The Unregarded Digit

Since the new John Hansard Gallery opened last Friday evening, I have already passed through its doors more often than I did in the four-and-a-half years I’ve lived in Southampton and it was resident at its former site on the university campus.  OK, I’ll admit that this wasn’t that hard (it only required the threshold to be crossed twice) but I think it does illustrate the importance of location for a public cultural institution.  After tomorrow, the Gallery closes again until it opens permanently in May.  To my own astonishment, I find I am going to miss it: I won’t be able to just nip in on my way home from the shops or a haircut and I’ll miss my ‘friends’ of the Sampler who will have been replaced by new exhibitions come May.  It seems a good thing that art and culture is integrated with the other stuff of life, not something apart and only for ‘special’ people.

I think the JHG has one other major advantage over other art galleries in attracting passing trade.  Whereas your typical art gallery may boast a more, or less, architecturally distinguished home it rarely offers any taste of the delights which might lie within, except perhaps for the odd piece of sculpture.  At the JHG, a huge amount of the ground floor is comprised of floor to ceiling glass offering any passers-by a full view of some of the art on offer – even when the gallery is closed!  Whilst this exposure to the sun’s all-too-powerful rays wouldn’t suit every artwork, the interactive Sampler exhibits seem perfectly suited to peaking the interest of the public and drawing them inside.  There is a joy in pressing one’s nose against the glass which most art institutions seem to have neglected to their detriment.

When you do enter, you are presented with Huddlehood and the Conversation Station.  Both of these artworks invite the audience to be involved – both with the art and with each other (and also with the staff of the JHG).  On my visit yesterday, I took well over an hour to get past Conversation Station – and even then, never quite got round to playing with the artwork and using its collection of materials of different sizes, shapes and forms to build my own space for conversation.  Instead, I spent my time in fascinating conversation with the artists supporting the exhibit, talking about what role art and galleries might play in society today and what benefits they bring to visitors.  I’m not sure I brought any particularly novel insights to bear, but I will share a few of my thoughts on the matter (if that is not being rather too grand) as part of this post.

I don’t think I come from a particularly arty background.  I don’t remember visiting art galleries as a child and the only art I can remember at home were prints of Terence Cuneo’s paintings of steam trains, each with a mouse hidden somewhere in the picture and I probably wasn’t aware that the pictures were prints at the time.  My childhood was a long time ago, so I may have forgotten some art-based brainwashing by my parents or teachers – but to the best of my knowledge, visiting art galleries is a project I have developed on my own as an adult (in age-terms, if no others).  I’m not really sure how it began but it might have been going to see an exhibition of pre-Columbian art at the Hayward Gallery after reading a book about the cultures of meso-America or it might have been the Neue Pinakothek in Munich as a plausible (and cheap) touristy thing to do in November and where I first saw a Kandinsky: both of these would have been in my mid 20s when I first lived and worked in London.

I value art and galleries as an escape from the always-on, rushing around, instant gratification of much of modern life.  An art gallery is a space where – unless the exhibition is hideously crowded – one can spend time away from the hectic pace of life in just mooching around and contemplating.  You can approach things in your own time, at your own pace and in your own order: unless some over-zealous curator has imposed an Ikea-like labyrinth on the visitor (Grr!  Just because you studied Art History, you don’t have to inflict it on the rest of us!).  Each artwork acts as the start of a conversation with the viewer, but if you don’t want to join in then it won’t be offended if you move on immediately to find a more appealing interlocutor.  There are no comments below the line with an artwork and you can spend as much time, or as little, as you like considering what it is saying to you – which may be entirely unrelated to what the artist imagined it might say – and allowing your mind to wander where it will.  I usually find a few pieces call out to me immediately demanding attention, but it is often a shyer work which ends up becoming my friend.  Sometimes, as with human friends, it is only after spending time with them – and perhaps going away and returning later – that you come to realise that this is the work for you.  Over the my years of gallery going, I think I have come to enjoy a wider range of artworks then I did at the beginning – perhaps this is just age, or perhaps I understand I wider range of points-of-view and approaches to making art than I did.  I’ll usually still encounter work which I view as a complete waste of time and materials – but then again, I don’t like or understand every book, or TV show or film or song that it created so why should I like or appreciate every work of visual art.  Equally, I can’t think of any gallery visit where I haven’t found something which appeals or makes my think or consider a different view point.

Art galleries do tend to have a rather hushed vibe, like a library, and I will admit to turning my mobile phone off when I visit: though this is probably more about the embarrassment of it ringing (anywhere – it’s equally humiliating on a bus) than any need to maintain a sepulchral feel.  I wonder if this puts people off, along with a certain class of gallery goer?  As I’ve said, art is a conversation and, while I often go alone, I do enjoy going with friends so we can have a good discussion about what we see, its merits and what it might mean.  Yesterday, I went alone but as already established bent the ears of the resident artists for far longer than is acceptable in polite society.  This did yield a strong recommendation to head up the stairs to see a video artwork called Don’t Look at the Finger by Hetain Patel.  I am generally rather sceptical about video art and it always seems to have the wrong feel for a gallery somehow: it forces the conversation too much and creates a long time commitment.  As a result, I tend to skip these parts of galleries – but I am so glad I didn’t yesterday.

I can think of few better ways I might have spent 14-odd minutes – and this despite the fact that it was clearly lunchtime by the time the film started. As a work it is tricky to describe: it has elements of sign-language, of dance and of martial arts blended together in a way which could only work on video.  A more traditional staged approached would not have permitted the audience to be close enough, nor to experience the work from teh right places.  It also features the most incredible textiles in the clothing of the participants and, at one stage, these are changed through an origami-like process to reveal even more glorious detail to their design and to reflect a turning point in the piece.  It has also has a strong emotional element, in particular when the main female protagonist smiles for the first time it lights up the whole room and the life of the viewer.  I spent most of the running time in slack-jawed amazement that anything so incredible had been created and I was allowed to watch it, for free!  I shall be returning to watch it again this afternoon, but there is a certain sadness that I can never again see it for the first time…

My other great joy from my visits so far are the leached-out, grey-scale photographs of the play of light and shadow with forms and angles taken of and during the construction of the building.  Seeing them for a second time, I have new favourites to add to my existing friends.  They are such an interesting way of looking on mundane concrete, plaster board panels, wiring and pipes and I’d love to have some at home: I hope the JHG finds some way to keep them as they are beautiful and a document of its rebirth.  If not, I am going to miss them terribly.

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Embracing the grey!

As usual there is no great message here, but if you have a local art gallery why not take a look and, if they are up for it, why not chat to the people working there: you never know what they might introduce you to!

A Thousand Words

I am taking this as a target, though I am unwilling to die in a ditch (or even receive a paper cut in a gully) for such an essentially arbitrary goal.  The title was in fact chosen because of its historical use in the valuation of a picture – the picture being so valued (and indeed, the words) are left maddeningly unspecific.  Would a Rembrandt be valued using the same 1000 words as my own childish daubings (representing the last time I daubed)?  Have either words or pictures been affected by inflation since this phrase was coined?  Does the language of the words matter?  Certainly some languages seem more compact when it comes to word-count than others…

You may wonder why I should have started a post with these odd musings on the exchange rate between words and pictures – then again, if you are a regular visitor to my digital lair, you may have become resigned to such matters.  The reason comes down to a talk/discussion I attended yesterday as part of the SO: To Speak Festival.  This event was rather cryptically titled How can one be free in the 21st Century? and so I was fully expecting to learn how to use language to stay below the radar of the internet giants seeking to monetise our every action (and inaction).  This was very much not what happened and my afternoon was vastly enriched as a result.

The talk involved two artists Walter van Rijn and Jane Birkin – taking us through their practise which, in very crude terms, explores some of the interstices between language and image.  With Jane we started with her day job at the image archives of Southampton and Winchester universities; with Walter we began with a font he had created as part of the efflorescence of art which characterises Hull’s year as City of Culture.  Unpromising seeds, perhaps, but seeds nonetheless which grew in unexpected ways to create a spreading canopy of intriguing ideas over the next couple of hours.

We were a small audience, only just outnumbering the artists but I think this helped to shape the way the afternoon developed with no barriers to the interplay of ideas between artists and audience.  The artists took the lead, but everyone took part and though I suspect the rest of the audience were far more knowledgeable in the fields of art and poetry, I was never left feeling out of my depth.

I am going to attempt to provide a flavour of the conceptual art created around words and images, while making a futile attempt to avoid parallels with the use of dance to describe architecture (or, indeed, vice versa).

We started with the Being Human font: just like a normal font but embedded in the capital letters were words – in the first instance, each letter contained a key quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  So, everything you write using the font will have human rights built into it – but they are only visible at very large font sizes.  This embedded text could, we theorised, have further text embedded within it and so on all the way down.   This had led Walter to further experimentation with words embedded within words and using the text-to-speech functionality on a modern laptop to render this as speech.  In the extreme, a single word gained (perhaps) random additional letters or phonemes from a limited set of linked words to make patterns of “words” impossible for a human to read, but the computer would still attempt it in a very consistent manner.  This created an extraordinary speech-based artwork with hints of the looping of Steve Reich and the minimalism of Philip Glass.  We also experimented with different computer voices reading the text-art: I thoroughly recommend Xander who will read all words as though they were written in Dutch!

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Moving closer to images, Walter had taken a visual artwork which had been created to represent and support a story from the Australian aboriginal oral tradition.  This was then described as text, where the descriptive text was the same size and shape as the original image with each element of description in the same location as the same element of the image.  This was fascinating as text and the patterns contained therein, but was then converted back to speech: returning to a story.  Further, the soundtrack contained two different tellings of the new “story” overlaid on top of each other recalling the multiplicity of retellings that would occur in the original oral tradition.  It was like a weird meditation on the whole idea of translation and representation of an image through words.

Jane’s day job is reducing images to words to enable their discovery from an archive.  It was really interesting thinking about how you describe an image: what to include or exclude.

Her first artwork took an existing artwork where three images and associated descriptions, embellished by broader discussions, derived from viewing the images.  This text was slowly reduced to a flat description of the images, with sections of undescriptive text slowly fading away one-by-one.  This sounds boring, but was oddly compelling: it reminded me of some ideas from slow TV.

In a second work, she had taken a series of images from the web, each tagged with the same piece of metadata: in this case “island”.  For each image (which we never saw), its flat description appeared, as though being typed word-by-word.  Description is often thought to be the antithesis of narrative, but somehow the gradual appearance created a narrative related to each image.  Somehow, there were even plot-twists in the descriptions.  Further, being storytelling animals, none of us could resist creating a narrative linking the (effectively) unrelated descriptions. I am explaining this so badly, but it was amazing and I think has the seeds of a whole new literature of the fourth dimension.

This has been an interesting (if largely failed) experiment: at best a faded palimpsest of a wonderful afternoon.  Language, or at least my facility therewith, has proven insufficient.

 

s ∈ LME

I have, for some time, had to face the realisation that I would be considered by many to be a member of the much-maligned liberal metropolitan elite.

I am probably quite liberal – though also somewhat practical and so object to wishy-washy “thinking” – and am a firm believer that a working, if implicit, social contract is a very hard thing to create but really quite easy to damage or destroy.  As a result, in enlightened self-interest, if nothing else (and I like to believe there is “something else”), I feel that a society which mis-treats its weak, its disadvantaged and its outsiders is one storing up trouble for the future (as well as being a rather disagreeable place to live).

For the vast majority of my adult life, I have lived in or near to major centres of population – which does rather mark me as metropolitan (even without a purple line and immortalisation by Betjeman).  I’m very fond of the country, just not as a place to live.

For me the elite epithet is the hardest to claim.  Obviously, given my age and other proclivities, I did enjoy playing the space trading game on the BBC Micro back in the eighties – but that’s about as close to Elite as I feel I can realistically boast.  However, I suppose my hobbies (or how I fritter away my slack hours as I call them) which tend to revolve around the arts, science and culture might be considered to be of the elite by some.

However, I think my activities of yesterday evening may have put the tin-lid on my LME status for many.  As is not entirely uncommon, it was spent watching BBC4 – but the programming was unusual even for BBC4.  We started with a glorious hour of birdsong taken from the dawn chorus in three locations in southwest England – no voice-over, no background music just the sounds of nature (plus the occasional plane and a little traffic).  The odd caption assisted with the identification of which bird was singing – and to share a few other salient facts.  One of these other facts was that dawn singing (for the male bird) is a way of showing his fitness – an activity, were I to indulge in at this time of year, would illustrate both my insomnia (all to frequently real) and a complete disregard for my neighbours (something I try and avoid).  I would use an entirely different method to show my fitness – and would probably refrain even from doing that at dawn (well, the middle-aged body can be a trifle stiff at that time of the morning).  However, bird song was only the starter – the main course was even more nourishing.

We were fed with two half hour programmes each showing a skilled craftsman at work – again, without music or commentary.  First, a glass blower at work: showing the near miraculous creation of a jug from a chunk of glass broken off a larger rod in what seemed to be real-time.  The process was quite fascinating – and, for me at least, made glass seem even more magical.  The extraordinary plasticity of almost-molten glass coupled with its amazing cohesive properties does far more to make me believe in a creator god than the intricacies of the human eye (though does still fall a ways short).  However, I do still wonder how they get the glass to stick to the end of the metal blowing rod – I may have to re-watch the show to see if I blinked at this point.

The second showed a chap making what looked like a 9″ cook’s knife from a sheet of metal and a block of wood.  This was not in real-time as the process took 16 hours – and this was using power tools and a modern forge.  However, the time was well spent as the final product was a thing of true beauty – the blade and its patterning, in particular, was incredible.  I very much want one!

It made me realise that all craft, once it reaches a certain level, is Art.  All that labour and heat (and for the knife, violence) applied to such unprepossessing raw materials – what an astonishingly cunning species we can be!  I was also struck that without factory production of our kitchenware, it would a lot more expensive – though its cheapness and impersonal back-story might also help to explain our throw-away culture.  I start to think that I should only allow new things into the flat if they are well-made (though I’m not going the full Morris or Ruskin) – if nothing else, it would help to alleviate the storage issues created by my modest floor space as I suspect I could afford very few such things.

Most importantly, this was television which did not condescend to the viewer and could not have been done better on the radio or with a book.  None of the programmes felt like n minutes of content had been stretched to fill mn (for m≥2) minutes of schedule time.  All three programmes would have been weakened by being interrupted by messages from our sponsors.  I suspect that despite the vast cast of people who worked on the programmes, as revealed by the closing credits, this was even relatively cheap content to produce.  You wouldn’t want to spend every night this way, but perhaps more than once in 49 years could be an achievable objective for the future.

Nothing for a pair

…not in this game.  Where would the world of the catchphrase be without Brucie?  Do I have a catchphrase?  I suspect there are phrases that are heavily over-used in these posts, but I’m too much of a coward to check: unless anyone would care to notify me…

As some may have guessed, this is the post that no-one wants to see but I create as a way of (dolly) dealing with my sense of astonishment.  I have just received back my marked assignment on the art of Benin and my heart-rate has yet to return to normal.  This huge increase in heart rate occurs whenever an email arrives revealing my assignment has returned, marked – and then tends to become worse when I discover that I have once again fooled the Open University with a semblance of competence.  I don’t ever recall this happening at school or university – is this perhaps a normal feature of middle-age?  OK, just me then.  With each essay I grow less confident either that I am producing what is required or that I know what I’m doing.  I also become more frustrated that there is insufficient depth in the teaching materials provided to support my ambitious plans for my latest prose work.  It is often said that you learn through your mistakes and I am now becoming paranoid that I am making too few mistakes: I feel like I am fluking the entire course.  I realise that no-one else cares about my insecurity: the successful, like the thin (another camp into which I fall), receive very little sympathy for their plight.

Anyway, as the title implies (or, at least, will have led the better students to infer), my latest opus once again received 95 marks and some extremely kind comments from my tutor.  It would seem I have some future in art history (should I want it) and can construct a decent argument.  I suspect the remark about my tendency to use “elevated language” will strike a familiar chord in the hearts of readers of this blog, and may only partly be intended as a compliment.

This must all be very frustrating for you poor blog sufferers – to know that I can write half-decent prose, but never to see any examples.  Sadly, the rules of the OU prevent me: I already worry that students more generally are plagiarising this blog for their homework and failing courses as a result (and I really don’t have the mental capacity to process any more sources of guilt).  It is also quite frustrating for a chap trying to decide where to take his Arts foundation course next.  I had been leaning strongly towards philosophy, but now I’m wondering about including a bit of art and I’ve always been tempted by literature and classics.  The only issue about art or literature is that I’m (currently) a bit picky about the sort I’d like to study: basically the stuff in which I have an existing interest, but I suspect higher education doesn’t work quite like that.

I think, for the sake of variety, my next essay will be on the transmission of medical knowledge from the Islamic world to Western Europe.  Unusually, I am already full of ideas for this – which probably means it will be a disaster.  Quick doctor, bring me a leech…

The Art of Recovery

My weekend was something of a cultural binge: taking in two (and a bit) art exhibitions and some 12 hours of theatrical extravaganza (though, so far as I know, there are no suggested government limits on the maximum safe volume of culture to be consumed in 24 hours).  You might ask why I chose to subject myself to quite so much culture over one weekend: go on, you know you want to!

Well, as you asked so nicely, I can tell you in a single word (or perhaps a single word with a definite article): the Olympics.  Shortly, travelling into, and to an even greater extent around, London is going to become a significantly more challenging and unpleasant experience as it will be full of folk hoping to take part in an orgy of corporate branding with the odd sporting event thrown-in.  Since I suffer from claustrophobia in crowds (and even more so in small spaces filled with a crowd: yes London Underground, I’m talking to you), I am trying to squeeze in as much London-based culture before the hordes descend.  There is also the need to catch plays and exhibitions that will be over by the time it is safe to return.  So, I had my own little cultural Olympiad over the weekend.

Talking of the Olympics, I wonder if the current flourishing of Shakespeare on the television and in theatres across the land is relying on a probable misunderstanding: that the Stratford of the games and of the Bard are the same place?  I do wonder how many disappointed visitors will be unable to find Anne Hathaway’s cottage in E15?

Art-wise, on Saturday I took in the Master Drawings at the Courtauld and on Sunday “A taste of Impressionism” from Paris via the US to the Royal Academy.  I would thoroughly recommend both – some truly beautiful works.  The tragedy, as always, is that they are already fading from my useless visual memory – I shall have to return.  Luckily, I will be able to go back to both for nowt – thanks to my (paid) friendships with the National Art Fund and Royal Academy (so not entirely free, but sunk cost at least).  While at the RA, I was also able to see the contents of the John Madejski Fine Rooms.  I’ve known of the existence of these rooms for some time, but they had never been open on all my many previous visits – and I assumed they were like Brigadoon and only accessible once a century (so elusive are they, that I couldn’t even access the relevant part of the RA website when researching this post to check the spelling).  The rooms contained works by Academicians – and all held at least some interest, and a couple were real stunners (for me at least).

Theatrically, I saw Last of the Hausmanns at the National and Diplomacy at the Old Vic on Saturday – both plays well worth two-and-a-half hours of anyone’s time (I even managed to learn some relatively recent European history).  But, on Sunday I went to see Gatz which starts at 14:30 and doesn’t finish until 22:45.  They do offer you three intervals – two of 15 minutes and one of over an hour to have dinner – but it’s still a very long time to be folded up in a theatre seat.  The “play” is quite extraordinary and well-worth seeing:  The concept is an amazing idea for anyone to have come up with, and perhaps even more incredible that they managed to convince enough others to enable it to actually happen.  However, by the end I did wonder if my lower body would ever work again and most of my upper body was none too pleased with me either.  It also seemed that all that concentrated culture had turned my brain to mush: perhaps HMG should have a suggested limit for culture after all.  Miraculously, given my age, I do seem to have recovered pretty rapidly – or so I thought until I went to the cinema this afternoon.  After a couple of hours in the usually comfortable embrace of the Arts Cinema’s seating, I was having flashbacks to Sunday night.  I think I will have to start rationing my culture in future: perhaps limit myself to no more than 6 hours per weekend.  Either that or find a personal trainer who can prepare my body for the ordeal of sustaining the arts in this country: oddly, most seem more obsessed with helping me lose weight (and here’s me struggling to retain what little weight I have) than preparing me for the theatre or gallery.  This seems to be a rather serious gap in the market, if you ask me…

Gaia not big on hoovering

Or at least that was Aristotle’s view, more normally phrased as “nature abhors a vacuum”.  This post was commissioned by readers of GofaDM, or at least one of them suggested the topic to me – so, in this case, the buck doesn’t even slow down here!

The Hayward Gallery at London’s Southbank Centre is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Invisible: Art about the unseen 1957-2012.  This exhibition has generated plenty of controversy with such delights as plinths without sculpture and empty picture frames on offer to the attendee.  I believe this helps the viewer to use their imagination as they engage with the art.  Disappointingly, I have seen no mention of a textile exhibit – even in a purely republican context.

I had thought of presenting an entirely empty blog post as my response, but decided that this was rather a cheap joke (not that this fact would usually stop me) and could be confusing as it would not be clear to what the absence of words referred (or didn’t refer).

The art cognoscenti who have been to the exhibition have given very positive reviews, or so it seems from a cursory skimming of the internet.  My own review will be written having not seen the exhibition, and so for me the art is truly unseen (though will only cover the period 1966 to 2012 as I feel ill-qualified to review items I haven’t seen by dint of my non-existence) which seems to be in the spirit of the endeavour.

It strikes me that the very presence of frames and plinths will tend to confine the invisible art and constrain the imagination of the viewer – and it places an imposed curatorial structure on any encounter.  I’m also concerned about the cultural baggage that the extensive use of the colour white brings – when the art is invisible, the risk is that the walls, floor and ceiling will dominate the experience and I am not convinced that white is sufficiently self-effacing or neutral a colour.  It surely cannot be right that the pure white emulsion generates a greater emotional (emulsional?) response than the unseen art itself?  I find myself wondering: what is the colour of the void?  I presume if there is nothing there, then there can be no photons and so it must be black (or at least perceived as such by our feeble senses) – though this does run into trouble if one considers the quantum foam with the instantaneous creation and annihilation of particles (and anti-particles) that perturb even the best kept vacuum (a phrase which suggests, to me at least, a new source of competition between British villages).

Even the building housing the exhibition is an issue, its form will impose itself unwanted into the viewer’s consciousness.  No, the only venue suitable would be the depths of interstellar space – preferably surrounded by an opaque and unreflective dust cloud – where the viewer can experience the art unaffected by the petty irrelevances of quotidian reality.  I realise this will be hard to achieve with our current technology – unless some invisible art hitched a ride on the Voyager probes – but it is worth the wait.  The delay will also enable the works from the 20th and early 21st century to be viewed as part of a broader cultural perspective of the art of the invisible.

Now I come to write this, I am forced to wonder whether dark matter is not made of WIMPs or MACHOs as so often supposed.  Maybe the universe is actually gravitationally bound together by the invisible art of much older civilisations being displayed to its best effect?  Perhaps by encasing our modest output in planet-bound concrete we are denying future galaxies the chance of life and are accelerating the much anticipated heat death of the universe.  Not something I’d want on my conscience…

All loves excelling

A week or so back, I had the pleasure of being invited to a friend’s solo exhibition at an art gallery in Deptford (feel free to view her website).  Amazing, huh? I have somehow managed to acquire and maintain friends who have real talent.  Sadly for you, none of them has proved willing to ghost write this blog and so you are stuck with me.

Over the course of the evening, I bought a couple more artworks – to grace the walls at Fish Towers and give the, entirely inaccurate, impression that I am a man of taste (and not just any taste, but good taste) and discernment – and also partook of some wine, some (OK, lots of) delicious Indian nibbles and lashings of conversation (it is high time the word ‘lashings’ was freed from its bondage to ‘ginger beer’ and allowed to associate with a wider circle of nouns).

One of my many conversations was with a young classicist – and what a joy that such people exist in this day and age!  I’m not sure what it will do for his job prospects, but just knowing he exists makes me feel the world is a slightly better place.  The conversation taught me that I had read rather more of the output of the classical world than is required to complete a degree in classics, but that my selections were from the rather duller canon of ancient Greece and Rome.  There was also, it would seem, no shame to reading them in translation.  So, I must add Homer (d’oh – still not a female deer, what was Julie Andrews thinking?) and Virgil (of the Aeniad rather than Thunderbird 2 fame) to my reading list.

I think the combination of wine, spicy food and ancient Greece must have had a rather curious effect on my sub- or un-conscious.  The following day, I found my mind wandering to the rather poor husband that Almighty Zeus made for his long-suffering wife – or at least poor in respect to marital fidelity, he may have been great with the toilet seat and DIY for all I know (though I don’t recall any mention of Olympus being wall-to-wall MDF and rag-rolling).  There is plenty of mention of his penchant for a bit of mortal ‘skirt’ and his wooing methods were far from commonplace.  With Europa and Leda, it was more animal husbandry than a traditional date – arriving as he did in the form of a white bull and swan respectively.  I can only assume he was possessed of some serious divine charm to overcome such an unpromising start to a tryst – or perhaps he tackled Europa as he might a china shop (I suppose it may be hard to say No to the King of the Gods).  Danaë though faced the strangest seduction, tackled by Zeus while in the form of a shower of gold – real gold I think, rather than the less pleasant (though admittedly cheaper) liquid used in the more modern take on golden showers.  Still, it seemed to work as a while later Perseus was brought forth into the world; his conception is still remembered through the naming of the Perseid shower of meteors which strike the earth each summer (or so I fondly imagine).

Say what you like about Zeus as a lover, at least the girls knew they’d been tupped by a god.   He could also bring his own white, feathered wings to the party when required – just ask Leda.  Since their glory days in the years BCE, Zeus and his kin have been dethroned and a new God has taken over responsibility for the Greeks (and many others besides) – but the new boy is no match for Zeus between the sheets.  My limited grasp of theology suggests that the current God serving Greece has only put one lass in the ‘family way’ and she didn’t even know she’d been tupped until he sent a winged lackey to let her know after the ‘event’.  Loath as I am to say this, God does seem to be a lousy lay – it’s hard to argue with the evidence, though perhaps the fact he is cursed with omnipresence might be considered extenuating circumstances.  The poor chap is not just in bed with his chosen paramour but with everyone else too – and stuck on the delayed 1517 to Norwich, in the canned goods aisle in Tesco in Rotherham and everywhere else for that matter.  I have always felt sorry for the poor Queen stuck watching the Royal Variety Performance (among other arcane forms of torture we inflict on our monarchy) but that’s as nothing to the tedium the omnipresent face.  So, let’s all spare a thought for the omnipresent – the poor wretches are having to watch me type (and edit) this nonsense for a start (and you thought it was bad just reading it!).

The title, whilst perhaps being more obviously linked to Zeus in the context of this post, was in fact written about his successor by Charles Wesley – who, I suspect, was taking a rather broader view of what is represented by ‘love divine’.