A happy day

For the past week i’ve had the hay fever from hell. So extreme did it become that on Wednesday morning it woke me from my sleep and on Thursday evening i had to abandon my plan to attend Bridget Riley‘s lecture at the British Museum. She was going to be talking about how figurative drawing eventually evolved into abstract art. It was a bitter disappointment.

The peak seems to have been reached however and now, thankfully, the blight is subsiding. On Saturday i woke feeling… well (yes, it took me a while to identify the feeling) and headed off with a friend to see the exhibition of Henry Moore‘s sheep at the Hertford Museum. It was only one small room but perhaps all the more delightful for that. At large exhibitions you tend to develop exhibit fatigue by the time you’re half way round and individual pieces, particularly the smaller, more delicate ones, get lost amidst the masses of objects you’re trying to experience, analyse, appreciate. I think there were no more than twenty-five etchings and a few sculptures at yesterday’s exhibition.

henry moore - lamb & mother

The fact that they were etchings was a surprise in itself. I have the book Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook* and i’d assumed what we were going to see were the original ballpoint and pencil sketches from it. Not so. It seems the popularity of the sketches inspired Moore to produce a group of etchings from them. My two favourites: one of a black-faced sheep, its eyes fixing you with a suspicious glare, and one of lamb suckling from its mother, its legs bent as it twists its head beneath her belly to reach the udder. I love the fact that Moore is able to create pictures which are so touching and individual from animals which are usually experienced as blank, anonymous white blobs on the landscape. He says in the “Sketchbook”:

I began to realise that that underneath all that wool was a body, which moved in its own way, and that each sheep had an individual character.

Another advantage of small exhibitions – but also a disappointment – is how few people seem to visit them. You can wander back and forth between pieces, making new connections; whereas at major exhibitions the experience is often more like queuing at an ATM. I suppose a lot of it comes down to the lack of publicity but i think it also reflects the fact that most of the time people rarely look further than a few national museums when they’re searching for things to see. I include myself in those people. Londoners also tend to have a kind of mental block about venturing outside London, unless the event is a really big name affair.

River Lee - Hertford

After the sheep, the walk. This i did by myself as my friend doesn’t do long walks. My aim was to follow the River Lee as far as i could towards London. I made excellent progress, helped by the fact that the walk is all on the flat and, even more, by the fact that navigation is largely a no-brainer: you follow the river; where it goes, you go. It’s been canalised and a towpath runs along its edge. I missed the twists and turns of a natural river, but not as much as i’d expected and the reason for that was the river – and often the towpath – was crowded with ducklings, goslings, cygnets and baby coots. Plus their proud parents of course. At first it was mainly geese, who – be warned – are very protective of their young (one nearly ran me off the towpath); but later on i saw what looked like a duck nation: i have never seen so many at once and almost all of them had a fleet of ducklings in tow.

At Ponders End i was forced to accept that the light was fading and call it a day. A happy day.

* Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook; ISBN: 978-0-500-28072-0; pub. Thames & Hudson (1998)

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Death Under Surveillance

This is an excerpt from an earlier spoof about a pair of epidemiological detectives. My friend M (a far better writer than me) and I took it in turns to write chapters (this is obviously one of mine). Unfortunately, the story ended up like a car with two drivers and veered off into chaos about 8 chapters in. Well how do you follow a scene in which armies of undead commuters besiege the Tube? It was loads of fun while it lasted though.

By the way, the Welsh references were partly aimed at a colleague of ours (who gave as good as she got!) and partly at ourselves: we’re both part-Welsh. “Mortimerelli” is also a skit on a colleague.

Chapter 4: Down The Spec

“The thing is,” mused Elvis the bartender down at the Spec,”She wasn’t really called Llanwigan, she wasn’t even Welsh.”

“How can you be so sure?” Boo frowned, playing with the glass of wine in her hand . “Llanwigan sounds like a Welsh enough name to me.”

“The man said she looked like a sheep, he said she had a leek in her pocket, he said she refused to speak English… I know, I know,” said Elvis frustatedly,”But doesn’t that ring warning bells? Isn’t that just a bit TOO Welsh?”

There was a heady silence. Elvis was onto something, that was for sure.

“You think she was an imposter,” said Fordowski slowly, ”You think the whole Welsh thing was just to throw people off the scent.

“Eh, yeah, J.K.,” Boo rolled her orange eyes as she spoke. ”I think that is what Elvis has being trying to tell you.”

Fordowski nodded. Boo looked at him; he’d fallen asleep.

“Elvis…” She turned to the jumpsuit-clad barman,”I think you should keep this to yourself. Me ’n’ J.K. need to look into it and it’s better if no-one else knows. And after all, I mean, you don’t want reporters or police round here, do you? You don’t wanna go back to that big lonely house in Memphis, do you Elvis?”

Elvis shook his head and turned back to polishing glasses. Boo noticed he was trembling.

Suddenly J.K. woke and leapt up. “It was a hoax!” He shouted. “The whole scene by the canal with that Jones guy… just a ploy to lure our agents into the open. Twenty f*cking swans, my God…” he started to cry. “Dead… all of them.”

Boo shrugged. “I told you swans were a bad idea. We shoulda stuck to pigeons. They attract less attention. Swans hanging round a train station? Sauntering nonchalantly outside an NHS building? I mean, c’mon, J.K. Someone was bound to put two and two together.”

It made J.K. nervous when Boo talked about ‘putting two and two together’… ‘three and three’ was even worse. ‘Four and four’ – don’t think about it, he said to himself taking a slug of his diet coke. Those dark days of maths lessons. Never mind. He had a calculator on his mobile, they couldn’t hurt him now.

Boo was on a roll. She must have ranted for twenty minutes about the agents they’d lost in operations. Whose idea had it been to use white mice in that undercover job at the labs? Which idiot had thought a giraffe would be ‘perfect’ as a lookout at the Jubilee mob meeting when they tried to snare the big boss Queenie? He could hear a voice saying “He’s got this long neck, he’ll be able to see for miles.” Sounded like his voice. He wondered gloomily which zoo the giraffe had been carted off to.

Queenie had got away of course. They all seemed to get away these days. No matter how carefully an operation was planned, somehow the criminals got wind of it and escaped. If he didn’t watch his back he’d be pushing up weeds in somebody’s back yard soon. Mortimerelli wasn’t famous for her gardening for nothing… come to think of it, she wasn’t famous for her gardening at all.

His mind wandered on and on. What about the four kids? What had really happened to them? They’d gone out to play on the railway line as usual one night and never come back. In his more paranoid moments he wondered if someone was out to get him: the brake going on his car, the tv blowing up as he switched it on, the cobra in his bed, that weird assassin guy who’d been waiting for him in the bathroom with a knife… were they really just freak accidents or was there a pattern he wasn’t seeing?

But at that point his friend and comrade broke into his revelrie. She was standing at the door, with her false moustache already in place. “We gotta go, dream boy. Mortimerelli’s waiting for us back at the Centre. Don’t need no more problems than we’ve got already.”

J.K. picked up his deerstalker hat and followed her out, trying desperately to remember what Elvis had been telling him about before he’d fallen asleep.