Tag Archives: Brexit

On Grayson Perry and the state of the world…83/100

cofSo here we are again.  Another election with vitriol, scare mongering and yap yap yap from all sides. Another shocking, horrific and desperately sad terror attack. And more rain. This seems to be an unbreakable pattern. But it does explain how I came to be standing in an impossibly long queue, at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, on election night, only days after the London Bridge/Borough Market attacks, in the rain. Waiting to get into the preview of the Grayson Perry show: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! Well if nothing else in the world seemed certain, that did!  As we stood and stood and waited and waited.  “But I am on the guest list,” I spluttered when I arrived on the dot of 7 to find myself at the end of something I couldn’t see the beginning of. “I think all of London is on this guest list,” the man in front explained. The already overwhelmed security men just shrugged and gestured for me to take my place behind the others. So I did. It began to rain. And strangers began chatting. Soon it was all rather jolly, especially when waiters with trays of wine and fistfuls of beers began to appear. The attacks were mentioned only obliquely, as in “so glad so many people came out” and the election in passing, “so glad it will be over,” (ha ha, wishful thinking, as it turns out). We inched along (the gallery was working on a one-out-one-in policy) we talked about the weather (of course) and books (never a dull subject) and Harry Potter (so much to discuss) and art. Then a frisson in the crowd. The great man himself was approaching. Wearing fabulous shiny shoes and an impossibly short pink frock, his cyclist legs on full display. We were giddy. Camera phones clicking. He stopped by my group and surveyed the length of the queue and the patience with which we were all waiting. “You have made all my dreams come true,” he told us before he breezing on. Grayson Perry. A National Treasure. But to call him that seems too trivial, too patronizing, like patting the hand of an elderly relative. Because I believe, at this moment, in this crazy world we live in, Grayson Perry is a voice of reason and sense. And the size of the crowd trying to get into the Serpentine Gallery proves I am not alone in this belief.  He is known primarily as a ceramicist who likes to wear women’s clothes, whose work reflects the times we live in. Not a reinterpreted, through the lens of high culture, reflection, but the way it actually is. mdemdeWhich is why he is so popular, with the masses, if less so the elite. And he is funny, pointedly funny, with a fantastic laugh. In this new show he pokes fun at high brow culture with “luxury brands for social justice,” a large pot covered in drawings and pithy statements like: “I’m off to buy a serious piece of political art,” “I’ve read all the academic literature on empathy,” and my personal favourite “super expensive knick-knacks against fascism.” There were plenty of chuckles (and many winces) round that piece. His two pots on Brexit had been highly anticipated. Using suggestions via social media from people on either side of the debate as to what Britain means to them,  he created a Leave pot and a Remain one. And the joke on us all is that it takes time to figure out which is which….to quote Jo Cox, the MP murdered last year, “far more unites us than divides us.” A concept we seem neither able to embrace nor reject, but instead turn it over and around and back again as we make our way through these times. Because, as Perry suggests, there is a gap between how we feel and how we think. And when faced with decisions, we often go with feeling over thought, no matter the evidence that should make us choose otherwise. Sometimes, for that reason, bad things happen. But sometimes not.

 

All of this was very much on my mind when I went, the following day, to see the impromptu post-it note memorial to the recent terror attacks. Borough Market was still closed, police positioned all along its perimeter.  But that cement thing on the southeastern side of London Bridge was covered in messages, some small posters but sdrmostly post it notes, on which people have written messages. Messages of hope, of love, of sorrow. From all over the world, as were the victims: France, Spain, Canada, Australia. From places that are all too familiar with horror: sympathy from Lebanese journalists, love from Ukraine, hope from cofIran. And some messages that should never have to be written. “I miss you so much Sara love from Mum xxxxxx” People stood and read, took photos and cried, a few added their own messages. But mostly people just stood and read. In silence. The immediate area was eerily quiet. Somber and still. While the bustle that is London Bridge, station and streets carried on in the background. It was moving, overwhelming.

I crossed the bridge for a little emotional break. Admired the view down the river to the east: HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, Tower of London.  Saw the new barriers between the road and the pavement. Police were everywhere. Two youngish men, who had obviously enjoyed a long and very liquid lunch, felt it necessary to overwhelm some officers with their affection. Shaking their hands, throwing their arms around them, declaring their respect and admiration. cofThe police were very patient, simply disentangled themselves and encouraged the gentlemen to stagger along. Oh, some things never change. And that is what Londoners keep saying to themselves post-terror. That London won’t fear, won’t give in, won’t divide. At times I worry that this attitude isn’t defiance so much as a form of passivity, that in saying we carry on, we normalize the events,  make them seem simply one more part of the urban fabric. Which is unacceptable. Because these attacks are unacceptable. And to treat them as cofanything but abhorrent is unacceptable. But the solutions are complicated. And in the meantime this is perhaps the best we can do. Feel more than think. Share thoughts on colourful squares of paper, stand in long queues to see art,  have a laugh with strangers, let the politicians bray on and know that sometimes the wisest man out there is wearing a very short pink dress.

 

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On Brexit and Art…54/100

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Many weeks ago my mother asked if I would write something about Brexit. “No, I don’t write about things like that,” I responded. Oh dearie, dear. I have done little but write about Brexit in the last week. Perhaps not Brexit exactly, but the aftermath of. The madness that has descended on my beloved city of London and indeed on the entire UK. It is as though everyone has been given permission to release their inner demon. As if, for all you Seinfeld fans, there was a collective decision in favour of the Festivus tradition of Airing of Grievances. Publically. The sudden spike in racist behaviour, against, but certainly not limited to, the Poles. The Poles? Seriously? They have been an integral part of British society, London society since the 1940s. But the ugliness has not been limited to one side only. This is a proper free for all. The vitriol aimed at the elderly in my lovely local post office earlier in the week was shocking, not least because there were several pensioners in the queue. The ferocity of the anger expressed made me very glad I have no beloved granny living alone in this country, at the moment. And then there are the calls to limit voting rights to those with acceptable GCSE results. I love the clip of Eddie calling for a Stupid People Tax. But Ab Fab is comedy television. It isn’t real. My friend Mark, who appears to have taken a leave of absence from life to promote Remain on social media, was verbally attacked in the Tube 2 days ago by a stranger, accusing him of looking like someone who would have voted Out. Mark fights with longswords in his free time. Not necessarily the man I would choose to randomly attack on public transport, but then all sense is gone. A close friend voted Leave, having thoughtfully weighed the options. Her own mother is no longer speaking with her. There was an altercation between neighbours on my street, not over parking or noise, but the vote. And then there is the government. Which is falling apart. In every way. It is Madness out here.

 

I can do nothing but hold onto the words of the Culture minister Ed Vaizey who called for the arts to help heal the post-Brexit wounds. “In times of uncertainty and division it’s the arts that bring us together,” said Mr Vaizey. “London 2012 united the nation and the world looked on in awe of our creativity, courage and character. Now is the time to come together once more.”

DSC_0111Oh, I do hope this is true! And so it was with delight I realized I had been invited to Linklater’s RA Summer Show evening, on Monday night. “This will be the perfect cure for troubled souls,” so I thought. The evening was gorgeous. Lawyers certainly can manage details! The semi-circles of beautiful young men holding trays of drinks as you entered the Central Hall. The exquisite food served with such abundance there was no suggestion of having to wait between nibbles. And the art. Oh the Art. The famous and the unknown and the awe-inspiring and the bewildering and the covetousness I don’t even try to hide. “I will immerse myself in art and temporarily forget about the world,” I told myself. But alas, the event was popular. The rooms were crowded. And everywhere I went all I could hear was talk of Brexit. How the world is ending. Might have already ended. There was no escape. I admit a DSC_0110 (2)good part of me thought, “well if it all coming to an end, I might as well go out with a bang and buy that Boyle Family piece….”. Fortunately for the family finances I am still an optimist.

 

And I am optimistic that art can, if not save us all from ourselves, at least distract us enough to allow tempers to cool. Little could the organizers have known, when they started putting Art Night with ICA together, the idea taken from a similar event held in Paris, of the importance, for me anyway, of the night. A one night summer festival in the West End with opportunities to stop into both iconic and never-before-noticed buildings and spaces and see art. In all its many forms. Yes please, a short break from Chicken Little and mob rule. And on that front it delivered. Bland, pastel coloured copies of L’Origine de Monde on enormous scale hung in an about-to-be renovated building on The Strand. Further along The Strand we waited for quite a while to be let into what turned out to be a suite of rooms that looked like every Sofitel I have even stayed in.  Some girls were doing yoga in the bedroom. My family would have been impressed by how the towels were folded on the toilet in the bathroom. A real dog was on the rug in the living room. Most bizarrely, we were all speaking in hushed tones, as if in a sacred space, instead of some homage to 3 star living.

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Tai Chi in the courtyard of Somerset House. I have done Yoga in several beautiful places, including Tower Bridge. Not sure it could be considered performance art, however. At St. Mary le Strand I was much more interested in what the young art students were working on than the film theyDSC_0149 (2) were tending, which was little more than a list of films someone called Jennifer West likes. Rather like those Facebook round robins. We couldn’t find the abandoned Jubilee Station, though we walked round and round in the rain. Two Temple Place is such a beautiful building that none of the exhibitions I have seen there can compete with the venue itself. That staircase!

Couples were dancing on the steps of Duke of York. But this is London. People are always dancing everywhere. The queue for the installation in the Admiralty Arch was very very long. And given what we had seen already we decided not to join. But went, briefly, to the DSC_0150 (2)pub across the way. Which was filled with similarly minded people. All talking about how hilariously Emperor’s New Clothes piss take this evening was. And in that, the night was a roaring success. Not a whisper of Brexit anywhere. As for creativity, courage and character, well those were on display absolutely everywhere. The sky hasn’t fallen quite yet.

Instagram: @mylondonpassion

 

On Sadness and Love and Vicars….Jo Cox, Gay Pride & John Donne too 53/100

DSC_0026_3I have a collection of vicars. An unusual thing to collect, perhaps, but utterly worthwhile. I think it is their compassionate intellect that appeals. And their sense of humour. I suppose a job that includes so much listening to others requires an impressive ability to find the funny. Some of my vicars are gay. Which as a stand alone fact has as much relevance as their eye colour. Except that it explains how I came to be attending London Pride with a vicar.

DSC_0009_5This has been a tough week. On Wednesday I went to the vigil for Jo Cox, on what should have been her 42nd birthday. Had not a crazy man shot and knifed her to death. Previous to her murder she was unknown to me, but now I could put my name on the shortlist of potential biographers for this MP who genuinely lived to serve. An Oxfam worker in Africa, an advocate for refugees, a responsive representative for the people of Yorkshire and a mother. It is the latter that makes me tear up the most. Her killing shocked the world. Not least because it came so soon after the shootings in Orlando. Plenty of despair to go round.

Jo and her young family lived on houseboat (how cool is that) near Tower Bridge. So on herDSC_0003_6 birthday a small boat, filled with flowers, was sailed down the Thames and moored outside the Houses of Parliament. And there it sat, bobbing gently on the water, all alone. Metaphors were fast and thick at the sight.

On to Trafalgar Square. To honor the woman who had said “far more unites us than divides us” spawning the hashtags #moreincommon and #lovelikejo. The day was muggy and close, even more so in the square packed with people. Despite the numbers it was a solemn and quiet crowd. A beautiful, at times halting speech from her husband, Brendan, and a moving tribute, via video link on big screen from her sister. Then the celebrities got involved (Bono! Seriously?) and I made my way back home, overwhelmed with desire to see my own children as quickly as possible.

DSC_0030_3Then the Brexit vote. Two days on I still don’t know what to make of it all. Except that here in Wandsworth it was a 75% vote to remain. So lots and lots and lots of shocked and sad people. Uncertain times ahead for sure. And a desperation to do something inclusive. And happy. What could fit the bill more than London Pride. With Christians.

After the pre and post vote rhetoric, the parade was positively calm,  un-confrontational and fun. Because I was attending with vicar Louis, and his impossibly young and glamourous mother Janice, we joined the Christians at Pride group, made up mostly of members of St Anne’s Church, Soho and Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. Their position along the parade route was strategically DSC_0029_3chosen as a group of  so-called “religious” haters positioned themselves at the end of Lower Regent Street, the perfect vantage point to promise hellfire and damnation to each passing float. We were a bit further along, smiling faces without angry placards. Before the parade started, one of the vicars produced a loaf of bread and several bottles of what my mother and I would call “sangria wine,” and offered a short communion service, open to anyone. There were a lot of enthusiastic takers. My teenage daughter couldn’t quite choke down the plonk, but she appreciated the ceremony. My younger was given a long blessing from a priest. Sharing Communion, on a London street, in the sunshine, with strangers, most of whom happen to be gay. Does it get more inclusive than that? Gorgeous moment. We weren’t the only ones to think the parade deserved special treatment. Some older punks across the way had champagne with real glasses, serious parade preparation envy from me. And a great image on a day that aims, among other things, to dismantle stereotypes or expand them, depending on your point of view.

And the parade itself? Fun. Lots and lots of fun. Our new Mayor Sadiq Khan and his wife DSC_0032_3marched. There were mentions of the massacre in Orlando, though not a many as I thought there would be. But then this was a celebration not a memorial. Plenty of flesh on display, not all of it tanned and toned. “Oh dear,” blurted out by someone near me may have been the understatement DSC_0035_2of the day, as a series of particularly exposed, pasty pale and jiggly stomachs passed in front of us. There were lots of men and women in uniform, military and civil service. Starbucks and Barclays were doing some serious promotion, both with large, lively packs of marchers. Plenty of earnest groups as well, colleges, universities, health clinics, the Women’s Institute!, Muslim and African organizations, bikers too.  But what I really wanted was flamboyant. And I was not DSC_0050_3disappointed. More Patsy’s and Edina’s than I could count. Feathers, sequins, impossible high shoes, ball gowns. Some proper fabulousness.

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And in the midst of all this happy fun came a text from my dear friend Lucy. My circus writer friend with whom I share so many adventures. Her mother had been rushed to the hospital and was now in a medically induced coma. Prognosis cautiously optimistic, as long as nothing more happened in the night. Lucy is the youngest of 6, a very late in life baby. She has always said that she will never get to have her parents for as long as she would like. But today is too soon. Please not today. And suddenly I realized, sometimes today is all we get. Which makes finding our way past the last weeks of horror and shock and fighting and divisiveness all the more important. We need to try to be kinder and gentler to each other. We need to not pass up the opportunity to tell someone we love them. A smile for a stranger is a good start. Maybe even a conversation, not a shouting match, with someone who disagrees with us. Because we are all in this together.  As John Donne, former Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral famously reminded us in the early 17th century, “no man is an island” and admonished us “for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.” We aren’t in this alone. Let’s stick together and make this living thing work. Those bells are ringing for us all.

DSC_0028_3At time of writing, Lucy’s Mum has made it through and is awaiting surgery. The Cox family has announced their intention of withdrawing from public life to concentrate on each other. The sky over the UK hasn’t fallen yet. There was a marriage proposal at the Pride parade. And I have DSC_0074_1two more vicars to add to my collection. Let’s gather round, pass the wine and ring ring those bells till our arms ache and our throats hurt from laughing. At least for today.