Summer Saturday

Rather than change, I always get off at Leicester Square and walk down Villiers Street, through Embankment station, and over the new(ish) pedestrian bridge to the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. Yesterday, as I crossed the Thames it was low tide. 

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I had an appointment at 11am with Patience Agbabi for my third tutorial as part of the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme, a brilliant opportunity to discuss work in progress and various writing projects, but with a view to bringing it all together into some kind of hopefully cohesive whole….one day. Patience is about to launch her fourth book – a 21st century reworking of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which is bound to meet with critical acclaim. She is currently one of five poets shortlisted for the Forward Prize ‘Best Single Poem’ category. Afterwards, I discussed poems and exchanged recommended reads with fellow mentee Samantha Jackson. We were only missing Niall Campbell (recent first prize winner in the Poetry London competition) who is up in Leeds. The upper members’ level was wonderfully quite, compared with the throng of laptops gathered during the week. 

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If only Niall could have made it as it was a beautiful day to see London, and swelteringly hot with children and parents playing out in the fountains by the Queen Elizabeth Hall, trying to stay cool, others reclining on artificial grass on concrete – ironic when London has so many large parks. But then the parks don’t have that South Bank vibe.

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I walked on down the river to Tate Britain to see the Patrick Caulfield/Gary Hume and L. S. Lowry exhibitions. The Caulfield paintings were beautifully executed and some of them massive, a celebration of 1970s kitsch, in peach and pink, orange and maroon, grass and toothpaste greens, a celebration of lobsters and shrimps, telephones and lampshades, plastic office furniture and Alpine views. Things peaked in 1975 though and the rest of his later work seemed mediocre by comparison. As for the Hume, what incredible potential gloss paint has to be explored, and how poorly the paintings stood up against Caulfields. The mint green portrait, more an outline, of Angela Merkel, with a massive lemon for a mouth stood out, and that was perhaps more down to the irony and the minimalism. His works have a wonderful sheen and a subtle texture with images made out like ghosts but seem lacking.

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After a break, I went on to see the Lowry – a not-to-be-missed exhibition that shows just how prolific he was and how dark and dingy the urban landscapes became, some of them imagined wastelands of illness, deprivation and decay. The exhibition succeeded in conveying how his paintings of Salford and its environs changed, from the heavy industry of the 1920s and 1930s, to the war-torn city and then its cleared empty spaces, to the post-industrial decline of a dying North already in the 1950s. A brilliant final room of five colossal paintings, each five foot buy four foot, which are the masterpieces – a must-see exhibition of Britain’s painter of stickmen and stickwomen, who is fondly regarded by many as the nation’s favourite painter despite the fact that his, at times gruesome and Breughelesque depictions, are far from pretty, though there is an affection in the disaffectation and evident social desperation. And finally, a long walk back past Trafalgar Square to see the amazing bright blue cock by Katharina Fritsch, recently erected on the fourth plinth.

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