Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The end of Ms Corporate, the beginning of Ms Full Time Writer

I walk out of the office for the last time, early, as there is precious little point hanging around with nothing to do. It’s a sunny and actually hot afternoon. London looks oddly different. That might be because my head is held high and I am actually looking at the city’s architecture for once, not scurrying home with my eyes on the chewing gum spotted pavement.

It feels like the day I left school: other girls were crying, for reasons I simply couldn’t fathom. I veritably skipped down the school driveway with a huge sense of relief. No more stupid rules controlling my days. After 35 years of heavy duty consulting work, there are again no more stupid rules or obligations, ever. I feel completely relieved of all responsibilities for anyone or anything other than myself. Hurrah.
I’ve dreamed of this for years, on every one of those days I toiled through ten hours at a desk plus at least a two hour commute on a packed train or Tube. I realise I am lucky, a tail-end baby boomer with the benefit of a good education. But wait, I’m not going to feel guilty about hanging up my calculator, I’ve worked my arse off, tolerated years of misogyny, having to work so much harder and better than the men around me, and butted my head against the reinforced glass ceiling until it bled.

I’ve bought a house, privately educated two children – my choice – and earned enough to save for a modestly rainy day. I’m 56, tired of dealing with other people’s unchanging and repeated BS, - it's not the work, it's never the work, it's the people, Sartre's hell, and so I am unfurling my umbrella.

Colleagues, who don’t know me at all, think I am mad. ‘What are you going to do with yourself’ is the crassest of questions, and in recent weeks I have been sorely tempted to say something, but I’m too well brought up. So, what am I going to do with myself?

Starting tomorrow morning I am going to catch up on my sleep. A long lie in with a samovar of tea and the cracked spine of a new book is in order. My father reminded me he slept for almost a month when he retired. He advises planning to do very little until I am better. I wonder how long it will take me to feel normal again, assuming, of course, I actually recognise what that is.

Our unhealthy sleep patterns are forever in the news and, as a chronic insomniac,  I am looking forward to no stress, interrupted nights, lighter circles around my eyes, and getting out of bed actually eager for the day.

Second is doing something about myself. I mean fitness and weight. Decades of sitting have left me with accountant’s bottom, and having my time eaten up by work means I am hopelessly, and possibly dangerously, unfit. A recent blood test told me I had elevated cholesterol and my GP said the word statins to me. I seldom walk 10,000 steps a day and riding my bike for five minutes in each direction to the Tube does not count for anything.

I’m not proud of this, but quite when you are supposed to swim, or go to the gym, or whatever when you have had a job like mine, children and a home to run, has been a mystery. So, it’s no more cheese sandwiches, crisps and four o'clock sweeties for me. I am going to fix the cholesterol with diet and exercise. I just need to figure how. Friends are telling me to use a personal trainer. I’ll let you know how that goes, once I locate my nearest gym.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Hidden London - new statue, way overdue

Women have been hidden in London for centuries; our contribution to the nation's life often ignored. I hope this putting right of history's wrongs is just the start of it.

It's about time there was a statue of a woman in Parliament Square, not her with the handbag obviously, that would have been a poor choice and would have attracted ire and admiration in uneven amounts. No, here is the compromise candidate in the centenary of women's suffrage, Millicent Fawcett, founder of the Suffragists, as opposed to the Suffragettes.

I would have preferred Emiline, but hey, violence is always unrewarded, unless you are a man. I note the statues of Smuts and Churchill over my shoulder.

Picasso, 1932 - Tate Modern

If you've ever had the sacrilegious thought about how much work artists actually do, then take a look at the volume produced in just one year, 1932.

This summer's block buster is a fascinating assemblage and survey of Picasso's oevre, including earlier works from the retrospective he had in Paris that year. An astonishing output and variety of paintings and sculptures, and this is only some of it.

Major chapeau. Don't miss it, but deep breath, it's going to be crowded at whatever time you choose to go.  Just try not to find the guy who thinks it's totally OK to stand it front of you because he has to take a photograph.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Hidden London - Hyde Park

"Don't be ridiculous, how can there possibly be anything hidden in Hyde Park", I hear you say. Well, OK. Not hidden, but not often visited. Two things on a recent picnic caught my eye.

First is the great view of Kensington Palace from the Henry Moore arch.

What arch? Yeah, me neither. It's tucked away between the two Serpentine galleries on the north bank of the Long Water, and forms a rather perfect frame. First erected in 1980, taken down in 1996 as it became structurally unsound, and finally restored in 2012, it is six metres of hewn stone. Pop along one day.

Secondly, the two Serpentine galleries, subject of much frantic phoning when you can't meet the person you are waiting for as they are standing at the other one.

At present showing video art, one of which, I forget in which gallery, is the mesmerising Typhoon coming on by American artist Sondra Perry. Much of the projection is a purple ocean that morphs into a digital manipulation of Turner's painting Slave ship (Slavers throwing over the dead and dying, typhoon coming on). Plenty of food for thought in that.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Blake in Sussex

Image credit V&A Museum
The, hopefully, last blast of snow from the east did not put me off heading out of town to Petworth House in West Sussex to see a small aubergine painted room in the servants quarters packed full of Blakes.

For three years Blake lived twenty miles distant at Felpham in a small cottage. It was the only time in his life when he left the capital to do crazy things like pretending be Adam and sit in his garden naked. But it was a very productive period for him, patronised as he was by the Duke of Egremont, to whom he wrote some really good letters of praise. My jaded 21st C eyes can't help reading these with a healthy dose of sarcasm. His wife Catherine was pretty good at it too. Necessities of survival one imagines. If you are a radical poet and artist, you need to make yourself amenable.

On show are works created during Blake's sojourn in Sussex including panels of Spencer and Milton, parades of characters from the Canterbury Tales and the Faerie Queen, and a host of religious watercolours and prints. My absolute favourite was Satan arousing the rebel angels, the light in which is positively divine. That Satan always gets the best lines is as true of Blake's vision as it is Milton's poetry. This watercolour and the shining Blake portrait on loan from the National Portrait Gallery kept me more than happy. Everything else was pure bonus.


Sunday, 11 March 2018

All Too Human - Tate Britain

Acres of flesh and, curiously, London landscapes are on offer in this mixed show that celebrates British painting, or painters who worked in the city in the last hundred years.

Great stuff from the familiar Bacon, Spencer, Freud and Auerbach. Less familiar, but no less worthy are Souza and Rego. The final room, there are eleven in all, was one of my favourites with Jenny Saville and others. And there are plenty of others.

Paint is applied finely or laid on thick to explore the fleshiness of our bodies. This show is all about the human form. Most exquisite of all is Freud's portrait of his mother. It's small, perfect, and available to be oggled over all summer. No postcard though.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Hidden London - London Wetlands Centre - Barnes


Acres of wetland habitat in London? Indeed, and full of migratory and native birds, and pretty endangered things from all over the world.

If you like your choice of lakeside hides and spending a winter's morning twitching, hithee. I am not a bird expert by any means. I know the names of most, not all, and I am pretty useless at spotting birds in trees and reeds.

This is where experts with industrial grade telescopes come in handy as your new best friends, spotting and sharing the rare Bittern, or telling you that that grey blob in the tree above you and out of reach of your tiny weeny binos is in fact a Green Finch.

Extras aside, there are plenty of fancy fowl to delight you. Do get there as it opens and before all the small people and buggies arrive to spoil the silence, well, sort of silence, if you can block out the planes making their approach to Heathrow.

Ashamed I have never been there until now. Rather happy that I have.