Now is the time for me to get to grips with the editing of the book that is going to be published on United Nations Day this year.  There is a lot to do, and I am still waiting for some parts of the book to be completed.  I am, it must be admitted, a little more confident that my original plan for the book can be realized, though I am also conscious that October is only a few months away and six (count them!) elements in the book are not complete.  But I have faith and at least three of them are in active progress.  I think.
            The physical production of the book is a challenge.  I have my ideas about how I want it to look, but finance and practicalities might dictate that I have to modify my ideas.  I have a series of fallback positions to accommodate reality, but there are some things on which I am not prepared to compromise.  At least, not without a fight.  I have a vision about its final appearance and I want to stick as closely as possible to what I have in mind.
            Now the real work begins as I get the content ready for publication.  October seems very near!


“Mother, give me the sun!”  I do agree with the sentiment in that phrase, though not, obviously wanting to be in the same position as the young ‘hero’ in Ghosts by Ibsen.  I have been too long not “i’ the sun” as one of the characters in Much Ado has it and I can feel myself getting paler by the moment.
            I have vowed to got to the beach more this year, on the basis that the on-shore (do I mean that, or is it off-shore) wind is more likely to tan the skin – or flay it!  One has to take one’s chances.


Just to complicate all of my carefully thought out timetables, we have decided (almost) to go on holiday.  We want to see if there is anything left of the beach that used to be at the far end of Gran Canaria.  Maspalomas used to be one of the triumphs of any holiday on the island, but the last time that we were there we were horrified to see that the beach had become a stony waste and the kiosks had become sea-threatened bastions from a previous existence!
            I do realise that the beach is actually part of a National Park, or at least the dunes are – but it cannot be right to let the beach go to rack and ruin without doing anything substantial about repairing it.  It will be interesting to see what has happened in the intervening years to what was one of the best beaches that I have been on.
            And, of course, it will be time for tanning.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Last efforts!

Count the aches

I have aches in more parts of my lower body than I knew existed.  From my feet to my thighs I am a catalogue of discomfort.  It’s all the bloody walking.  I used to think that the Barcelona underground system was absurdly ‘connected’ and I regularly bemoaned the ridiculous distances that one had to walk between junctions, when the map indicated that they were intersections!  I will complain about Barcelona no more, not after my experiences of the distances that there are between lines on the London underground!
            Perhaps starting a journey in the double station of Kings Cross and St Pancras International means that there is extra walking and I do appreciate the fact that the entrance to the underground, while nowhere near the actual rails, is at the end of my hotel’s street, so at least I don’t have to wait at the irritatingly large number of traffic light systems to get over the Euston Road!  But the walking that is involved in getting around has pushed my daily limit well above what is acceptable!

Once again!

After an unsettled night I did decide to go to Tate Modern and was resigned to the fact that there is a fair amount of walking involved in getting to the front door whatever underground station you decide to use.
            After having got mildly lost I made my usual way to the Rothko room and sat on the bench like seat and wondered, yet again, if these paintings are any good.
            The room looked somehow smaller to me this visit.  Perhaps it was the chatty number of Sunday people clearly unintimidated by the subdued lighting and the massive canvasses who filled the room.  Or perhaps it was a function of my continuing exhaustion – these pictures are not really restful.  At least not to me.  There is a sort of confident expression and a satisfying monumentality, but to be truthful they left me a little cold.
            I think that I was expecting more after taking a course on Modern Art and a course which spent some time on this artist and indeed on these paintings!  But the frission that I have felt on previous visits was not there this time.
            I am sure that I will make a beeline for them the next time I am in the gallery and it will be instructive to see if my attitude changes again!

Lunch and a lesson

I took a bus (how often do I ignore the existence of these vehicles when they could take me nearer to my destination than the tube!) to Trafalgar Square and decided to go to the pub on the corner opposite St Martin in the Field for lunch.  I have this idea that they served the most reasonably priced beer in central London.
            Well, I had a meal of olives and feta cheese as a starter with steak and kidney pudding with mash and veg for a main with a pint of beer – for sixteen pounds and ten pee.  And not worth it, so another tradition goes down the tubes.


Much walking later I almost got to the British Museum, but I simply couldn’t be bothered and made for the Tottenham Court Road tube station and the hotel room.
            The bell didn’t work or the people inside ignored it and they also ignored an increasingly forceful application of the room key on the glass of the entrance.  It took minutes before the 24-hour reception service opened the door and a fairly grumpy me stomped off to the room.
            And here I have stayed, resting, reading and eating the remains of the M&S goodies that survived from the gorging last night!

            Tomorrow the meeting with Clarie and Mary, but before that I have decided, after glancing at a poster on the underground, to go and see an exhibition devoted to Charles Rennie Macintosh in the RIBA in Portland Street.  And why not!

Sunday, May 03, 2015


Study Day

A day without a swim is like a tortoise without his lettuice – there is something missing and wrong with the world.  Well, I went without my customary swim in the interests of getting to Camden Town on time for the Study Day.
            It turns out that my abortive attempt to go to the wrong place on the wrong day on Friday saved me the panic of finding out that all my so-called careful planning would have been to no avail and then I would have had to have panicked in real earnest when I found out that I was in Kings Cross and that the OU centre was nowhere near!
            However, that did not happen and I got to the centre in very good time, indeed I was the first person there – even beating the tutor though she, to be fair, had gone to get a breakfast cup of coffee before the start.
            The Day went well and it was fascinating to hear the art choices that the other students had made for their end of module assessments – ranging from Jeff Koons’ Hoover vacuum cleaner to Aboriginal Art!
            We were given valuable practical advice from the tutor and the Day passed quickly and enjoyably.
            One disturbing element was that we found out that tutors are not paid for these Study Days, they are given expenses for travel and accommodation but not paid for their tutoring!  This was something of a shock and is yet another example of how the OU is pressed for cash.
            The cost of a 60 module course nowadays is two thousand seven hundred quid!  I was a dammned sigh more shocked to find out that students in Northern Ireland were paying a quarter of that price!  Indeed I seemed to be the only person paying the full wack.  The others were paying ‘transition’ fees as they had started their degrees within the last few years and so were not socked with the new full amounts.  I did think for one moment that I would be eligible for lower fees as I had already started my OU studies – but it turned out that the 70s was an era too far away to qualify!
            As long as this year goes as it should and I successfully complete the course on the Renaissance next year, I will finally have completed my degree some forty years after starting it!  Slow and steady etc.

I was stymied in my attempts to go for a swim after the Day by finding that my ‘local’ pool had closed at half past five.  Further enquiries elicited the response that all other pools owned by Camden would be closed as well.
            By way of compensation I went into the concourse M&S in St Pancras and bought whatever took my fancy for a slap up meal in the hotel room.  It cost a fortune, but then what hasn’t in London, and was delicious: smoked salmon and spicy dressed crab accompanied by layered homous – and that was only part of it.  And part of me is appreciative of the fact that I eschewed the opportunity to buy overpriced red wine and settled for tap water!
            An earlyish bed time and I arose, aching in every joint to greet a grey, damp depressing day – as of course befits a British Bank Holiday.
            Well, I do not intend to spend my time on the outside, I will flee to the more comfortable (and considerably drier) surroundings of a few of our Great Galleries!
            Bring the Culture ON!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

The real meaning of tired!

Time to go and see, indeed!

Or not.
The problem was, I was a day early, the course starts on the 2nd and not the 1st.  Friday is not Saturday, no matter how hard you try and make it so!
So, a day to play with and that leads us to:

How To Fill A Day In London When You Are Unexpectedly Able To Do Something Else

So, the first thing is to go for the swim that you thought would be impossible because of the start of the Study Day.
            The Camden Council Pool next to St Pancras is part of a large complex that includes a pool (with changning multicloured dimpled glass wall); a gym; a small children’s library; a cafĂ©,  and who knows what else might be hidden in its imposing sturucture.
            The 25m pool has a feature that I have not come (or swum) across before: an adjustable floor at the shallow end which makes it even shallower for school parties.  This may be great for school parties but it makes proper swimming impossible and you have to adjust your stroke to a sort of “gathering to your bosom” scooping motion to stop yourself hitting your fingertips against the raised floor of the pool!  So, not only do you have to suffer the high-pitched squeals of apprentice humans, but you also have to endure swimming in a pool equivalent of a glorified puddle for part of your length!
            I sincerely hope the technology is too expensive for this to be adopted by many other authorities, and I am a little hesitant about speaking of it for fear that my words are seen and acted upon by some neophyteophile public official!
            It also makes the time for my metric mile something about which I cannot boast and I have no new “achievements” to show as my smartwatch relentlessly documents my strangely slow progress. 
As far as I can see there is no way of programming child-friendly obstacles to progress into the data base.
            Swim completed and cup of tea drunk I was ready to throw myself onto and into culture.  First stop the V&A.

What is Luxury?

There was a hell of a lot of walking from the South Kensington tube station to the entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum, but What is Luxury? – a V&A and Crafts Council exhibition more than justified the walk.
            This is a free, relatively small exhibition which with an intoxicating well chosen series of exhibits poses the question in the title and rather triumphantly does not come to any complete answers, but neatly turns the question into a culmination of possible answers held in each person’s character.
            There is expensive bling here: gold, diamonds, and exquisite craftmanship – but there is often a twist in the presentation and by a thoughtful progression of juxtapositions each glance of the spectator is complicated by the difficulty of an easy response.
            The exhibition is a totality and isolating a single element is to lessen the effect, but for those of you unable to go (Go!  It’s free!) I will pick out a few of the pieces which struck me.
            The star of the show, though not the showiest, was, for me a phosophor bronze dandelion chandelier – and that is not a metaphorical description.  The ‘shades’ of the lights are literally balls of dandelion seeds captured just before they were able to disperse!  The electricity which lights the LED bulbs travels along the intricate and delicate bronze scaffolding thus eliminating the need for wiring.  It is a thing of fragile beauty and has to be seen to be appreciated.
            At the other end of the fragile scale, one of the exhibits is a flat stone: a found object.  This stone has been selected for its assumed ability to facilitate ‘skipping’ across water when thrown.  It has been gilded with 24kt gold and comes complete with its own tailor-made leather pouch.
            The item which has been most photographed is Giovanni Corvaja’s Golden Fleece Headpiece (2009) which takes the form of what appears to be a golden fur trimmed hat which is actually woven from 16km of superfine golden thread using techniques developed over a ten year period.
            An exhibition which has to be seen to be believed.  And did I say that there was free admission?
            A long walk back to the underground station to get to Tate Britain.

The Rex Whistler Restaurant

One of the indulgences that I was determined to lavish on myself this trip was a visit to The Rex Whistler Restaurant in Tate Britain.  I have been patronising this artistic establishment ever since I went to the Tate as a student and couldn’t be bothered to wait in the queue for the self service restaurant and sat at a table in the Rex Whistler before I saw the cost of the food!
            It was worth it and I have repeated the experience each (almost) time I visit.
            My first course this time was pan fried Isle of Man scallops, Cornish baby squid with citron shallots.  This was followed by Gressingham duck breast, confit leg & savoy cabbage parcel, swede puree with seasonal potatoes.  I then had salted caramel chocolate pot and to end off I had a selection of British regional cheeses with a glass of port.  The wine was a bottle of Passagem and they even made me a pot of Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea when I could eat no more.
            If you are wondering why I have made no comment on the dishes, it is for the simple reason that each and every one of them was utterly delicious.
            I have no intention of revealing just how much I paid for this succession of culinary delights because I went outside the normal parameters of the set three (not four) course meal, but I would say that the three course meal costs just over thirty quid, and it’s worth it.  I had an extra course, a bottle of wine, a glass of port and a pot of tea – and it was still worth it!
            Thus fortified I ventured out into the gallery to view My Painting.

A Bigger Splash by David Hockney 1967

Having just had a very full and very leisurely meal I was in no fit position to stand around writing without some support so I hunted around for one of those little gallery folding chairs and took that to Hockney’s canvas and started pondering.
            Sitting with a Caro metal sculpture behind me and the Hockney in front of me, I presented an intimidating picture of academy and people behaved as if I was writing words of artistic profundity in my little notebook.
            From time to time I darted up to The Work and took photos of details that had taken my notice.  I do think that I looked at this painting in a different way from the way that I would have looked at it before I started this Art History Course.  I saw details and noticed techniques that I think would have passed me by before.
            I think that I have a couple of perceptions that will add weight to my observations.  At least I hope so.
            What a good painting it is!
            Tired, but not yet exhausted, I walked to the tube and went to Leicester Square to walk to The National Gallery.

Inventing Impressionism

The sub-title of this exhibition is ‘Paul Durand-Ruel and the modern art market’ and it collects together some of the paintings that went through Durand-Ruel’s hands as he tried to establish a market for the New Painting that Impressionism was at one time.
            This is a ravishing exhibition and god alone knows how much it cost to insure because the value of the stuff on show is probably hundreds of millions of pounds.  That doesn’t make much difference to the experience, but in a show which constantly points out how difficult it was to establish a market for these paintings (only a dozen or so sold in one epoch making exhibition!) it also shows how successful he was – eventually!
            Go on line and look at what is there, because there is too much which is too famous to go in to here.  It was an astonishing experience to go round it and the hefty catalogue looks as though it will provide me with hours of happy reading!  And looking of course.
            I couldn’t go to the National without looking at my Van Eyck and as I attempted to find it I read one of the many notices informing people that many of the galleries were closed because of industrial action.
            The management of the National is trying to privatize the employment of the guards and there has been a national outcry against this attempt to lower the working conditions and pay of a loyal group of workers.  I have already signed a petition to stop this retrograde action, but felt the need to do a little more.
            I asked for a comment form and wrote a strong letter to the authorities and I am now awaiting their reply!
            Fired up by my fearless letter writing I strode out into the growing gloom of central London and noticed that there were posters advertising an exhibition of the work of John Singer Sargent in the National Portrait Gallery.

Sargent: portraits of artists and friends

With my remaining strength I threw myself into the artistic fray once more and paid the not insubstantial entrance fee to an exhibition of an artist I have always admired for the sheer easy brilliance of his handling of paint.
            You get a long vista in one of the galleries and at the end you see Sargent’s masterpiece, the tweely named, but staggeringly accomplished, Carnation, lily, lily, rose – two young girls lighting paper lanterns at dusk in a garden with carnations, lilies and roses.  The capturing of a particular quality of light is extraordinary and the painting is one of the real treasures of the Tate.
            His ability to capture a character in paint is amazing and although at a distance his work seems highly finished, at close quarters you see exactly how free his brush strokes are.
            This exhibition also has his charcoal drawing of W B Yeats used as a frontispiece to the first volume of Yeats’ Collected Poems of 1908.
            Lots of things worth seeing here!

And so . . .

A short debate with myself about whether or not I could stay awake long enough to eat a meal ended with me prone on the bed.  And soon in it.
            Before I fell asleep, or rather plummeted into the darkness, I wondered how I ever managed to do even more in London when I was a mere stripling in my thirties.  And perhaps there is the answer!