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.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Rachel Whiteread, Tate Britain

Seen a little while ago, but I failed to write about it, sorry, this major retrospective is essential if you are in any way a fan of the not so Y now, YBAs.

As they are all about my age, I feel woefully inadequate when faced with a body of work as impressive as Whiteread's. Although her famous House is not extant, having been torn down in what might be judged as the worst planning mistake a council ever made, there is more than enough here to show why she was the first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993.

She's all about space, the nothing places and things that we don't notice, like the undersides of the hundred chairs cast in coloured resin in the main hall. And the things that will never be, like the books not written by Holocaust victims in her memorial to them in Vienna, which I have also seen. Here there are similar book shelves with books placed spine in.

Of all her castings, doors, mattresses, staircases, my favourites were the tiny and domestic. Her hot water bottles in various media are some of her earlier pieces, and there is a whole case of them to rekindle my interest. But this is also work of scale and wonder. Just how did she do that?

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Impressionists in London, Tate Britain

The quietest times of the year to visit a gallery is just before Christmas and between Christmas and New Year, when everyone is elsewhere doing other things. Hurrah for that. December 23rd at Tate Britain was calm, almost empty, and we had the place to ourselves. Perfect conditions for viewing the Impressionists.

I'm not a massive fan of this period really, but there is much to admire here from Monet, Pissaro, Tissot and all the others who fled the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune for the safety of London, preferring to paint our suburbs and sporting events over the brutal realities of home.

Monet's series on the Palace of Westminster capturing the fog are worth your while alone. But sit in that room for several minutes, adjust your eyes to the lighting to get the most out of them, in the same manner as one had to with the Rothkos in their special room in days of yore.

Quite by accident, I drove passed spot where Pissaro lived in West Norwood the week before. Seven days later I find myself studying his painting of the same street in snow. Funny, these life co-incidences.

Pop along if you can afford to pay nearly £18 for the privilege. At this price, and why are exhibitions so very expensive?, it's making my membership look like a total bargain.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Merry whatever

Season's Greetings to everyone who takes the time to read this roll of cultural and other ramblings. It's been a busy year for me, moving jobs, moving country, and finally feeling at home. Here's a new poem for your festive reading.

Good news from Oslo, batteries included

sorry we haven't
wrapped it, again this
year, but, you know, after
70 we didn't think you'd mind.
It's a bit
big, awkward with
those needles, graduated
branches, and we didn't want
to risk you putting it upside down
in the hidden stand. The guards aren't
keen these
days either. If we
spruced it up, they couldn't
keep an eye, and a 20 metre green
Viking at customs might look like a
missile, too soon chipped, composted, mulched
by the bomb squad. Anyway, we know you prefer it
in words.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Hidden London - The Mithraeum

A month or so ago Bloomberg opened its new billion pound building in the City. It has been carefully built over the remains of a rare piece of Roman London, a temple to Mithraeus. An experience has been created, but this is not a cheesy affair in the slightest.

Some of the 600 finds are artfully displayed. The rest, including the key find - the bust of Mithras -  are in the Museum of London. Ipads are on hand to describe to the exhibits. These are well worth lingering over, especially the wooden tablets, one with first time Londinium was written, and another being the oldest piece of Roman writing in Britain, and funnily enough an IOU between two freemen.

Downstairs there is an interactive display voiced by Joanna Lumley.

Downstairs again, at timed intervals, hence the need to book a ticket, is the temple itself. You enter in the dark. Its slowly revealed clever lighting and subtle smoke effects, along with the soundtrack of voices and chanting, attempts to create something of the cult experience.

It's mysterious and slightly shivery, and was just the perfect thing to explore on a freezing day.

The location specific irony of the men only Mithraeus cult, based as it seems to have been on rather a lot of feasting, should not be lost on anyone.

To get your glimpse, book a litter to Walbrook. No denari required.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Ty Newydd - You wanted outcomes

My car tyres crunch on the slate chips in the car park. I open the door and breathe in some sweet Welsh air. It’s raining, that fine rain that has you soaked in minutes. No matter, no-one comes here for the weather. Any sun and sitting in the garden this week will be a bonus. I lift my case and book bag from the boot and trundle down the path towards the front door of the large stone built Georgian house. There is only bird song to greet me until I swing open the office door and say hello. I am greeted warmly.

I’ve arrived a few hours early, as is my habit to take the early road across half the country, so I am offered my choice of rooms. This week I fancy Lloyd George’s bedroom. I’m not afraid of ghosts and the fact that he died here bothers me not a jot. It’s a huge room and I have it to myself. It affords me a view of the front garden with its herbaceous borders, pebbled path and imposing wrought iron gates beyond which is the wooded drive.

I unpack, wander down to the kitchen to make myself tea, and mug in hand I refresh my memory of the layout of the house, standing and staring at various spots; the library with its weird acoustic, the dining room, and garden, which in the still damp I take a proprietorial tour around to the end gate and its uplifting view over the fields to the sea in one direction, and to Snowdonia in the other. I turn back to look at the white painted rear elevation of the house, picking out the stages of building from the various shiny slate roofs and glass extension. My tea is a drinking temperature now. A true refreshment. I retrieve my notebook and pen, then settled in the back porch wrapped in a throw, I start writing.

I have been attending courses at Ty Newydd for nearly fifteen years. In that time I have had the pleasure of being taught, encouraged, supported and promoted by major poets, Welsh and otherwise – Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott, Daljit Nagra, and Robert Minhinnick to name just a few. It was only after my very first course there with Gillian and Carol Ann that I had the confidence to apply to do an MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of South Wales. As part of that degree we also attended Ty Newydd for a weeklong workshop where I was taught by Sheenagh Pugh, Tony Curtis, Philip Gross, Des Barry, and others. After graduation, I attended the workshop as a fringe member, using the opportunity as a writing retreat.

I have been a long-standing supporter of Ty Newydd. It is my home in Wales. I am 55 now and very far from retirement. My writing is nothing like a hobby. If poetry could give me a living, I would certainly be doing it full time. In the last decade, since Carol Ann wrote “Brilliant!” on one of my poems at Ty Newydd, I have:

·      published over two hundred poems in various magazines,

·      had six collections of poetry published (the next one is out in 2018), one of which was reviewed in the PBS magazine, and all of which have had good reviews,

·      been widely anthologised,

·      read at countless festivals and poetry evenings in the UK and France,

·      won poetry prizes,

·      founded a literary association in Paris that runs workshops, open mic nights and publishes a magazine, Paris Lit Up, for which I edited the poetry,

·      taught writing workshops for Oxford University and the Poetry School,

·      been elected to the Welsh Academy of Letters, and

·      had my website archived by the National Library of Wales.

Would I have had the chutzpah to do all of this without the confidence in my work and path given to me at Ty Newydd? Most probably and resoundingly not.


Saturday, 2 September 2017

Glasgow Girls

It's always rather annoyed me that Mackintosh and the Boys get so much attention, when there were brilliant women artists working in Glasgow at the same time. Margaret MacDonald is probably the most important of these. Her high Art Nouveau interiors are magnificent as in this example from Kelvingrove.

Her gesso panels can also be found in the Glasgow School of Art, which is currently scaffolded and sheeted and undergoing an enormous and accurate restoration after the fire. Other work is in the Mackintosh house at the Hunterian, no doubt amongst other places. Her sweeping lines, stylised roses and delicate portraits especially please me.