On Sunday morning the lovely cleaning ladies at the Radisson Edwardian Kenilworth on Great Russell Street, woke me at about five in the morning, creeping about outside my room with piles of clean laundry. Not very useful. Never, ever have room 423 people. It’s not conducive to sweet slumber.
I dozed, and read my book until a more civilized hour, and then scarpered.
I was torn, frankly, on Sunday morning. I had so many possible things I could do, it was almost impossible to make my mind up. I thought about the Chris Ofili exhibition at Tate Britain. I thought about the Henry Moore Retrospective at Tate Modern. I thought about The Design Museum over near Tower Bridge. Eventually I went for none of the above.
I went to the Royal Academy Summer Arts Exhibition on Piccadilly. Mrs Jones always has positive things to say about it, and I’d never been before. Then there was the added temptation of the fact that she had already told me that they had a Grayson Perry vase there, and some Tracey Emin things in the shop that I might like. Impossible to resist.
Here is the front of the building:
It’s rather lovely. The building is actually wrapped around this quadrangle. As well as the lovely fountains it has a coffee shop outside on the steps where you can eat buns and watch the world pass by. This time they also had giant, bronze hares leaping around. I don’t know whether they are always there. I suspect not:
The summer exhibition is rather wonderful. It costs £8 to get in, but there are nearly 2000 artworks to be seen, ranging from architect’s models to giant sculptures of gorillas made out of wire, and the more traditional paint on canvas. Most of the artwork is for sale, and you can buy it then and there if you wish, although you have to wait to take it home until the exhibition has finished. Mrs. Jones got a gorgeous seascape as I recall, last year.
I did not succumb, although it was very tempting at times. Luckily I seemed to have a knack of picking things that either weren’t for sale in the first place, like the Grayson Perry vase, which shows Grayson dressed as his transvestite alter ego Claire, giving birth to Alan Measles, his teddy bear, while various freaks and random people bow down to worship him in a pastiche of a nativity scene. Or they were so expensive that they were out of the question. I do seem to have a skill for picking the most expensive item in a room. I think it’s a kind of divination. I’ve yet to figure out what use it has yet, except to make me poorer, but it is definitely a skill.
To reward myself for not having spent £112,000 on a painting, I confess that I did end up buying one of the Tracey Emin plates that Mrs. Jones had mentioned to me:
£19.99 seemed much more reasonable at that point.
Emin had a few things in the exhibition too. One, a giant oil painting that I really wasn’t keen on much, but also a couple of really delicate pen drawings, much in the same style as the bird plate. I was looking at one of them, which showed a woman looking at a load of disembodied penises doing the high jump. The title was something like: ‘I always wonder how high they can go?’ I was smiling at it when I heard an elderly couple behind me discussing it:
He: ‘Oh! It’s that Emin woman.’
She: ‘Urgh! She’s just lewd. Lewd. Lewd.’
He: ‘She always has to be vulgar doesn’t she? I just don’t understand it. She gets all this fame for just being vulgar.’
She: ‘She’s not really famous for anything but lewdness is she?’
He: ‘No. She’s just lewd.’
She: ‘Yes. Lewd.’
So there you have it. Lewdness.
I felt rather sorry for poor Tracey. She’s produced hundreds, if not thousands of artworks in every conceivable medium and style and even curated the Venice Bienniale a couple of years ago, but show someone a line drawing of a cock and they forget all of it instantly.
After that debauchery and frivolousness, it seemed a good idea to quit while I was ahead. I drifted back down Piccadilly, stopping in at Fortnum and Mason to dribble over their ceramics, and sniff the aroma of chocolate from the patisserie. I took these pictures of the window displays. The glass distorts the image, but I like the fact that you can see the Royal Academy buildings reflected in the window too:
Don’t they just look like Christmas?
My feet hurt after that, so I disappeared into Hatchards, the book seller extraordinaire. It’s amazing to think that they have been selling books there since 1797. They’re obviously rather good at it, although I would like to complain that their children’s department is on the third floor, and if you are bone weary this is very inconvenient. Other than that they passed muster and I highly recommend a trip if you are nearby.
I couldn’t not go and see the children’s books, which really didn’t help the feet, although the guilt at buying the Emin plate put paid to any purchases of the book variety. That and the fact that I had my bag with me and it was full to bursting already. I abandoned Hatchards and went on to sit in the courtyard of St. James of Piccadilly:
They are currently raising money to renovate the church, which was severely bomb damaged in WWII. It is quite an important church. It may look as plain as a plum pudding, but it was one of Christopher Wren’s churches, as you can see here:
It also has altar carvings by Grinling Gibbons, who was a master wood carver for Charles I and Charles II and is considered one of the finest wood carvers ever, in the history of ever. I went inside to try and take a photo of his work, which is spectacular, all immensely intricate garlands of fruits and flowers that look scarily lifelike, but I got trapped by a strange man who tried to lure me into regular church attendance, not seeming to mind that I lived 100 miles away, and it’s a long way to come to church on a Sunday. You will have to make do with this sign outside, which tickled my fancy, because people have been collecting little models and just balancing them on the sign to make its prohibitions more cheery, presumably:
After I had narrowly escaped with my atheism intact, I scooted over to the South Bank to meet Andrea. We had a rather lovely lunch in Strada, one of a chain of Italian restaurants where the food is always reasonably good. I had chicken in wild mushroom and cream sauce, followed by ricotta tart baked with pine nuts and almonds and vanilla ice cream. All delicious.
Finally we went to see the stunning; ‘After The Dance’, by Terence Rattigan at the National. It deserves all the five star reviews it has been accruing, and possibly more. A superb production with a wonderful cast, including the ever marvellous Adrian Scarborough, who you may know better as Peter Sutcliffe in Gavin and Stacey. It was agonisingly perfect, and I urge you to go and see it if you can possibly get tickets.
Recounting how much I squeezed into one day, it doesn’t surprise me any more that I came home with a spectacular migraine. I think my head just exploded from all the excitement of doing too many lovely things all at once.