Friday, 23 July 2021

Saying Goodbye to Michael Horovitz

How did you know Michael? people ask each other as we exchange quiet pleasantries in the necessary shade of poplar and planes trees at Kensal Green cemetery. I knew Michael a little as I am friends with his son, Adam. He was always very kind to me when we met, encouraging the writing of poetry. 

Others have written at length on Michael's achievements as a poet and father of the UK's counter-culture. I shall not repeat these tributes here, rather I want to capture something of the afternoon of both celebration and grief. Funerals are awful things - those in deep sorrow trying hard to maintain their poise is too much for society to expect, but everyone grieves in their own way, I suppose.

On then to a sun-baked plot at the west gate where Michael's simple wooden coffin lies waiting for us. The lady rabbi leads the graveside ceremony with prayer and psalms, some in English, some in Hebrew. Those who share Michael's faith join in. Others of us remain attentively silent and respectful. Others we can't see watch on the Zoom live-fed. Psalm 23 I know and can recite in its old version, this modern translation trips me up with the substitution of unexpected words. No matter. 

There are kind words spoken and poems read. John Agard animates his poem to Michael magnificently. Niall McDevitt recalls tales of Michael and reads from his beloved Blake, quite rightly ignoring the heckles of 'enough', which ushured in an appropriate degree of chaos to the proceedings. Adam's eulogy is a beautifully written piece touching on each aspect of Michael's life as writer, poet, artist, poetry promoter, husband/partner, and father. It is emotional, jubilant and heart-touching. And, if it's not bad taste to say so for a eulogy, a tour de force

Draped in one of Vanessa Vie's shawls and topped with one of Michael's colourful flat caps, the coffin is lowered deep into the London clay. The Kaddish is said. Vanessa carefully unwraps Michael's kazoo - the anglo-saxaphone - and plays. A greater expression of grief I have never heard. It is heart-stopping.

And then it is over. We talk a little amoung ourselves - I seek out the half-dozen of my friends who are there - and move out of the oppressive thirty-degree sun, back through the shaded walk, and out into the Harrow Road and the waiting world.

[No photos, I thought it poor form to take any]

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Tracey Emin/Munch at the RA

I have waited so long to see this show - since last December when it was postponed - it was hard to believe my turn had finally come, but here we are on day two of the gallery re-openings back in the lovely quiet RA.

Small and perfectly formed, the three rooms of paintings by artists separated by a century contain exemplary work of colour and pattern chosen by Emin. 

The conversation in paint takes on more than echoing techniques though. It is the subject matter that climes: intense emotions writ large on canvas and paper, wrestling the facts of human pain. 

I was deeply moved. Hurry to book a place, as although it's been held over due to the pandemic closures - lucky that - it isn't on for long. You won't be disappointed. 

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Ham House

Precious little open, it is a lockdown after all, but you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise as all of west London is out and about walking the high streets of Chiswick and Richmond to buy take away coffee, promenade along the river, or look for deer in the park. Booking anywhere to walk, like Kew Gardens, takes the forethought I am seldom capable of, hence, there is no chance of going there on a weekend. Instead we opted for a stroll around the gardens at Ham House. 

The box and yew parterre, interplanted with mounds of close clipped lavender and bordered by high yew hedges, is something out of A Draughtsman's Contract - very much the perfect winter garden (picture from slightly earlier in autumn last year though). I can only imagine its beauty enhanced by a frost. The kitchen garden is all but over, except for a row of splendid netted cabbages, and the ruby chard still shining on a pretty grey day. 

Very much worth the booking - it's owned by the National Trust and all its gardens remain open in this winter pandemic season. Plus coffee and a cake are still possible outside the cafe. Dress warmly, of course, and take a further stroll along a very pretty stretch of the river.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Prospect Cottage, Dungeness

To complete all matters Jarman this month, we chose a hot Indian summer's day for a trip to Dungeness to visit his fabulous gravel garden (see earlier Garden Museum post). Whilst not exactly the best season as summer slips into autumn, there was enough in flower or just finished to have a good impression of how beautifully the shingle has been used to create shape and colour. 

I've wanted to visit the garden for years, and more so now that this year the cottage has been saved for the nation, so this was a special treat on a perfect day.

No entry to the cottage itself as the resident gardener makes their home there, but there is plenty to contemplate on a stroll around, in and amongst the plantings, found beach objects turned to sculpture and the like. I would have welcomed a convenient bench to sit and contemplate the scene for longer, but it was roped off. No matter. The eponymous view of the nuclear power station as not awful as people make out. 

A place of austere beauty in the shadow of concrete brutalism, and you have to be able to see loveliness without much greenery in order to enjoy it. John Donne's poem (Busy old fool...) in large letters on the side of the cottage helps.

The beach extends some minutes' walk to a sharply shelving sea with views on this clearest of days of white cliffs near Folkestone and France in the far distance with cargo ships in between. 

It was quiet: just a few garden and Jarman buffs and hardly a soul by the water. Not a place to swim, for that you need to head to the sandy and more traditional seaside delights of Camber Sands some two miles distant. 

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Gauguin and the Impressionists - Royal Academy

Probably the most over-promised and under-delivered exhibition I have been to in an eon. Masterworks from the Ordrupgaard collection in Denmark, were rarely masterful. It is almost as if the Danish industrialist ran around desperately buying up pictures without bothering to check whether Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and others had actually painted well. 

I was sorely disappointed by the whole, and by the fact that eight paintings by Gauguin do not an exhibition title make, nor does a room of pre-Impressionist works by Corot, Ingres etc. exactly endear me to the as advertised title. 

Be warned this is a three room show of, OK, work, but it was hard to find any truly stand out pieces to wow me. I'm a jaded viewer of this period in art. It no longer holds much of a thrill. And I hate Renoir. I should know better.

Return to the British Museum - sort of

The BM has reopened. So much, so good, hurrah! 

But it's not the BM as we know it, where you can pick a few galleries on a topic of your choice and wander at your leisure. Nope. You have to follow the one way system round only the ground floor galleries. To be honest, there is only so much Egyptian statuary and so many Greek vases that one wants to look at in one lifetime. Also, the Elgin marbles, well, yes, but seen them too often, especially when the kids were little. 

So, unless you have a burning desire to do all these things again, then best wait till one of the forthcoming exhibitions - on the Arctic, and Tantra -  open later in the autumn. The Benin bronzes aside, I wish I had. One bonus was Grayson Perry's Memorial to the Unknown Craftsman. That was worth seeing.

Hidden London - Derek Jarman at the Garden Museum

In lieu of a trip to Dungeness to see the real thing, check out the recreation of Jarman's beach cottage at the hidden way Garden Museum, which is tucked under the shadow of Lambeth Palace in a deconsecrated church, and easily missed. 

Paintings, small sculptures and his garden notebooks are on display along with films from the shingle garden and a series of haunting photographs, including one of him towards to end of his life showing the ravages AIDS related complications had taken on his body. Awful to see and remember the scourge AIDS was before effective drugs for HIV management. 

An interesting, but tiny exhibition in which I learned that Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd seemed to have met Jarman on a random trip to the seaside at Dungeness, culminating in Jarman sharing his plant list with Chatto. It is this encounter and list that was the genesis of her famous gravel garden. Who knew that little nugget of garden history? 

I rather liked reading in Jarman's notebook that he bought a dozen wallflowers at a boot fair for £1. So it's not just me then. More than admiring his beautiful handwriting, inked over initial pencil marks, one journal page includes a moving poem about AIDS victims with the refrain 'Cold, cold. cold they died so silently'. 

Other reason to visit the museum, which to be honest is rather dull even to me a garden nut, are the semi-tropical courtyard garden in the former graveyard packed with the kind of lush planting that might survive the average British winter, and two of its tombs. 

William Bligh, Captain of the Bounty, is memorialised for this and as the man who took breadfruit from the South Pacific to the West Indies, but not for any of his other expeditions, or acting as governor of New South Wales. Breadfruit was meant to be a food crop for the enslaved Africans on its plantations, but the small matter of a Mutiny put pay to plants being sourced in Tahiti as the Bounty did not make it there, hence a later and more successful expedition. 

A grand limestone tomb cornered by four carved trees and with scenes of exotic species and plants is that of John Tradescant, the elder who died in 1638. Plantsman and gardener, it is somewhat fitting that he ended up being part of a museum dedicated to his expert subject.