Thursday, 29 January 2009

Late Works

So I went down to London yesterday, for a mixture of record shopping and gallery hopping. That sounds way too neat an opening sentence, as though I actually spent some time thinking about it beforehand. Which I didn't. No, honest I didn't, I'm not that bad.

I didn't bother to check out any listings for what's currently on, exhibition-wise. I didn't want to feel any sense of pressure that I had to go and see such and such a show in this part of town, then journey over to a different part of town to see something else. So I decided it would be a good time to do something I've always intended to do, but for some reason have always ended up thinking, no, I'll do that next time.

That particular something was to go to the Chlore Gallery, part of the Tate, and look at the display of late works by Turner. It's so long since I've been to Tate Britain by tube that I couldn't remember the nearest station . The woman in Liverpool St station wasn't much help either, I knew it wasn't going to be easy when, after the third attempt at asking her, she asked me to spell Tate. She also gave me utterly rubbish directions to Pimlico, which I duly ignored, and surely got there quicker as a result.

Well I love Turner's late works, and the ones that they had on show really drew me in, and I can envisage myself visiting again to spend much more time in front of them. However it already feels like a long time ago now, since after I departed, I took a walk across to the other side of the river, to the Tate Modern. I know there are more imaginative things I could do, but it's a walk I've always enjoyed, and I wanted to revisit a couple of other old haunts nearby.

Well what I hadn't realised was that there was an exhibition of late works by Rothko, which was due to finish at the end of the week. Some of those works are part of the Tate's permanent collection, and I've spent hours in front of them before, but I didn't begrudge paying out to see them as part of an exhibition with a number of other works besides. The largest room displayed these: their familiarity was offset by the larger space afforded to them, and also due to them being shown alongside other less familiar (but closely interrelated) works.

I spent a lot of time yesterday wondering how best to describe these works and the impact that they have: really, I could go overboard with one subjective impression after another (and very little by way of analysis). But I'll restrain myself: one of the overall feelings that kept occuring to me, was just how much these huge paintings envelop me when I'm in front of them, which can be variously exhilarating, and uncomfortably claustrophobic.

Here's a list of other words or phrases which I was potentially going to incorporate into a huge overblown description:

a space in which one can lose oneself,
a glimpse into something other and yet very familiar,

et cetera. Thank goodness I restrained myself, otherwise I could have gotten embarrassingly tangled up in all sorts of hyperbole. One other word I would happily include though:


Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Misreading The Signs (2)

A while ago I posted words to the effect of how I keep reading headlines, notices, billboard ads - any text of any kind - wrongly, especially if it's just in passing.

Well since that post, it hasn't really happened, and I wondered if my having written about it may have somehow served to stop it happening.

No, since it happened today as I was on the train to London, and saw a little litter notice just under the window: which, according to my eyes at least, read

Please help keep your brain tidy

If only I could...if only I could.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

No sleep til I wake up

Last night was one of those nights, I was shattered, but when I went to bed I couldn't fully switch off my brain. Just general thoughts going round and round, a few things nagging at me, nothing significant in itself.

I did drift off to sleep, but at 2.44 am I woke up. Usually it takes but a short few minutes to fall back to sleep again, but there was something about the quality of this waking up that caused me to think I wasn't going to get back to sleep again for a couple of hours. I was already starting to get annoyed about how tired I was going to feel throughout the day ahead as a result. This quickly resulted in a sense of dread that I was going to spend ages lying awake, and dread turned to a sense of certainty. I conjured with the idea of getting up.

I got up. Got myself a glass of water, and switched the computer on. Just the very fact of getting out of bed and doing something changed my state of mind from annoyance and irritability to something a little gentler, albeit weary.

The soft lighting of the living room was soothing though, as was the glass of water. The large flatscreen computer monitor soon proved to be very absorbing as I began to watch old episodes of Dr Who, those episodes very specifically being ones in which Jon Pertwee was the Doctor, and in which he was pitted against the Daleks. I was able to actually recall some of the hide-behind-the-settee sense of fear and excitement I used to get on seeing the Daleks. The impact of their appearance seemed magnified by the unearthly hour, the quietness of the surroundings and my state of consciousness: whilst I was awake, it still felt as though there was a link running to my subconscious, with all its capacity to heighten the imagination.

The fish in the tank against the wall looked, in the blurry soft focus of the hour, more like a lava lamp - washes of colour slowly undulating, morphing and swirling around in the background, again to very soothing effect. Having said that, my attention was still very much on Pertwee's adventures pitting his wits against the Daleks in the abandoned quarry they always used for filming the barren landscape of an alien planet.

Finally, I decided it was time for me to go back to bed and to try and get some sleep - over an hour, closer maybe to two, had passed, and if I was going to function at all during the day ahead then I should at least try and salvage the remainder of the night for 2 or 3 hours more sleep.

Seemingly in no time at all, I woke up and it was time to get up and get ready for work. I did feel tired, but not as crushingly so as I might have expected. I wearily plodded to the bathroom, and as I switched the light on in the living room, it suddenly came back to me. I didn't actually get up and watch Dr Who in the early hours - stupid me, for although I had lain awake for a few short minutes, I'd only dreamed that I couldn't sleep, and thus had dreamed the whole thing about getting up, getting a glass of water and watching the Daleks.

There is, after all, no fishtank in my living room. Nor do I own four Siamese cats either, who for some reason had all been trying to block my way when I rose from my seat to get another glass of water (I omitted to mention this in the above narrative, so as not to sacrifice a certain amount of plausibility).

So although not mind-numbingly tired, I was still far more tired than I ought to be, thanks to my sleep being punctuated by dreams in which I couldn't sleep, and in which I got up to pass the time away.

It's as daft (but as true) as something a friend of mine said, when I told him he should try and relax.

I don't like relaxing: it makes me tense.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Gallery/R.I.P.

At the risk of this becoming some sort of Death Notice Blog, I've just found out that Tony Hart has died.

Another childhood staple - on his official site, it says that he influenced several generations of children into becoming artists. I don't know how true that is for me - I think it was rare, if indeed at all, that I used to try things out that I'd seen on his programme - but I do remember sitting in front of the tv to watch the first few series of Take Hart week after week, and being utterly absorbed. In a small way, it was like being transported into another world, the sheer fascination of watching drawings and paintings being created as I watched - and the value in that for my childhood self is pretty significant, I think.

So, once again, rest in peace.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The weirdness/ R.I.P.

I mentioned in the last piece I posted up here that music is one of my obsessions.

Thinking about this then, in a way I would have expected myself to have written a post upon hearing the news that Mitch Mitchell, drummer with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, had died. Now I don't actually own any Jimi Hendrix albums, but I'm more than familiar with them - and one of the main things I like about them is Mitchell's drumming.

I'm not sure whether what follows is in accord with received opinion about him, but to me he's a fine example of the early rock drummers in the sense that while he could play the drums hard, fast and heavy, his style and technique also owed much to some of the great jazz players in terms of inventiveness, subtlety and being able to really swing. I love that kind of drumming, there's something that delights and fascinates me about it.

So it feels odd that my reaction to his death, sad and premature as it was, was really nothing more than muted. I'm not sure why that is, really, since I do hold him in high esteem as a musician.

Same goes for the far more recent, equally sad news that Ron Asheton, guitarist with The Stooges, has also died. Again, I don't actually own any Stooges albums, but I know them well and their influence is stamped firmly over many parts of my record/cd collection. There's a direct lineage from the Stooges, and Asheton's guitar playing particularly, to many of my favourite bands, albums and pieces of music.

But again, for reasons unknown to me, this news didn't affect me like I might have expected it to. As above, it's not for want of respect for him and his work. I'm not saying I would exactly be weeping and wailing and gnashing my teeth, but certainly that it would have registered far more with me than it has done.

Today, however, I read the news online and saw that Patrick McGoohan has died aged 80, and that really did instil in me the kind of reaction oddly lacking with the previous two examples: a deep sigh, pause for a few minutes' reflection and the need to talk about it with the people around me.

I remember my mum mentioning The Prisoner as being "quite weird," before I'd ever seen or heard of it, but "quite weird" was bound to attract my interest. So when it was aired on Channel 4 - latish on Thursday nights around 1983 or 84, if memory serves - I can remember there being something hugely exciting and esoteric about it. It was baflling, intriguing, and thoroughly engrossing and thought-provoking.

It was one of those things that seemed a real highlight of the week: far beyond the mundanity of sitting watching television, it seemed so much more than that. Plus the fact that it was on a Thursday night - it was one of those things which served as a signifier that the weekend was imminent, and so it carried that kind of resonance that everything was just as it should be (of course if I've remembered this wrong then I'm talking rubbish, but we'll gloss over that).

Perhaps in a small way it represented a kind of marker for me: that I'd reached an age where there was no problem in me being able to stay up late to watch it; but, more significantly, that I was at an age where I could engage at some level with many of the concepts it presented and explored.

I haven't seen it since that rerun, some 25 years ago. Predictable though this may be, I won't be surprised if that changes in the not-too-distant future.

Anyway, with his death, it feels like we've lost another one of the good guys. Regardless of my described response about the passing of Mitch Mitchell and Ron Asheton, the same goes for them too.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


I was awarded an award by leigh just before Christmas, and tagged to list 5 obsessions. Interesting that leigh's blog is entitled The Art of Subtle Procrastination, since it's taken me some time to finally get round to this. Well, very belated thanks! Just to add insult to injury, blogger won't even let me upload the image for the award for some strange reason.

Oh well, here we go with five obsessions:

1. Cycling. I feel I've been there and blogged that often enough, to not feel the need to write more about it in this post - except to say that on Saturday I'll be doing my first dollop of cycling so far this year, a six hour slog on a mountain bike somewhere up north (ish). Let's hope the weather stays as challenging and inhospitable as it has been the last few days :)

2. Music. Listening to, making, reading about, talking about, thinking about, getting tinnitus because of.

I could easily have said "The Fall" instead, mind you: though I don't know if I could count as a true Fall obsessive given that I own just 21 of their 27 studio albums, does that make me a bit of a lightweight?

But yes, music: all sorts of music. Music that is sweet and delicate, music that is harsh and atonal, challenging, primitive, raw, "unlistenable", experimental, music that sounds like it's been made by beings from another planet (especially late at night on that particular planet)...and all sorts of shades inbetween, including Hot Chocolate's Greatest Hits, and "Money" as performed by the Flying Lizards .

I could go on about music - but just go and listen to some, will you?

3. Myself. Oh yes - I don't mean in a narcissistic, vain kind of way: I certainly don't spend inordinate amounts of time looking at my reflection in the mirror, put it that way. No, I mean more along the lines of searing self-analysis of my every thought, word, action and motive, and the potential consequences or lack thereof resulting from those in isolation or in tandem. Moments in which I can forget myself can be hellish or bliss therefore. I realise, of course, that what I've written does carry its own kind of vanity, don't go thinking that I don't. See, this is a case in point.

Perhaps I exaggerate a little, but there's a certain truth in there all the same.

4. War History. I know, it's such a blokey thing, but in recent years I felt the need to read history to make sense of so many questions in my mind, and then I got on to the World Wars, and haven't really moved on much from there. It's certainly not about glorification of war, nor is it about any kind of fascination with what kind of tank fired which kind of shell and at what range was it effective and all of that tedious nonsense. It's more the combination of the human aspects (and sheer disbelief at man's inhumanity to man - of which there's plenty about at the moment) and how individuals coped in such adversity, and the wider geopolitical aspects... and also the fact that such huge and frankly unimaginably horrific events happened in such comparatively recent times.

There's also the element of such things being part of a continuum, in which reading about the war helps make so much sense (if the word sense can be meaningfully applied here) of the preceding and following events, and vice versa.

Compelling it may be, it can also be bloody harrowing. Especially this.

5. Words. I won't say writing, because I'm not a writer (except on these pages, obviously, and occasional other texts). I'm tempted to say language too, but then I'm neither a linguician (I know, I just made that word up) nor a polyglot (though I've been called worse).

But: words, in the sense that one can play around with them to create, convey, alter, emphasise and subvert meaning, and all sorts of other things besides. Going back into vanity territory (see above) I think I'm better off doing that off the cuff in conversation than I am on the printed page.

Language - I'm endlessly fascinated by the links and relationships between different languages and language families both ancient and modern. Like how the Celtic languages, and Latin, and Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit, have many points of comparison and interplay (or something). Like how, if I remember correctly, two in Urdu is duo. Like how Finnish - again if I remember correctly - is related, albeit distantly, to Turkish and to Japanese.

I once sat and listened to two friends - one Turkish, one Japanese, as it happens - in conversation, and it was fantastic to listen to them realise a couple of words which were common to each language.

Right, that's me and some of my obsessions. If you've got this far, you may or may not recall that I tend not to pass these tags/memes on, but feel free etc - the rules are on leigh's blog as linked to above.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Pink elephants and all that

I was drunk on New Year's Eve. I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the country to be able to make such a shameful, shocking and disappointing confession on December 31st 2008.

I imagine though that many were far more drunk than me. I was at that level at which I knew I was drunk, and thus should pace myself and be careful with any further intake. The kind of level at which one is very aware of one's own thoughts and, whilst all around is a little blurry and soft at the edges thanks to the intake of beer, wine, whisky and (gulp) absinthe (just a small shot of that - I remember the last time I had absinthe, which was ten whole years ago..), then one is also aware of the blurriness, and that the best thing is to enjoy it but also to take care.

By the time we got to the second phase of the night - we'd already been out just outside town, and were now back to go to a house party just a few minutes' walk from home - it was already well past midnight. I grabbed my bottle of wine, joined the two or three other companions of mine, and we headed to the party.

Inside, whilst not exactly a scene of debauchery, it had clearly been a heavy evening there, judging by the array of rictus grins, eyes in separate orbits, and perambulatory movements which might be some kind of approximation of walking, and whose relationship to verticality was no more than casual.

Not that this should imply the same of everyone who was there - as relatively lucid as I felt (ie I could look people in the eye, and also string a sentence together), I was in conversation for a while with a bunch of people who were clearly far more sober than I. I was together enough to do some washing up to make sure I and my friends had some clean glasses to drink from though (is that any kind of benchmark, I wonder?).

There was a very pleasant surprise: I bumped into a friend I'd not seen for a while, and really hadn't expected her to be there, since I didn't know that she had friends amongst the folk at the party who were familiar to me.

I went over and gave her a great big hug, and said Happy New Year, and we had a few minutes of conversation - I only vaguely recall what it was about - mainly catching up, talking about how Christmas had been, and so on. It was lovely to see her. Soon though I was back talking with my other companions and a mixture of familiar and new faces. Before much more time had elapsed, I realised I needed to go home. I'd had a good evening throughout, but knew that if I had any more to drink, my slightly-blunted senses would become altogether less reliable, and I would surely pay for it in the morning.

Oh, come on, stay for a bit longer - you haven't even finished your wine!

No, seriously, it's time to go. I can't drink any more, I need to go and get some sleep!

Ok. Happy New Year!

In the wee small hours, it was a delight to walk home. Utter silence, save for the faint, muffled repetitive thuds of music emanating from behind the doors of houses here and there along the way. It was refreshingly cold, the sky was largely clear, and the half an inch of snow gleamed and twinkled against the streetlights and the moon. I didn't rush home, weary as I was - I was determined to savour the scene.

Magical is a very lazy word to use, but it'll do. Here goes:

It was magical.

Apart from being a little tired and lethargic, I was ok the following day - clearly I'd made the sensible decision in making my exit when I had done. Nice not to feel utterly trashed or completely devoid of energy on New Year's Day.

The friend who I mentioned above, the one whom I was surprised to have bumped into at the party: we'll call her Karen.

Well yesterday, I bumped into a friend of Karen's: someone I happen upon and have a chat with from time to time.

Oh hello she said, how are you? Anything to tell me?

Suddenly I had a mild stab of anxiety, since there was a mixture of innuendo and curiosity in her voice. Had I been far more drunk than I'd thought at the party? Oh, bloody hell. Had I overdone it and embarrassed myself in front of Karen? I was sure that I hadn't, especially given the clarity of my recollection of the whole evening, but here was a little window of doubt starting to open up.

I replied to the effect that, yes, I'd had quite a drunken night on New Year's Eve. I asked about hers, suddenly thinking that she might have been at the party with Karen.

Oh, mine was terrible. Well it started out alright, but I was at a party and I hardly knew anyone there. Ended up WAY too drunk.

Oh, right, I replied. Where was this?

It was over at a friend's place down in South Wales. I was really embarrassed. Karen's been taking the piss out of me ever since.

Well you should have kept it to yourself then, and not told her!

Well I could hardly do that, she saw everything.

How do you mean?

She was there with me - we drove down together, and came back the following day.

This party - it was definitely on New Year's Eve?


In Wales?


Are you sure?


With Karen?

YES! Well I'm hardly going to imagine it, am I?

At which point, I had to explain that I must have imagined seeing Karen at the party I went to on the same night.

All I can say is, I'm definitely going to stick to my customary vow of total sobriety for the duration of January.