Despite being a giddy kipper about meeting up in London with my oldest friend (not oldest in birthday cake candles, but the friend I have known since school days) I leave my flat feeling frustrated; my soul-saving sea view is being obliterated by scaffolding which rapidly and noisily creeps across the front of the building as I pack my bag. In a second floor flat, you don’t expect to see a tanned young scaffolder grinning through your bedroom window. My hackles are raised.
The madness of London life strangely soothes away vexation and I immediately feel both at home and comfortably alien in the West End. Back in the day I worked in Berkeley Square, so Green Park tube station was my daily destination. I shamelessly people-watch while I wait for my friend to appear and marvel at the use of contactless technology that has replaced travel cards on the tube – when did this happen?
In all those years of London living, I only entered the National Gallery once, so knowing me better than I know myself, and knowing art even better, best friend clearly knows that the Summer Show at the Royal Academy will be just the sort of bonkers experience that I will be able to access. We make straight for the cafe, knowing that we’ll need a couple of hours of careless chat before embarking on some culture.
BF has always been able to join the dots for me – pulling me back in when I lose the thread of a meandering story; listening more than I talk and cutting through fudge and flannel when I try to dodge the trajectory of any learning curve. As always we take up where we last left off. I love this girl.
‘One last thing before we start the exhibition,’ she says, draining her latte, ‘I’ve got a new dragonfly design for your blog.’ Here am I coming to see some art and instead, I’m sitting, receiving it as a gift. Her son, my God Son*, has worked up a new design for me. This is better than walking away with my own RA exhibit. Gob smacked, I actually stop talking; leaky eyes kick in. She pretends not to notice and we leave the cafe at last.
The exhibition doesn’t disappoint in terms of being bonkers. It may have taken 250 years for me to get my cultural lardy arse into gear and enter the Academy, but now I’m here I love Grayson Perry for making it so joyful and barking mad. I love the fact that any humble Joe can exhibit. It’s oddball, it’s yellow and it’s extreme. I love the fact that some things that even I might have knocked together – something that looks like a desk tidy, or a bit of crushed recycling for instance, are curated alongside work from goddess Emin and my Lordship Hockney. In what other world would a big blob of papier mache engulf an ironing board or my eye be drawn to a painting of a man’s cauterised willy? – at least I think that’s what I am viewing.
I’m transfixed by a moving image of a man and a woman emerging from pinpoint opposite directions on a desert landscape, walking slowly towards the camera, united and purposeful until they almost walk through the camera lens itself, and the pinpoints emerge again. ‘You’re drawn to it because that’s what you’re looking for, ‘ BF sagely comments as she saunters off to examine a pile of colourfully painted twigs. I’m so transparent, I should hang myself on one of the walls and see if anyone wants to make an offer.
Over coffee BF told me that when she first saw Van Gough’s self portrait she found herself crying, its impact had been so guttural. I said I couldn’t imagine a painting having that effect on me – music perhaps, but not art. She leads me into the Great Spectacle and we look at paintings spanning 250 years. I’m drawn to one – can’t remember the painter but know BF will when I ask her – a rural landscape with a naked woman lying in child’s pose; the title is something like Lament for Lost Youth and I read that the artist painted it after his daughter’s fiancé didn’t return from the First World War. The lady appears so vulnerable and exposed and I can see her future has been snatched away. Friend appears by my side and says, ‘Got you,’ as she passes me a tissue so I can pretend I’m not crying.
I think we’re done, but no, BF tells me that you should always reverse your steps back through an exhibition, go round backwards to give yourself a different perspective on the show. ‘You’ll see different things,’ she says. I’ve always used this approach in IKEA for I’m a secret subversive and these days try to take more risks, but I’m unprepared for the exhibits I had not noticed on the first circuit. Exhibits like a huge pink panther and a really clever sculpture made from broken china cups – like an older and genderless Chips ( love child of Mrs Potts) from ‘Beauty & the Beast’. I love the cup handle projecting from its forehead and think how useful an addition this would be on humans, it would give new resonance to picking someone up. Perhaps BF has always been able to visualise my forehead handle and this is why we are friends for life.
We leave and finish the day with afternoon tea in a West End mews – champagne flavoured with Earl Grey tea (like contactless tube tickets, who knew?) so even afternoon tea has gone bonkers in a good way. Grayson Perry come and join us.
It was just a day trip, but I return to my flat refreshed. Spending time with BF always does this to me, I hope she feels the same way. I’m going to load my limited edition dragonfly onto this blog and, in other news, as soon as I woke this morning, I realised that my ugly scaffolding provides the perfect opportunity to get out and clean my windows. I’ve been out there already, I hate heights but secretly liked the fact that people walking on the prom must have thought I was making quite an exhibit of myself. I’m loving my new, clean perspective – it will be even better when the scaffolding comes down.