So, it’s been a year since I entered the dark castle of Watford General Hospital to dispose of my cancerous kidney. I remember it being quite cold and grey back then, whilst today we bask in unseasonal sunshine betraying our planet’s decline - like the cheery whistle of a smiling undertaker.
The Dark Castle of Watford General
Post cancer, you gradually pick up on regular life stuff again but the way you engage, your perspective on everything, is subtly changed. Fatigue is a thing that seems to endure – maybe my crazy intolerance-diet thing is part of that too – you just get tired a lot easier and if you push too hard, can get quite lightheaded and slightly dizzy.
Priorities shift – the stuff you value, what seems important or not. There’s kind of an added relish to those shared moments of wonder, travel and creation – you just need to keep a check on how much you indulge – backroom kicks can appear appealing at times! It’s like there’s a little bacchanalian devil on your shoulder – we get on OK.
The cool side of work is still cool – creating these festival moments, inclusive projects and exhibitions – I love being part of that, adding to the everyday cultural tapestry of the district and its creatives. I’m probably slightly less tolerant of individuals and institutions that don’t really get the importance of the grassroots scene though, our street-world view. I can’t be bothered with trying to persuade them anymore, life’s too short, just count to ten and move on.
I’m also probably choosier when it comes to gigs or projects for our bands and for my other artistic ventures as well – I have a clearer vision than ever about what interests me and what doesn’t – I veer away from anything that feels like competition, it just turns me off. It’s the quirky, the crazy, the funny little corners that intrigue and hold alure. The collaboration and the journey are right up there with the outcome or performance – these are the things that enrich us.
We went into London Saturday for a little culture fix – first time in a few months. We were alarmed to find that all trains were cancelled when we got to St Albans Station as the replacement bus services seemed unlikely to be able to get us there in time for our allotted timeslot at Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms (Tate Modern). We hopped the bus to Potters Bar and then in via Finsbury Park to Blackfriars, arriving amazingly just 30 minutes late – the guy at the door just cordially shrugged ‘better late than never’ – we were in.
Justine in an Infinity Room
These rooms are at once magical and wonderous whilst offering a sobering perspective on the transient speck of dust that we are – just another polka dot in a multitude-universe of polka dots. You are momentarily lost, absorbed, as one with it all – pretty awesome stuff.
Whilst there, we decided to check out the Philip Guston exhibition. I have to admit I didn’t really know of his work prior, but it was a cool collection without doubt. The irony from my perspective is that I found his most celebrated period (the abstract years) to be a bit lacklustre, whilst the work that followed in the final two rooms had the greatest vitality, insight and on occasion humour. This latter work was apparently much frowned upon by the art establishment of the day and remained relatively unrecognised or viewed until he was in the grave (at 66).
Philip Guston Exhibition
I have read since that the Tate actually cancelled a planned exhibition of his several years ago around concerns that the public might misunderstand his hooded figures and perceive them to be in some way celebratory of the KKK. It’s plain from Guston’s earlier works quite how much his work sought to confront injustice and racism, so I think the Tate programmers back then were hugely underestimating the common sense of the viewing public. The whole point of the little hooded characters going about their mundane days was to remind us quite how embedded, insidious, and institutionalised those outlandish perspectives were, and one doesn’t have to look far to perceive, still are!
We wandered up though Covent Garden to peruse the racks at Fopp. Justine got a selection of interesting jazz and reggae cuts but I couldn’t really find anything that felt essential. By now we were both feeling pretty fatigued so took a little wander in search of wine and seating. We discovered a couple of sweet wine bars on Endell Street – though had to wait a while for one of the pavement tables to vacate. It was a great spot for people watching with a suave Bordeaux and some sweet snacks. We had a couple there before moving on to La Ballerina on Bow Street for some fine Italian fare (in my case vegan, gluten free Fiorentina!).
Pizza at La Ballerina (photo - Justine)
It was at this point that my sense of heady revelry lost all sense of decorum as we jumped a pink neon fur-lined cycle-cab – complete with Evil Knievel style dare-devil driver - down to Embankment, one has to occasionally partake in the pure joy of the absurd.
We finished the night – of course – at the mystical Beany Café, one of my favourite little corners in the world. It’s the rumbling of the overhead trains, the sparkling reflection of the lights on the Thames, the hustle and bustle at the centre of the universe – if you sit long enough you will see all manner of human persuasion pass by – from skater kids to bearded beat poets, shady spies and illicit encounters, royalty, hobos, messiahs, troubadours, the lost, the wild and the not quite sures. It’s a spot for inebriated meditation and setting the world to rights.
The Beany Cafe
We eventually walk hand in hand through the balmy London night of Southbank to catch the rails to West Hamstead and then another replacement bus service back home. As Lou once said, such a perfect day.
I’ll leave you with one of those aforementioned quirky creative corners we discovered at the tail end of the summer – the wonderful Howling Barge sessions (courtesy of Paul) on the fabulous Violet Mary – the kind of place where life makes sense!