And did those feet…

Yesterday, for the first time, I visited the Dulwich Picture Gallery – the world’s first purpose built art gallery (and not a slightly oddly named cinema).  For reasons that should not be too obscure, this required me to visit Dulwich.

I journeyed to Clapham Junction and then via the London Overground and Southern Railways negotiated the maze of railway lines that criss-cross south London to reach North Dulwich.  I am not in charge of tourism (yet), but I would guess that top of the final destination list for most casual visitors to North Dulwich is the DPG – but it is not mentioned either on the local map at the station or any nearby signpost.  Despite this, I still managed to find the place: wandering through the rather shishi surrounds of Dulwich village to reach it.

Both of my parents were born in Dulwich and much of my now departed (for a better place) family were also resident in its environs – and so I have heard many tales of the place in the 30s and 40s.  I have to say that Dulwich was a lot more upmarket than I had been expecting: I begin to suspect that I have fallen rather further socially than I had previously imagined.  At every step, I wondered if I was placing my feet where my ancestors (and particularly my father as a small boy) had previously trod.  However, none of the street names seemed familiar, which surprised me.  (Many years ago, I did help a minicab driver to get me home from East Dulwich to Gipsy Hill based only on familial anecdotes dating from some 50 years previous: he may have become slightly alarmed when I told him to turn by a school, which I then had to admit had been destroyed in the Blitz).  It was not until I left the DPG and walked towards West Dulwich station that I encountered a familiar name: Thurlow Park Road.  The large houses near the station seemed eerily similar to faded, black and white photos I can vaguely recall seeing.  Had I found the wellspring from whence I came?

I had gone to the DPG to see an exhibition of works by Eric Ravilious – and was not disappointed.  His oddly empty landscapes and interiors, often captured from an unexpected point of view, are wonderful, and even where human figures are present they are oddly ghostly.  The man can make a line of wooden poles carrying low voltage electricity cable look beautiful.  If this doesn’t tempt you, then I can promise you a fine rendering of the Duke of Hereford’s Knob (which is surprisingly safe to Google – well, it is for me but your own search history may affect the results.  If you encounter something horrific, you have only yourself to blame!).  Actually, it is quite a fine prominence and I wouldn’t mind finding myself astride its peak.

As well as the Ravilious, the DPG also contains a substantial collection of Old Masters (and I’m not talking elderly teachers).  One, The Translation of St Rita of Cascia,  made me laugh out loud – which is considered poor gallery etiquette.  The eponymous Rita does seem to be cocking a snook at what I took to be Cascia below – rarely have I seen a saint so obviously showing-off.  Clearly, the inexplicably missing speech bubble should contain words to the effect of “Look ma, no hands!”.

The day continued after leaving Dulwich.  I discovered that today is the last day for the cutting of asparagus in the UK.  I’m not sure what happens if you continue to cut after the deadline, but I suspect the over-stretched nature of Her Majesty’s Constabulary means that you are unlikely to end up before the Beak.

My evening’s entertainment means that I can throughly recommend Alex Edelman as a very funny chap, and the StageSpace at the Pleasance in Islington as a sauna (if you lack access to one at home or the gym).

Heading home, I continued reading Tigerman by Nick Harkaway.  As my tube drew into Embankment our hero won a brief victory and I found myself in a public place with tears rolling down my cheeks (the ones on my face, obvs – I lack the flexibility for my tears to stream down any other possibility).  Luckily, for the train journey home matters became less emotional – though I did save the denouement for this morning when I could face it with a fresher brain.  This turned out to be a good plan, as tears streamed down my face (in the privacy of my boudoir) for most of the thirty minutes it took me to finish the book this morning.  It is a very good book and I am an over-emotional old fool.

Due to an administrative error by the purchasing department, there were no bananas in the flat this morning (heads have already rolled) – and so someone (me) had to go and acquire some in order to break his fast.  I discovered (to my mild surprise) that I still retain sufficient self-respect to want to wait until the redness of my eyes had reduced somewhat (the morning was insufficiently sunny for me to carry off a pair of shades – I’m neither a rockstar nor a complete git).  So, I killed a little time condemning Dolores Umbridge to death a la romana – and rather more time explaining my working (it’s where most of the marks lie).  What a splendid way to start the day: as a modern day, lachrymose Jack Ketch for the fictional.

16 thoughts on “And did those feet…

  1. Dimitris Melicertes says:

    You started the day much better than I did, reading Bataille over breakfast… Now, laughing out loud in a gallery sounds terribly intellectual. (In the good way.) Or it does so to me, because my upbringing was full of books and theatre, not paintings, and I discovered galleries much much later. Ravilious is new to me so thanks for the suggestion; I should reconsider galleries – last time I got infuriated (I think it was at the V&A) with some exhibition where a red poster (literally, just a red poster, not even a painting) was priced as much as a country’s national debt almost and since then I’ve been avoiding art spaces.

    • Stuart Ffoulkes says:

      It is never wise to discover the value of a painting (or even a poster), it erodes away a part of one’s faith in human nature (and I’m not sure it grows back). I suspect Ravilious’ work would not be quite so expensive – but this opinion is based on zero research and the rate at which national debts have risen in recent years (which I assume has out-stripped inflation in the art market).

      My childhood was mostly books and radio comedy. Both theatre and galleries came later. As this blog has made evident, I remain a late developer in so many ways.

      Luckily my laughter, unlike my later tears, went unobserved (except perhaps via CCTV) and so I don’t know whether the wider world would have viewed it as intellectual or merely tut-worthy. I didn’t view it is intellectual: I was thinking in terms of blog-worthy – which perhaps shows I am a true writer: as I experience life a part of me is viewing it as material.

      Reading Bataille over breakfast: truly the life of the proper academic has its accursed share of troubles, which the mere dilettante can so easily avoid. I spent my breakfast laughing at the joyous harvest of overnight comments WordPress delivered to me from my most insomniac follower.

      • Dimitris Melicertes says:

        I’m sure there has to be some high degree of refinement in someone that laughs out loud in a gallery. I also think it must count as praise for the painter that created a work strong enough to generate such a reaction.

        Bataille was a mistake, neither an academic experiment nor an intellectual’s pretentious habit. I regret it dearly.

  2. Stuart Ffoulkes says:

    I like to imagine that Nicolas Poussin would be pleased that his painting brought such joy into my life, but I fear he may instead be spinning in his grave.

    Bataille’s wiki entry made him sound so promising: work focusing on eroticism, sovereignty and transgression sounds like it should be smut (“and nothing but”, to quote the great Tom Lehrer). I can appreciate your sense of disappointment if he failed to deliver. Nevertheless, life is too short for regrets – unless you can transmute them into a successful career as a chanteuse. Tomorrow, I am seeing a friend who I believe owns some form of accordion, if you like I can put in a good word?

    • Dimitris Melicertes says:

      Absolutely. But only if they’re suicidal.

      Rita of Cascia’s life is equally promising to Bataille’s. ”On the day after her baptism, her family noticed a swarm of white bees flying around her as she slept in her crib. However, the bees peacefully entered and exited her mouth without causing her any harm or injury.” And Lehrer’s glasses are so hip.

      • Stuart Ffoulkes says:

        So far as I know, self-immolation is not high on his agenda – not even part of the Any Other Business. Then again, I believe a Motion to Adjourn is always in order.

        If only my parents had some such tale of my own later precocity being foreshadowed when I was but an infant. I fear white bees were rather thin on the ground (or in the mouth) in the mid-sixties – though I suppose their ability to resist the dubious charms of my buccal cavity may explain my complete lack of industry, virtue or devotion. On the plus side, a statuette of the crucified Christ has yet to laser me in the forehead (though after my earlier comments on your blog, this situation may not last much longer).

        I think it is high time I started developing some serious mythology about my youth. Leave it with me…

          • Stuart Ffoulkes says:

            It’s right there on her Wiki page – she is clearly under fire from a directed energy weapon, probably one concealed in the crown of thorns. Forget weeping, this kind of sci-fi action from an idol is what I call a miracle (albeit quite an unpleasant one). Add this to her use of some sort of anti-grav technology to levitate herself to a convent and there is clearly some alien influence right at the heart of the Catholic church.

            • Dimitris Melicertes says:

              I know, I saw it but didn’t consciously register what was weird about the picture at first. Until that sentence. Jesus. Laser. Forehead. I was laughing for a solid minute. I feel obliged to thank you. Thank you for that epic sentence. Ah, this was good. I so rarely laugh out loud that I’ve started thinking it’s difficult for anything to get to me. Just epic.

              • Stuart Ffoulkes says:

                I laugh out loud a LOT – many times per day, even when not involved in a Comment slam – frequently in public and all too often in inappropriate situations. I think it is my response to the puzzle of existence.

                One of these days we ought to meet in person and I shall do my level best to make you laugh, or perish in the attempt! (I mean that I will perish in the attempt, I am not making death threats in a public forum – that would be a schoolboy error).

        • Dimitris Melicertes says:

          Ah, and I thought the picture looked ominous when I saw it on Wikipedia. Damn you. I haven’t laughed like this in ages. I’m sure it’s because I visualize the sentence being delivered in the driest sarcasm possible, but that combination of words was legendary.

  3. Stuart Ffoulkes says:

    Your visualisation is perfectly correct – those words, when delivered, should be dripping with the most desiccated of sarcasm (I’m really starting to enjoy this sudden flowering of oxymorons in my prose).

    It is perhaps becoming clear why I have yet to be asked to join the clergy.

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