Getting A Kick Out Of Picasso

It was Picasso who famously said:

“I yam what I yam”… No, hang on … I think that might have been Popeye. Sorry.

It was Picasso who famously said:

“Beauty should be convulsive or cease to be”

Well, in this true story one of Picasso’s most famous works gets so convulsed it very nearly ceased to be, after a visit to view it by Yours Truly and a group of thirteen year old school children.

Warning: Art-lovers who are of a nervous disposition and anyone who works in the Tate Gallery conservation department or is among its curatorial staff should definately avoid this story.

Tate Gallery, ‘The Three Dancers’ by Picasso 1925.

3dancers-thumb

I’ve always really liked ‘The Three Dancers’. I think it’s the blue. I love that saturated Mediterranean cobalt /cerulean blue that provides the backdrop to the jumbled array of semi human shapes in front of it. I’d always found that it had a ‘contemporary yet retro’ feel about it, which satisfied my teenage post-Punk Jazzy leanings. Plus it had a dark, layered story behind it which I found fascinating. ‘The Three Dancers’ used to hang in the largely static Millbank Tate display, now the home of Tate Britain; and along with Matisse’s ‘Snail’ was one of the favourites that I used to go and say ‘Hello’ to each time I visited.

Of couse, the reason ‘The Three Dancers’ and ‘The Snail’ had this feel about them was that these were works by artists who were hugely influential on the development of the visual language used in commercial art, during the 1950s and 60s. Something, if not knowingly, I was steeped in.

The Tate Gallery Early 1980’s

As you may already be aware the Tate’s collection comprises the National Collection of British art from 1500 and International Modern and Contemporary art from 1900. Not exactly happy bedfellows, I think you’ll agree. Hence, the Tate Modern development which effectively took all the modern/contemporary work to the Bankside galleries and left the ‘boring stuff’ at what has become Tate Britain.

In the dark old days before Tate Modern, the collection was housed as I said, at the Millbank site. It had been built on part of the old prison (You can still see how local streets to the north follow its groundplan) and was paid for by the great sugar baron Sir Henry Tate. Just think: the existence of one of the most comprehensive collections of art in the country is in a roundabout way responsible for countless thousands, possibly millions of dental caries and cases of tooth decay.

By the early 1980’s, it was, if you’ll forgive me, a rather staid collection which had considerably outgrown its accomodation. Despite this, the displays changed rarely, although there was a notional annual re-hang.

Saint Sir Nick Serota

Then along came Contemporary Art’s ’Knight in Shining Armour’ (Saint) Nicholas Serota. Things soon started to change. He started by using the Duveen Galleries to rotate pieces from the collection, the displays became more varied. Although I was in support of Serota’s developments, on more than one ocassion, I found myself ‘caught out’, and plans to take a school group visit, had to be hastily adapted or re-arranged as the works I had intended we look at were not in fact on display. And so, it was that one day I found myself on the phone to the Tate Education Department to ask whether a visit could be arranged to see ‘The Three Dancers.’

Why?

Because? Well, because at some point early on in my Art teaching career, I had the bright idea of making a full sized version of ‘The Three Dancers’ with a group of kids.

I had been doing a painting project with a group of Year 8 students and noticed how difficult they found it to think of and use paint in any way other than thick blocked flat areas of colour. They drove me mad as they would attempt to paint and re-paint their work with standard school powder paint to achieve, regardless of what their subject actually looked like, a uniform, even surface – an impossibility.

Mind you, give the majority of the population of the UK a paintbrush, colours and paper and yell ‘PAINT!’ and they would do exactly the same. It was the first time it dawned on me that as a trained artist (I hesitate to say ‘well-trained’ as that is a whole new can of worms I’m keeping in the fridge for another time) I stood in front of the students with the experience of years of visual imagery, the vocabulary and command of language, plus all the other baggage that goes with being an ‘Art Teacher’, whereas the owners of the eager faces in front of me were light years away from the frames of reference which would allow them to access the conceptual and contextual place I inhabited. Phew! (I hope you notice I resisted the overwhelming temptation to use the words ‘mindset’ and ‘paradigm’ here: A major achievement I feel)

I began to think of how I might get round this and help them –

  • Understand more about the qualities of paint – what you can do with it.
  • Understand how to achieve these qualities themselves in a controlled way through
  1. colour mixing and all that it entails: mood, emotion, symbolism etc.
  2. Application of paint: brushwork, other methods of application.
  3. Formal qualities like texture, surface, tonal variations.
  4. Methods like impasto, washes etc. Techniques versus Experimentation
  • And to understand why artists do the things they do: the all –important context ; and to give them a bit of respect for  Artists. To begin to arm them with some of the basic tools – which would allow them to decipher or read artworks – even if it all it managed to achieve was a little insight, it was better than nothing.

So, after much deliberation (Probably the last hour in the Priory Tavern on a quiet week night) I hatched a plan which was to get them into handling paint more freely. By subterfuge. Trick them into it!

All I had to do was find an abstract/ish painting (one which would not allow them to get hung up on achieving a ‘likeness’ to anything they might see, or think they might see in it.) Preferably a painting with a story, which when it was finished, could be revealed and de-bunk the notion that ‘Modern Art doesn’t mean anything’. It also needed to fit the bill in terms of its freedom and handling of paint.

Picasso and ‘The Three Dancers’ 1965 The year the Tate bought it.

(Pic. Lee Miller)

As I thought about it a bit more (Wednesday and Thursday night in the Priory Tavern) I realised that a Picasso Cubist painting or at least a ‘fractured plane’ painting would be ideal because it would allow me to ‘cut up’ the image and distribute it among the class more easily. If I worked out the proportions correctly, each member of the class would have an identically sized piece, which when painted could be assembled the same size as the original. Because of the nature of the original, it wouldn’t matter if the students’ work wasn’t exactly a perfect fit – so they didn’t need to get hung up about that either. I would tell them nothing about their ‘slice’ of the painting. In fact only when all the pieces were complete and the finished painting displayed in school – would they see it for the first time, and then the story behind it revealed. Now then … which painting would fit the bill? What about ‘The Three Dancers’?

And so it was.

You know what? It worked like a dream. We were mixing paint with glue, sand and sawdust to achieve textures, some of the kids went to great lengths to replicate the cracks in the original paint surface – by making actual cracks in their work. It was great fun and the finished group piece went up on display.

A phone call to the Tate Education Department.

‘I’m afraid it’s not on display’

This is not what I wanted to hear. The students had made such a fine job of the ‘patchwork painting’ and were so interested in its story, that I’d (rather hastily) promised to take them to see the real thing.

‘Is it possible to see it in the vaults, or wherever it’s kept when not on display?’

‘You mean The Stores? We only allow that usually under special circumstances’

‘Pleeeeeeeeeeeease’

‘Okay, I’ll see what I can do. Call back in about half an hour’ …..

Which I did:

‘….. I’ve spoken with the Heads of the Education and Curatorial Departments and they have agreed on this one occasion only to allow you access to the stores with your group. Please report to the School’s Reception on arrival.’

Result! We’d done it.

Our Day Out

I hired a small bus and on the appointed day off we went, worksheets fluttering out of the back window, to the Tate and our (by now) beloved ‘Three Dancers’.

Well, it was something else. After leaving our coats and bags  in the education area, we were guided – somewhere, unfortunately my memory is hazy about how we got to the Stores, or indeed, beneath the galleries thronging with people above, they were. Before we knew it we were in what resembled a concrete underground car park. The door to the stores, a HUGE door, at least a metre and a half thick was already open in anticipation of our arrival. I pretended to be quite blasé about the whole thing but in fact I was completely overawed by what I was seeing. Over to the left of us was someone I presumed to be our education department guide, waiting for us. The dungarees were a bit of a give away. Behind him, along the length of this cavernous space there were what appeared to be a long series of enormous box files, all slotted together, appropriately labelled on their spines.

Tate storage.

As we approached, one of the stores staff selected one of these spines, and using a handle about three quarters of the way down, drew out a huge metal grille display panel on wheels. On it was a Georgio de Chirico, a couple of Salvador Dali’s and our ‘Three Dancers’.

‘You okay then?’ Asked the storeman ‘Yes, we’ll be fine, won’t we?’ said our education guide with a cheery smile.

‘Thanks Stan.’

‘ Ten minutes?’

‘Yes Stan, we’ll be done in ten minutes’. Our education guide, introduced himself as Simon.

A sea of hands shot up, all the children shouting at once.

‘Sir! I can’t find my piece!’

Now you never know who you are going to get from the education departments on these sorts of jaunts. I needn’t have worried. Simon announced:

‘Ah! … Any more of that horrible noise and this (he motioned over his shoulder at the painting) goes straight back in. Do you realise how lucky you are to be in here? I’ve worked here for years and this is only the second time I’ve been down here’

My throat had begun to get very dry. ‘Bloody hell, how did I manage to blag this?’ I thought to myself.

Quiet again. Simon began by asking the kids about their paintings in school. To what extent their own individual pieces and then the group piece matched the original. He then studied the original with them, and got the students to look specifically for things they had not spotted in their reproductions and paintings. He then drew their attention to the contorted female face on the left. Why?

The students responded

‘She could have been dead.’

Three Dancers (detail) showing thickness of paint surface left hand side

Three Dancers (detail) showing thickness of paint surface left hand side

‘Shot … or’

‘Diseased’

‘What kind of disease?’

‘Aids? … Yeah maybe he wished she had Aids’

‘But what kind of person would wish that on someone?’

‘Someone that hated them’

The Story

And so the story began to unfold …

Just over seven feet high, Picasso painted ‘The Three Dancers’ in spring 1925 in Paris. X-ray images show a much more conventional painting of three more rounded realistic figures beneath. Something had happened to cause Picasso to make a new start and take a more drastic direction. The backdrop to this was his rapidly disintegrating relationship with his wife Olga Kokhlova, a Russian ballet dancer with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The ‘something’ was a death. That of one of Picasso’s oldest friends from his youth in Barcelona, Ramon Pichot. In fact Picasso once said ‘While I was painting this picture an old freind of mine, Ramon Pichot died. I have always felt that it should be called ‘Death of Pichot’ rather than ‘Three Dancers’’

Pichot (or his ghost) appears in the painting as the ghostly black sillhouette on the right. He is significant, because to Picasso, Pichot had been a link back to his formative years in the Catalunyan capital. He was one of a group of regulars at a bar known as Els Quatre Gats, (‘The Four Cats’ which you can still eat and drink at today) When it opened in 1897 it became the centre of the cultural movement known as Modernismo. Another regular was Carles Casagemas. Casagemas and Picasso, who were almost the same age became very close friends. Indeed, at the turn of the century they were sharing a studio for which Casagemas apparently paid.

At the time of his death, Pichot was married – Now this is where it gets interesting or messy depending on your point of view – to none other than Germaine Gargallo: love interest and ultimately subject of obsession, twenty five years earlier of Picasso’s best but increasingly unstable friend, Casagemas. In 1901, while Picasso was in Madrid and his friend in Paris, Germaine finally spurned Casegemas’ advances. He, in response, invites friends, including Germaine for a meal on the Boulevard De Clichy, at the end of which, he stands, produces a pistol which he aims at Germaine and fires. She avoids the bullet and has the sense to stay down and feign injury, whereupon Casagemas turns the pistol to his own right temple. This time he doesn’t miss. His autopsy reveals he was impotent.

Picasso later says that it is Casagemas’suicide that prompts his ‘Blue Period’ and indeed, Casagemas appears in a number of paintings from this era, for example, ‘La Vie’.

‘Alright, let’s get back to the painting and the figures it shows and see if we can tell who they are’

‘ The left has got to be Germaine, Sir’

‘Good. what about the others?

In what strikes me as an innovative move, Simon has invited some of the kids out in front of the painting to get into the positions held by the protagonists and ‘act out the picture’ Top Banana: some Kinaesthetic Learning. Excellent! We have Pichot with his big nose who seems to be part of the futuristic, stylised brown and white figure. To the left, the grinning, grimacing, diseased, gun-shot head of Germaine.

‘Now try to get into that same arched position. How is it?’

‘Painful’

‘Now who’s going to be the middle figure of Olga, Picasso’s wife the ballet dancer?’

Simon picks one of the lads.

‘Come up’ encourages Simon. Our volunteer obliges, and goes on to attempt the stance.

‘Good!’ He has just about been able to clasp hands with his two colleagues.

‘That’s it. Now you’ve got to get your left leg back here … kick it back, that’s it kick it right back!….

I had seen too late what was coming. A perfectly executed back kick, with the knee tucked under the mid section, shoulders square looking away from his opponent (painting) delivering full power through the heel of his flexed foot. Good rotation, balance, strength. Ten out of ten. Jackie Chan would have been proud.

Boom!

The hollow noise as foot contacted with painting reverberated around the stores. As it did, the frame of the painting and the piece of perspex protecting it (thank God it wasn’t glazed!) flexed crazily, like some insane wobble board. I remember the reflected light flashing up and down the painting until it finally settled which took an appallingly long time for it to do.

Simon flashed me a glance which said ‘What the fuck are we going to do?’

I flashed him a glance which said ‘We? What do you mean We? What the fuck are YOU going to do?’

Simon’s face went from white, to grey to a sickly green, like a ghastly traffic light.

Now it may interest you to know that ‘the Three Dancers’ is one of the Tate’s most fragile and friable pieces of work. You may not have noticed, but it never goes out on loan. Nor will it. ‘The Three Dancers’ is an Art conservationist’s nightmare. In fact, the gallery and its powerful conservation staff actively limit its exposure to light to slow down future changes and to preserve this already unstable work for future generations. Picasso, the little rascal enjoyed using commercial oil-based paints which would have had quite different properties to artists’ oil paint. They would have been machine rather than hand ground for a start and not designed for permanence of colour. If you can, take a close look at ‘The Three Dancers’ next time you see it. There some decidedly ropey looking bits and some large cracks. When asked in 1965 about cracks already apparent in the paint surface, Picasso said ‘some people might want to touch them out but I think they add to the painting. On the face you see how they reveal the eye that was originally painted under­neath’ He seemed to relish the notion that the viewer now had a glimpse into how he created his work. But I wonder how he would have reacted to it being used for Taekwondo sparring practice?

‘Thank Christ!’ Simon croaked, when it became clear that for some inexplicable reason, the surface of the picture (which is what I had feared for) was alright. I had a mind’s eye image of a perfectly preserved frame and perspex panel featuring at its bottom, a dusty pile of rubble.

‘WellgreatSimonI’msureweallenjoyedthatdidn’twe?Nowit’sprobablytimeforustomakeamove’ I spluttered.

A voice: ‘Okay then?’

I froze: Stan! The storeman was making his way back to us.

‘Everything Okay? I mean you’ve not damaged it have you?’ Laughed Stan.

‘You’ve got no idea ….’ I thought.

Simon went through his traffic-light sequence once again, and we made to leave. Stan none the wiser.

We went back up to Level One, where I thanked Simon for his valuable input, and  without another word about what had just happened, he departed.

It was time to get out of there PDQ, so I assembled the kids and made for the bus and home ….

I must say, afterwards I spent a nervous couple weeks, half expecting a letter to delivered to me at school from the Tate’s lawyers, Withers, Linklaters, Brachers demanding to know whether any of our students had touched the picture and if so, requesting an initial payment of $100,000 to cover the cost of repairs.

I am sure Picasso would have been amused. I can hear him laughing: ‘Ug ug ug ug ug!’

 

© Andy Daly 2014

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Beards

And another thing.

Beards.

What the fuck happened?

Last week all the male models, footballers and  celebrities that people our dull lives were clean shaven and facially well groomed. This week everyone is wearing varying amounts of silly face lace. Or so it seems.

I have looked forward to the resurgence of the fashion for facial hair on men with the same kind of lumpen dread I have awaited the return of Loon Pants and Feather Cuts.

I’ve got to come clean. I hate  beards.  There is something inherently wrong with them; as if the wearer has something to hide (perhaps bits of leftover breakfast, like Roald Dahl’s Mr. Twit.)

mr-twit

And what about the Upside Down Heads?

You know.

Those who insist on shaving their heads while growing luxuriant facial hair, giving the viewer the disconcerting feeling that their heads have been inverted.

For my sins I have never allowed more than a few days growth to accumulate since I was 17. The longest I have been without a shave is when I was in hospital in 2011; when I learned to my horror that despite an (almost) full head of hair which is still (almost) its original colour, my ‘beard’ was whiter than a polar bear using Daz in a snowstorm.

A  freind posted on Facebook recently

‘Should I trust a man who refuses home-baked cake?’

My reply was unequivocal.

‘Absolutely not. I’ll bet his hair doesn’t blow about when it’s windy either’

‘Andy, he doesn’t have any hair. but he has a beard’

I rest my case.
© Andy Daly 2014

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Botox Gives Me The Needle

Continue reading

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Fluttering To Deceive

A funny thing happens the other day. My youngest and his girlfriend Sunita go out to the movies. Afterwards, she stays the night as she sometime does. Continue reading

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Coat tales. Art in Newcastle

Author’s Note: Caution – Some aspects of this post may not be suitable for younger children or those of a nervous disposition. It details actions of my former self which are neither big nor clever.

Long ago, back in the day when Dizzee Rascal was just a Rascal, I was an Art student in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Now I don’t know whether you’ve ever been to Newcastle in the winter, but it is, to use the correct meteorological term, bloody freezing. Therefore, it is essential to be in possession of a good coat to keep the bitter cold at bay. Unless of course you come from Newcastle; in which case it is essential to be in possession of a good vest or cap-sleeved T Shirt. For if you weren’t aware, Geordies are innoculated against feeling the cold at birth and that is why flimsy garments, summer dresses and bare feet are common sights on the town (or ‘Toon’ as it is more correctly known) in mid-winter.

I studied Fine Art at the University. The department, originally the King Edward VII School of Fine Art was housed in a building to the south east of the university quadrangle, once of the former Kings College, University of Durham. I say ‘housed’, in fact it was partly housed; namely The draughty Library, frosty gallery, chilly workshops and studios, in this imposing 1913 structure with its bronze statue of King Edward VII installed in the niche above the King’s Road entrance, wrought iron gates and tower with a double-arched gateway. The rest (cold offices and even nippier workshops and studios) were to be found in an icy Modernist white cube, tacked on to the original building.

Quadrangle

Fine Art Department (Modernist White Cube out of sight behind)

In the first year, we were ‘taught ‘(and I use the term loosely here) together in a large warehouse of a studio in the new block. We were a strange bunch: a disparate crew of potential artists-in-the-making, all at different stages in our understanding of Art, what it was, what it might be, and how we fit in to the ‘big picture’ (No pun intended) All issues I have to say, the Fine Art course of the time singularly failed to confront.

As a group, we didn’t gel. I used to look at other year groups and compare: they would meet up at breaktime, sit and have a coffee, chat, socialise – bask in the glow; the result of the heady mixture of wonderment, envy and hate with which other students saw us. We seemed to take it all too seriously, hid away and were ‘tortured’. I gave up with them about half way through the first term. The lasting friendships I made from that time were with people studying ‘sensible’ subjects like Law, History and English.

Until, that was, I discovered – almost too late in the day – ‘The Poly’ (Remember them? AKA Newcastle Polytechnic, now the University of Northumbria) Here, with partner in crime and Blood Brother, Skull Murphy I found that there was indeed life during, as well as after Fine Art. But that’s another story.

The tale I am about to recount is of a spell in my first year 1979-80. It was late November and it was cold. I used to wear a ‘Donkey Jacket’. For those of you who have never come across one, they were workmens’ jackets which became popular in the nineteenth century. Unlined and typically of black or dark blue wool, the ‘Donkey Jacket’ usually had two spacious hip pockets, occasionally an inside ‘poacher’s pocket’ (whatever that was) and a reinforcement panel across the shoulders. This panel may be plain black, grey or in recent years, fluorescent orange or yellow (sometimes with the company name stencilled across) in an effort to increase visibility. I never quite managed the dizzy heights of a fluorescent panel, mine was just plain black. As to the significance of the name? I think it is probably a reference to the wearer – the type of worker and the kind of job expected of him: in other words The ‘Donkey Work’.

Guess What?

Anyway, back to the tale. It was bloody cold, and the point was that – as you will know if you were paying attention – the Donkey Jacket: trusty, fine exemplar of British Working Class attire though it may have been, was an ‘unlined ‘garment. So, even when buttoned up, my Donkey Jacket let howling gales of icy cold Easterly wind which swept directly off the Siberian steppes straight through my coat into direct contact with my navel and midriff. I took to wearing it with a jacket underneath, but I was still cold.

Then one evening, I was in our studio, with one of my fellow artists, Anne, having a wander around the cavernous hole, looking at everyone’s work: sketchbooks, drawings, colour studies, paintings, as well as notes on paper, models and maquettes. It lay where they had left it at day’s end (with either a four-minute warning or a call to the pub by the looks of it) on desks, the floor and/or pinned to the wall or screens in their respective studio spaces.

If I can be serious for a minute, there really is something magical about looking at artists’ and designers’ workplaces. To be able to browse through the visual distillations of their thoughts and ideas as expressed in tentative first marks/sketches: wobbly-legged initial attempts at solving the visual problems they have been posed. Sketches, notes, books and art artefacts, some finished others not; complemented with doodles, reminders, visual references – a bus ticket, a bottle top, a scrap of a hotel menu and contextual relationships with a particular artist or artists’ work. Genuine treasure troves – and always so different to each other: from the obsessively tidy, to the manically unkempt, they are a reflection of their owners’ approach to the creative process. Looking at the visual traces of the development of an artist or designer’s ideas – no matter how insignificant they may be, is something I regard as a privilege:

And how generous and trusting: to leave one’s inner thoughts for all and sundry to see. I bet there weren’t many other departments in the university on that November evening which you could step into off the street and immediately get such an intimate snapshot of how a particular student or group of students were responding to a task set.

I think that now, but of course I didn’t think that then. Then it was more a case of ‘Howay, let’s get to the pub, I’m freezin’ Likewise, not everyone’s workspace was blessed with the kind of visual treats I have waxed lyrical about above. Take mine, for instance. As I recall, it had very little of anything to show. I don’t actually remember the project title, but it would have been something like ‘Object and Environment’ and was clearly an attempt to elicit responses from us to the likes of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Ready Mades’ which aside from using materials in an innovative way – in a sense to represent themselves, had started to (and still do) ask all sorts of awkward questions of the received aesthetic script that was Modernism.

Now, in 1979, although familiar with Marcel Duchamp’s work (I had even seen some of it) had I been asked as my ‘Starter for ten’ to explain the above, I would have been found sadly lacking. In the event, I wound up by making a surprisingly elegant sculpture out of broken chairs from the refectory which took me all of 5 minutes to plan and execute and was as Modernist as you can get.

‘Fountain’ Marcel Duchamp 1917

I didn’t have a bloody clue.

The walk round the studio was punctuated by having to negotiate several large piles of rubbish, for the initial stages of the project seemed to induce in some people, (Yours Truly included) a kind of ’Skip Fever’ in which the contents of, apparently, every skip within a two-mile radius were brought back to the studio as potential source material. I had recreated part of a skip I had found behind the Playhouse.

Rubbish

‘Why?’ I can hear you ask: Why indeed. Anne called me over to look at Caligula’s work. That wasn’t his real name. In fact, I don’t recall why she called him that, unless it was because he looked like John Hurt, the actor who played the character in the ‘70s BBC dramatisation of Graves’ book ‘I Claudius’. Whatever, the case – if only for a brief period, the name stuck. Caligula it was.

‘Bloody Hell’ She says ‘Would you look at that’. She was pointing in the direction of Caligula’s workspace. ‘What a bloody mess. I don’t know how he works here!’ It was a tip. Literally. For it seems as though Caligula, cold sweat, heart racing, stricken, like me with ‘Skip Fever’ had done the same thing, but on a massive scale. Either that or together, the students in his area of the studio were doing some serious collecting, dumping their stuff near his table. The pile was now threatening to engulf his desk. Despite all this, Caligula appeared to be, if memory serves correct – and I think it does, making a small painting of an apple, the subject of which was hanging on a string suspended from the ceiling.

‘What do you think of the painting?’ Anne asked me.

Hmmm?… What?’ Something had caught my eye. In amongst all the clutter and debris was the obligatory shopping trolley. Hanging out over the back of the trolley was what looked like a donkey jacket. I had a closer peek. Well, it was slightly more than an ordinary donkey jacket. It was a much heavier fabric, slightly longer … and it was lined! The lining was torn on one side, admittedly, but there was definitely a lining. Before I knew it, I was trying it on. A perfect fit! (Not often words found in the same sentence when it applies to Yours Truly and clothes) … but more to the point it was warm!

Art – or is it the other way round? See how difficult it is?

‘What do you reckon?’ Do you think it looks like rubbish? I asked Anne. ‘Aye, it looks like bloody rubbish from where I’m standing’

‘No, what I mean is do you: 1) think it’s someone’s real jacket and that has been inadvertently left here? Do you: 2) think its ‘Art Rubbish’ that is part of a combination of real objects, intended to elicit responses about ‘What makes art Art and what makes rubbish Rubbish? Or do you: 3) think its real rubb……..’

‘I know what you mean, idiot. I think its real rubbish. Anyway, man, who’s going to care about a scavvy bit of material like that?’

True: and so, without another moment’s thought, I put it on, and immediately felt warm as toast. Done deal! And off we went.

Now it came to pass that some months later, around March the following year I guess, that I was in the University Student Union one night. We didn’t go there often, preferring to drink, go to nightclubs or see bands at other venues in the town such as The Strawberry, The Spital, Crown Posada, The Forth, The Bridge, Balmbras, The Bacchus,The Belle Grove, The Royal Bar, The Newcastle Arms, The Prince of Wales, The Leazes, Trent House, Red House, The Lonsdale, The Baltic, The Mill, The Percy and The Hotspur (but only if desperate) The Stage Door, Tiffany’s,The Poly, The Cooperage,The Buffs Club, The Bier Keller, The Mayfair etc. Not that we went out much…

However, on Friday nights, The Union did used to do a fairly decent disco. Anyway, whatever the reason, band or disco, I was in The Union and at one point, towards the end of the evening found myself in the Gents toilets – I have to admit, dear Reader, rather the worse for wear. Mind you, I was still a long way off the loss of control of bodily functions stage, and hadn’t yet started with the ’Bedroom Whirlies’, I could have got home unaided without stops to sleep in skips, bus shelters etc, but I would have had trouble ordering in the Stanhope St. Chippy or refusing another drink. I stood at the urinals, pondering the above, casually wondering where the evening would take me, when I became suddenly aware that I was not alone. At the other end of the urinal was a crooked, decidedly unkempt figure. He definitely had the ‘Whirlies’, for with cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, he reeled backwards and forwards trying to maintain his balance as he relieved himself.

Recognition. It dawned on me who it was: Caligula! Oh shit! And guess what I was wearing?

Probably conscious of my gaze, Caligula slowly turned and looked. He reeled backwards as he did so and in adjusting his position found he had turned his head too far. He made to bring it back. This time, he tipped forwards, regaining his balance just in time to prevent falling (still relieving himself, cigarette still hanging from the corner of his mouth):

‘Aaallrrrougtthhh?’ He said Trans: ‘Alright?’

I replied: ‘Alright?’ Which I felt to be the closest approximation. I still had no idea whether he even recognised me. Any further doubts on this score were firmly put to rest when he let go of himself with one hand and (thankfully, for I feared for the jacket he was wearing as the glowing cigarette tip was getting longer and more and more fragile) took a long pull on the ciggy, caught hold of himself again and looked at me once more. His eyes had narrowed to the tiniest slits, bothered as they were by the wisps of smoke as they sidled up the side of his face. His body swayed backwards and forwards as, unable to get a response from his eyes, he tried to focus on me ‘the long way round’

‘Ey! Thath’s my futthen coa…’ Trans: ‘Hey that’s my fucking coa…’

Without thinking I blurted out:

‘Yeah, and you know what? It’s a disgrace the lining’s all ripped on one side. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be expected to wear it in this condition’

Still rocking and rolling:

‘S’my futhecoaaa..ey! Fyoouwannit yu cannavit. Y’heear me? Fyoouwannit yu cannavit. Annever licchtet anywaaaah, phut!’

Trans: ‘Its my fucking coat. If you want it you can have it. Do you hear me? If you want it you can have it. I never liked it anyway, phut!

And with that, he spat into the trough and I made my exit.

Which is where the story should have ended, except for the fact that the remainder of my relationship with the coat was to be short-lived; as in a wholly appropriate turn of events, someone nicked the coat from me a few weeks later at a party in Benwell.

And what of the coat’s original, and as it happens, rightful owner? Well, if you were to ‘Google’ The Fine Art Department, part of the School of Arts and Cultures, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne; there you would find details about its staff, and in particular, its current Professor, a renowned sculptor, whose work is a ‘response to the materiality of landscape.’

What it doesn’t say much about is that some years ago, he, himself was a student at the University’s Fine Art Department.

In fact, he was in my year.

Now, I’m saying nothing else on the subject, except to point out that a difference of opinion over the semantics of Rubbish meant that during the winter of 1979-80, I was a few degrees warmer than him.

© Andy Daly 2010

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REMEMBERING LUCY

Let me tell you about Lucy. Continue reading

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Frankenstein’s Monster

It’s a good thing we can’t see into the future.
If I’d have known that one day I would be totally reliant on two Titanium rods implanted into the deepest, darkest recesses of my brain, that these would be wired up beneath my scalp, down my neck connecting to a battery/pulse generator implanted in my chest , I would have been horrified.
It always freaked me out as a kid. You know, that part man, part machine thing. I blame Dr Who; which I watched from William Hartnell to John Pertwee. It was that bloody Davros character half man half dalek that did it. Yep, the thought of it would have kept me wake at nights for years.
But we adapt, and now it seems the most natural thing in the world.
And so today. Lovely and sunny, I decide to go for my usual walk around the park and nature reserve at the end of our street – without my stick.
Ever had a bad idea?
I should explain. I don’t use my stick to rest on or take my weight at any point. I use it to create ‘cues’ (A bit of Conductive Education here) I tend to swing it in front of me, presenting a target for my left and right foot in turn to kick. In this way, I am able to create a rhythmic movement of my legs which approximates steps and allows me to perambulate, albeit with a clumsy gait, even when the oral drugs I take have ceased to be effective and I am in what we in the business call an ‘Off’ state.
I am doing quite well until on the way back I go ‘off’. One of the particlar ideosyncrasies of the way Deep Brain Stimulation works for me is that when the oral medication is working, my gait is adversely affected by an increase in stimulation; so I have to wait for a ‘sweet spot’ in my two hourly medication cycle such that the tailing off of the L Dopa allows me to increase stimulation and as a result, it enables me to walk. As I have said though, it ain’t pretty. I’ll try and describe how it feels as I go ‘Off’. I begin to feel like all my strength and energy are being sapped, meanwhile the muscles of my neck lock up, my jaw becomes set and my head feels like it weighs a ton. Arms and legs stop responding to all but the ‘biggest’ movements, fine motor control is shot. I start to overheat as my body loses its ability to regulate its temperature. Any aches and pains I have got are magnified x 2
The absence of stick proves more problematic than I had anticipated, I start to stumble and my footsteps start to run away with me (Festinating Gait it’s called – lovely phrase isn’t it?) I have to think of a suitable ‘cue’ to control this. I finish up by marching, calling ‘left right’ in my head and swinging the opposite arm, the ‘cue’ being the lower arm seen from the corner of each eye in turn.

Handsome eh?

Handsome eh?

It is when turning a corner I discover that my head follows my body without moving, rather than looking into the corner as you would normally. Marching, arms straight, with my big steel toe-capped boots, frozen Parkinson’s mask- face and surgery scars (which look like OS map symbols for a railway embankment or cutting), I am struck by how much I must resemble Frankenstein.
Or rather Frankenstein’s monster as immortalised in Boris Karloff ‘s portrayal in the 1931 movie ‘Frankenstein.’ The creature almost always appears as gruesome figure, with a flat square-shaped head and bolts to serve as electrical connectors or grotesque electrodes on his neck, and thick, heavy boots, causing him to walk with an awkward, stiff-legged gait. It sounds awfully familiar …
Now did you know that to this day, the image of Karloff’s face is owned by his daughter’s company, Karloff Enterprises?
Neither did I.

© Andy Daly 2014

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Ellen: A very short story

“One of these days I’m going to quit my job, get rid of all my shit, become a hobo and learn how to play the harmonica”
Which is exactly what Ellen did. Now, when you walk out of Arizona in order to start a new life, how do you decide where to go? Simple. Ellen pinned a map of the world on the wall, turned her back and tossed a dart over her shoulder at it. This was how she fetched up in Italy, a place called Cassole, she fell in love with it; adored how everywhere you looked was the background to a Renaissance painting.
There was a bar on the piazza. Occasionally, when they were short-staffed Ellen did a bit of waitressing. Sometimes after a glass too many, she would take out her old harmonica.
And play the blues.

IMG_0963

© Andy Daly 2014

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Birds Of A Feather

Well, you could have knocked me down with one when I get a knock on the door the other day from Gill, Rog and Bully Beef Bullard; buddies from my days in the old chalk and talk dodge.
It turns out that they are up for a day’s ‘twitching’ down at the Barnes Wetlands Centre. Well I am quite the Ornithologist when I am in short trousers, Olivia Newton-John rides high in the charts with ‘Take Me Home Country Road’ and I pride myself with knowing my Widgeon from my Wagtails. So without further ado I join the intrepid threesome as we make our way over to Barnes.

London_Wetland

 

Now I’m no expert but it seems to me they make a pretty decent job of the Wetlands Centre. Especially when you consider that Hammersmith is about a mile away as the crow flies (so to speak) For all you know you could be in the middle of the countryside; at least I imagine that is what it is like – having a serious allergy to the countryside, I tend to avoid all things pastoral and green.
So here we are with lots of water and plants called reeds, and away in the distance some white specks; which could be ducks, geese or shoppers on Hammersmith Broadway, it is difficult to say as I forget my binoculars.
However, help is at hand in the form of one of the Wetland Centre gadgies. These guys tend to hide out in the hides (as it were) and pounce on unsuspecting ‘Twitchers’ to point out some noteworthy species with the aid of an unfeasibly powerful telescope.

The London Wetland Centre Celebrate Their 10th Anniversary

Like today.
‘See the Peregrine Falcon?’
‘Oh yes’ I lie.
I can see nothing but some lousy rooftops and satellite dishes. I can’t even get those in focus. My companions have a try.
While they attempt to catch sight of the falcon, I am perusing a bird identification chart when I am reminded of a funny incident which happens at the Mount Vernon Hospital Altzheimers and Parkinson’s Group Christmas Party. (Not a runaway success: the Altzheimers patients forget where it is and by the time they get there the Parkinson’s paitients are spilling most of the food and drink on the floor.)
Anyway, one of the Speech Therapy consultants is wearing an unusual dress. It is decorated with pictures of British birds, not unlike the identification chart I am looking at. The guy in front of me seems to be taking quite an interest and is beginning to do a bit of bird spotting of his own (I think you may be ahead of me here …) The silence that falls when he asks if he can ‘See if she has any Tits’ is the kind of silence you can slice with a knife. It is mercifully cut short by the singing of Christmas carols (although personally I think on balance I prefer the embarrassed silence.)
Gill, Rog and Bully Beef Bullard and I compare notes about the roof tops and satellite dishes we each see through the telescope as we retire to the relative safety of the café where we sit and over tea and sandwiches discuss the migratory patterns of small children in ‘high-vis’ vests and the distinctive calls and cries of their teachers. Perhaps we get a bit nostalgic, between us taking school trips a’plenty back in the day.
All in all a good day out, Peregrine Falcon notwithstanding, though I would be tempted to give the Mount Vernon Altzheimers and Parkinson’s Group Christmas Party a wide berth.

© Andy Daly 2014

A Peregrine Falcon. Not the Peregrine Falcon

A Peregrine Falcon. Not the Peregrine Falcon

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Did You Know?

Guess where I am going to?
I’ll give you a clue. It begins with ‘H’.
Hell?
No, but you are close.
Of course, it’s Hospital!
This time the surreal nonsense begins in the cab. The driver furnishes me with all manner of interesting facts. Such as:
“Did you know the human body can live for 40 days without water?”
“Really?”
“Or is it food? Yeah, must be food….”
“Well, I suppose, if Jesus did it ….”
“Did he? He done all that then?”
“Well, according to the Bible, 40 days and 40 nights in the desert …”
“That must be Lent then? When you give up chocolate? Just imagine 40 days and 40 nights without chocolate. It’s a good job Easter falls when it does”.

It's just as well Easter falls when id does: Chocolate Jesus

It’s just as well Easter falls when it does: Chocolate Jesus

 

© Andy Daly 2014

 

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