17 December 2005

Culture binge (and other binges)

The National Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts. I don't think I'd been to the main galleries at The National Gallery since I was doing my art GCSE. I only went through the 1700-1900 rooms. Being genuinely moved by art? It doesn't happen often. But I was blown away, just wanting to stare for hours. Monet's Parliament at Sunset just tugged the old heart strings, as did his studies of poplar trees. Van Gogh's farmhouses made me smile. When I was younger, I appreciated impressionists in a "they were incredibly important" kind of way. It was all academic. So, does my new-found appreciation of fine art signify some increased maturity? Dunno.

So then the Royal Academy, and their 3 Emperors exhibition. As much a sensory and cultural onslaught as an exhibition. Textiles, tapestries, pottery, scrolls, calligraphy; every facet of court life in China over a period of about 150 years. Quite a bit happened in that period apparently, including the introduction of Jesuit missionaries in the imperial court, bringing the first western influences into Chinese art. It was, however, the calligraphy that took me, and not the imperial stuff, but the works of the Literati - the deposed artists with ties to the previous, Ming Dynasty. Their subversiveness expressed in the raw emotion of their writing was startling when compared to the disciplined strokes of those in the status quo. And I don't even know what it was saying. Quite a bit of it reminded me of Blake, the combinations of words and images, though without the dogma and lunacy. Remember those Smirnoff adds, where it would show a bunch of hornets flying? But looking through the Smirnoff bottle there'd be helicopter gunships? Well, with the more tame illustrated poems, usually quietly observant of nature, you could imagine holding the Smirnoff bottle over it and seeing some crazy Blake. In any case, if you're anywhere near London while this exhibition's on, go and see it. Worth every penny. I got in for free though, but if I'd had to have paid £11, I wouldn't have minded. Honest.

I then found that the best burger in London is available at The Wolseley on Piccadilly. It ain't cheap, but damn it's good.

Prior to all of these events was a night out in the ultra-fashionable Notting Hill area, where £50 for a round of 5 cocktails is the norm. I know the area fairly well as I went to school around there, though in those days the bohemians had the edge on the ultra-chic. Nowadays it seems as though the bohemians have become the ultra-chic... sell-outs. It was cool in an antropological sense. Ultra-style bars that only serve beer in half-pints (not amused), cocktail lists that seem to be taking classics and putting an exotic fruit in them and charging the earth (lychee mojitos? you've gotta be fucking kidding me), and people surrounding me that are unbelievably pretty and pretty vacuous to boot. I drank a lot to convince myself that the fat, bald, wannabe writer, American fit in (as that's what most American writers abroad do to fit in - Hemmingway? Fitzgerald?). Not too much though... didn't make an arse of oneself. Some of the cocktails were brilliant. My chat was, possibly, on form. We ate a lot of dumplings. I was with an old friend and some friends of his, and most of us appreciated some of the ridiculousness of it all. I was ultra flash and took a taxi home (the tubes were shut - what can you do?).

First book

Christmas 1983. I was 7. My sister, Kari, gave me what I thought at that precise moment was the worst present possible. In a year that should have been crowned with the holy trinity of GI Joe, Transformers & Star Wars (with St Lego making a miraculous appearance), I received books. And not books with big pictures, nor the instructions to build big Lego spaceships, but books with just words. And a couple of drawings that didn't even have speech bubbles. I think I made a brave face, and as she was my oldest sister, she gave me a lecture about how great reading was and how these were the books that she started reading with and I just fidgeted and wanted to play lego/Star Wars/GI Joe.

I didn't touch them until February of 1984. The books were C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. The first book in the series was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. I started reading it to put myself to sleep and read it through until it was finished. It was a landmark moment in my life. I was too young to recognise Christian allegory or care very much about it. I was, however, the perfect age to think that talking animals would be the coolest thing ever, were it not for the idea that there were other worlds around every corner being the coolest thing ever. I wanted Narnia to be real, just like I would want to be Indiana Jones or blow up the Death Star. I read all the books and re-read them. I read other books, (including The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper - best children's fantasy series ever) and kept seeking new worlds. I'm still seeking new worlds.

So, I went to see the movie the other day. And for the first hour or so, I was 7 again. I wanted to believe and did believe in that place through the wardrobe. It felt brilliant. I don't think I can judge its merits objectively because it achieved what for me was its only goal. Making Narnia real. So if you read the books and hoped that there really was a wardrobe that led to another world, go and see it.

12 December 2005

Fat pigeons

The wood pigeons that nest in the tree next to the belfry are hideously fat. So much so that flight seems to almost elude them. Their efforts to get airbourne are Herculean and I'm shocked every time they succeed. Their weight surprises me, as they produce so much shit (and deposit it in front of the door to the belfry), that they should be skeletal by now. Big fat pigeons. Lots of poo. Ah well.

Unpacked and with a new name

Well, I've unpacked and am now firmly established in the loft of the wendy house/garden shed. I've decided to call it the belfry, in spite of the lack of bell. In fact, I shall purchase a bell for the sake of literary accuracy. I like the term "belfry". There is a small cupola on the roof, whose purpose is a mystery, and if that's a cupola then my loft can be a belfry. There are no bats in this belfry, though there seems to be no shortage of spider or moth. I'd have thought with all the spiders there would be few moths, but perhaps that's naïvity on my part. So, as the majority of my writing will be from this cozy belfry, this blog has been retitled. I like the title. It's got both "belfry" and "chronicles" in it; cool, huh?