The Men Who Stare at Scapegoats…

Gilbert & George – Scapegoating pictures for London (White Cube Bermondsey, Jul-Sep 2014)

How ironic that on the exhibition’s final weekend, I should be staring at Gilbert & George’s latest considerable outpouring on the very same day the UK Government committed the country to a war against IS (Islamic State). This sad news coupled with the unflinching pictures in front of me seemed to go hand-in-hand with one another. It’s easy to see why. For Gilbert & George literally hammer you over the head with an orgy of photographic montages documenting what they perceive as the ever-changing day-to-day life on London’s multi-faith and multi-cultural streets. Similar themes previously visited by the pair in 2005’s ‘Sonofagod’ pictures (detailing a contempt for Christianity), or when they produced the set of ‘Dirty Words Pictures’ back in 1977, during the heyday of Punk and the Queen’s silver jubilee. The mirror they held up to their home on the East London streets in the late seventies was not a pretty place. At the time, George memorably remarked how ‘continental people saw England as a big pile of shit with a Punk rocker waving a swastika on top of it’.  I remember the lasting effect the pictures had on myself after visiting the exhibition marking their 25th anniversary at the Serpentine gallery in 2002. An assortment of cunts, fucks and wankers may still have produced the odd snigger, but it wasn’t the words that offended so much. The underlying melancholy of those pictures showed us how little had changed some 25 years on. After all, weren’t there still drunks, homeless people and prostitutes sharing the same streets as a multitude of office workers marching around like cattle, not to mention all the graffiti, traffic, litter and shit still lying around everywhere? Fast forward to the present…And now it’s Islam’s turn in the Gilbert and George spotlight. Cue a familiar barrage of expletives amidst numerous images of women in black niqabs, often distorted or mirrored, but consistently mixed-in with hundreds of metal canisters, another refrain running through the assemblage. Known as ‘The Whippet,’ these small units (about the size of an index finger) are full of nitrous oxide and nicknamed ‘Hippy crack.’ Users inhaling the laughing gas get a legal high from the contents, before dumping them, often it would seem around the artist’s Fournier Street home just off Brick Lane. Writing in the exhibition catalogue, author Michael Bracewell refers to their appearance as ‘bomb casings or spent ammunition’ and this is undoubtedly one of the most disconcerting links made in the exhibition. Gilbert & GeorgeFor despite a title that suggests an impartial view of modern humanity, the pictures themselves are gross provocations, openly exploiting current tensions, paranoia, victimhood and fundamentalism. Throughout there is a constant connection with numerous images of Muslim’s and the sinister looking whippets. Bombs and Muslim’s? Who are the scapegoats here? By continually making such crass associations aren’t they just playing directly into the hands of those who would choose to exploit some people’s fears of Islam. One of the pictures even highlights calls for an Islamic state of Britain. Gilbert said of the exhibition, “We want our art to bring out the bigot from inside the liberal and conversely to bring out the liberal from inside the bigot.” Yet you can’t help but sense most of these pictures would only bring out more bigots, especially at a time when the rise of Ukip highlights the fears and volatile nature of an increasingly divided political landscape. After the widespread riots of 2011, the artist’s claim the pictures serve as a reminder of London’s alleged ‘temper by challenging opposition to bigotry and so-called free-thinking. But on this occasion, the mirror held up onto the streets appears to have been intentionally broken, with only a set of crude and inflammatory images poking through a crack in the reflection.

 

 

Art Attack

I found the Director lying prostrate across a gallery bench. Tall candles in small glass jars flickered either side of him. His head slumped precariously over one of the corners. A limp right arm hung low. Fingers sagged like dead flowers almost touching the marbled floor. An iPhone snuggled into the middle of his chest. Most of the buttons had been undone on a pale shirt diffused with greying sweat patches. It exposed a sturdy looking vest with reinforced shoulder straps. Four padded cylinders were attached ominously to the bottom of it. A number of tightly wound red and white wires ran higgledy-piggledy across his midriff. On the floor I could just make out a trail of scratch marks as if drawn by an exuberant child. Evidence of where the elongated seat had been dragged from. Now it rested directly underneath his favourite painting. Wallis’s masterpiece. Somewhat ironically made flesh in a lonely corner of the nineteenth century galleries. As my solitary footsteps slowed to a halt an enormous silence took hold. I gulped quickly a couple of times and took a few deep breaths in-between licking my parched lips. My hands felt clammy. I coughed discreetly over my shoulder. Turning back round, a distinctive whiff of almonds engulfed us…

~~~~~

“This lunatic’s saying he’ll only talk to one person. No-one else. We’ve been trying to get hold of what’s-his-name for the past hour. Trouble is, he’s not picking up or answering emails. So now we’ve had to leave a message with the secretary.”

“OK, thanks sir. Is that where it all started sir?”

“Started?”

“On Twitter sir.”

The Chief Superintendent stared at the slim Television screen attached to a wall bracket in the corner briefly. A large ‘Breaking News’ banner in red ate into his brain. “Oh…ahem, yes he sent a series of threatening tweets. Some with weird hashtag’s…I’ve got them here somewhere, look…’#cutthebranches’ ‘#burnthebough’ and then wait a sec, ”’#bombthegallery’ ‘#iamchatterton’”

“Jesus..you’re quite right sir, agreed the Inspector shaking his head. “This Director’s gone bonkers. Why Chatterton though sir?”

“Oh it’s a painting from their collection. Apparently that’s where he’s holed up. Right next to it. Threatening to blow the entire place to smithereens!”

“Shit! Pardon my language sir, but you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me…and why is he asking for you know who sir?”

“One word. Previous…The Director’s secretary relayed some of it to the Sarge when she put in her two-penneth. I’m sure she’ll give you the low-down when you arrive.”

“Do you have her name sir?”

“Can’t remember. Sarge’ll know. Ask him on your way out. Anyway, you’d better get a move on…so, you know what you’re doing yes?”

“Of course sir”

“By the way, an armed team have been dispatched. They’ll have their own orders. So do not interfere, you hear?”

“Sir!”

“And listen, I don’t want the nation’s art collection floating down the Thames. Understood?”

“Yes sir!!!”

~~~~~

I’d entered from the main entrance leading on to the rotunda. Turning right, I approached through a long and dimly-lit corridor as carefully as I could. Using the glow from the screen of my phone as a guide. A few hours after closing the Director had ordered security to turn out the lights of the main galleries. Said he was doing a ‘spot of research’. They were not to be turned back on without his say-so. Or there would be ‘dire consequences for everyone!’ Those words reverberated as my feet dragged slowly along the floor. An oldster shuffle in the gloom. Whilst every other minute my hand vibrated. I knew who the tweets were from. He’d been bombarding me with the same message for the last hour or so. Like an ill-fated homing beacon. All with the # ‘statemartyr’. Moving closer to him, I passed a gathering of security guards standing with their heads bent in a collective arc. As I negotiated my way through a couple of Tensa barriers, they acknowledged my presence with a few nods of encouragement. Sectioning off the area leading towards the Director seemed a futile effort in the scheme of things.

~~~~~

The skies were a radiant blue as I sat drinking an Americano from a plastic cup on the honeycombed steps of St. Martin’s in the Fields. My secretary was running late with our tickets for Bach’s Violin Concertos. Yoda and the Grim Reaper stood statuesque directly opposite amongst the animated crowd lining the square. Like most of the tourists idling by, I tried to figure out how both of them appeared to be levitating about a foot off the floor. Beside the pair, a lone busker belted out ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” on a weathered acoustic. I hummed along thinking how the song’s title would make a fitting epitaph for a cynic like me. The noise of the big city resonated under a sea of massed bonnets cutting through a seething miasma. Then, all of a sudden, a worn looking mousey blonde, middle-aged woman lost her balance and toppled over directly into the laps of two younger men sitting crossed-legged in front of me. Crying out “Oh my God you guys!” as she fell onto them. They balked at each other as if a large fish had just landed in a rowing boat. Rocking back and forth, she just kept on laughing hysterically like a clown at a fun-fare. At first I was too absorbed in the kerfuffle to notice a hand shaking my right arm. When I glanced sideways my coffee slipped through my fingers. There suspended in my face was the barrel of a very large gun, gripped tightly by a rugged looking Police Officer. He ordered me to stand up. Without warning a couple of heavies swiftly hoisted me on to my feet and pointed towards a line of squad cars assembled nearby.

~~~~~

The Director sniffed loudly and patted his spindly fingers across the top of his head.

“Did they say why I asked for you?”

“They didn’t need to Director”

‘Hmm…What did they say?”

“They said you’d gone round the twist, that your mind was unsound Director”

“Is that what you think too? Are my methods unsound?”

“I’ve never seen any method at all. You know that.”

He re-positioned himself slowly and sat crouching menacingly in the middle of the bench. I stood off to his right-hand side, spying his red-rimmed eyes and mottled skin in the half-light.

“I expected that from you…call yourself a critic!”

“I’m a journalist Director”

“You’re neither! Just a patsy sent by the same people you accuse me of cosy-ing up to!”

“You know my views on public sponsored programmes of state-art. All those black limousines and handshakes. But why are you threatening to do this now…under Chatterton’s poisoned Romanticism Director?”

“I remember when I was at the Whitechapel. It seems a thousand centuries ago now. But there I operated without judgement…without judgement. Because it’s the judgement that kills us”

Suddenly he lifted his left arm towards the middle of his chest. My eyes grew to the size of saucers. I looked down at my trembling hands as the Director fumbled around for something in his trouser pockets. Somewhat abruptly, a flame withered from one of the candles beside us, extinguishing itself with a loud ‘pop.’ The echo resounded eerily throughout the gallery. I held my breath in an even darker shade of dark.

“Do you smoke?” he finally asked…

Manet’s Bar…

 

I am worthless. My name is unimportant. I have no feelings. I feel empty. This path has chosen me. It owns me. Every day is the same. Down in the mire. Defined lines. No expression. An invisible web. Crippled with doubt. Urban ruin. I am a machine. I sell bits of printed paper. Printed paper for the squawking parakeets. The feeding committee. Descending on the desks. They are everywhere. They search for new identities. They run from themselves. Deep into the fabric. Nothing disguised. Horizontally submerged. All mechanical movement. The sixth floor battleground. The cleanser. The cue to attack. In endless waves. Dramatic entrances. Smiles laced with bullets. Flawless professionals. A smoothness around the eye. And then the questions. The incessant questions. Patience and tolerance withering. The verbal onslaught diminishing all resolve. Until a familiar visage returns. The one I always empathise with. That face is never far from my thoughts…

buytickets

I spent the day with C. She is French. With long wavy cherry blossom coloured hair. I guess she is in her early fifties, maybe sixty at a push. She always dresses immaculately. Frilled blouses and pencil skirts. She wears heels and reeks of flowery perfume. She also speaks four other languages. Sometimes all at once. Or at least that’s how it sounds. Often, she makes the visitors look bemused. A small triumph in the maddening rush…

The bottleneck entrance to admissions opens out to a small boxed shaped area. With six desks. Our two were side-by-side. Tucked away directly opposite the others in the right-hand corner. Next to the ticket barrier. It always gets pretty heated. Crammed full of folk in the dingy little den. This is when you need an alert visitor assistant to police them. The impatient mass. Some are better than others. Most prefer to stay aloof. Hiding behind the safety of the gate. As the day wore on, C worked herself up into a tirade against the membership department. Turns out she used to volunteer for them before being sentenced to admissions.

“I tell you the truth, the idiots in there have no clue what they are doing!”

“I volunteered with them for over two years. Trying to help out all the time.

Trying to make improvements. Trying to suggest things you know what I mean?

They should’ve listened to me when I explained what was going wrong.

But they can’t be bothered with anyone else except themselves.

You’d think they’d realise there is something up when the membership is falling every year?

I told them you have to do more.

I told them you have to talk to your members.

I told them to put on more events.

I told them to have more people promoting membership.

But you know what? They always ignored me.

Raising their eyebrows whenever I said something.

In the end, it got to me. Made me very cross you know!”

C’s anger was further compounded after the last recruitment for the membership team. They overlooked her in favour of a young, blonde British girl…It’s simple. Her face doesn’t fit in. A common trait in most art organisations. So much talent goes to waste because some people can’t be bothered to talk to or even acknowledge one another…

buyticketsSome days you just flop out after it’s all over. Lie down. Close your eyes. Try to tune out all the noise…The noise of the last six vapid hours. The noise of the last remaining embers of your life being extinguished. The noise of ticket prices. The noise of combination tickets. The noise of upgraded tickets. The noise of refunds. The noise of exchanges. The noise of gift aid. The noise of tickets being printed. The noise of the ticket barrier going back and forth. The noise of where the toilets are. The noise of what’s on. The noise of do you speak Spanish, French, Italian or Chinese? The noise of the nearest bus stop. The noise of audio guides. The noise of didn’t you used to be free? The noise of school-kids screaming. The noise of what time do you close? The noise of where is the cafe? The noise of boredom. The constant aching noise. And you shouting above the noise to be heard. Buzzing in your head. Owning you. Choosing you. Patience and tolerance withering. The verbal onslaught diminishing all resolve. Until a familiar visage returns. The one you always empathise with. It is never far from your thoughts…

“Next please!”

She lives in the shadows…

“Can I help anyone?”

The shadows of your silence…

“Tickets?”

She waits in a chasm…

“Is anyone waiting to buy a ticket?”

A punchbowl of defeat…

“Hello there”

Engulfed with darkness…

“Yes please…Who’s next?”

The exact same expression as your own…

“Er, yes…what is there to see here exactly?”

Her mask never changes…

“Are you waiting to buy tickets sir?”

Sullen and resigned…

‘That depends…Where am I?”

Lowered and lifeless eyes…

“OK, I’ll get you a map…You’re here sir”

Troubles consume a heartless aspect…

“But I thought it was free to come in?

Alienation is painted like an optical illusion…

“Didn’t it used to be?”

A twisted perspective…

“I’m sure it was the last time I came here”

Is it a mirror?…

“That could only have been a few years ago now!”

The noisy Paris nightlife…

“It was free until about three years ago, yes”

Sleazy cocktails and glittering champagne bottles…

“But not anymore unfortunately”

Behind or facing her…

“Now you’ll need tickets to come in”

The dark clothed Gentleman…

“What does gift aid mean?”

With his familiar top hat…

“It’s a scheme for UK tax payers”

His thick moustache…

“Where we can claim the tax paid on your ticket”

A menacing demeanour…

“Back from the Government”

Inhabiting a darker truth…

“But only with a small donation”

Owning you…

“On top of the standard price sir”

Choosing you…

“Huh, OK I understand…so, two tickets…without donation!”

Her face is always there. Offering reassurance. A mournful outlook. A cold comfort burning up inside. A lingering hope to other lost souls. Bubbling under the surface. On the inside. On the outside…

We are worthless. Our names are unimportant. We have no feelings. We feel empty. This path has chosen us. It owns us. Every day is the same. Down in the mire. Defined lines. No expression. An invisible web. Crippled with doubt. Urban ruin. We are machines. One ticket after another. Diminishing all resolve. Melting. A meaningless refrain.

Las Meninas exhaled the order of things…

Manet’s Bar pours a thousand teardrops…

 

Sausage roll in fridge

 

You are in the hall. It is empty. You have no idea why you’re there. They said be there for seven o’clock. Perhaps it is too early. Maybe you should just go home. After all, they only want to be there because they think it’s ‘cool’ to be there. But the truth is, you’ll just stand alone watching them. Watching them fill their greedy little mouths with nibbles. Nibbles and a glass of red or white. What you’d really like to do is wipe all those phoney smiles off all those smug faces. Maybe tonight’s the night. Bound to be some who mock your piece though. They always crack you up. And yet there you are, nominated for a few words scribbled onto a post-it note. Yes, the night had gathered. And there you were. Waiting for a bunch of fools queuing up to pay lip service…

* * *

They stood huddled together outside the doors to the car park. It was a damp evening, cold and breezy. An crowd of around one hundred people had been shivering for nearly an hour beneath the swaying birch trees, yet still happy to wait for this year’s annual eyebrow raiser in the contemporary art-world. Soon enough a couple of security guards ushered them in through two small doors leading towards the staff entrance. Once inside the huge building, they made their way hurriedly along a narrow corridor and onto the escalators. JP led the line dressed in a media-issue green combat jacket with a white hoodie, low slung faded jeans, white belt and enormous trainers. Upon the moving stairs he turned to his disinterested companion MD, who seemed far too busy checking out his sculpted hair in the glass mirrors on the way up…

What time does it all kick off?”

You wha?”

I said, what time does it start?”

Ah, its usually about 8 I think, well, that’s when it goes out live on Four”

Hey, d‘ya know where you’re sitting yet?”

No idea actually. I just hope it’s not as freezing as it was in here last year! That was outbloodyrageous. Like sitting in a soddin’ igloo!”

No waaaay! But there’s usually enough vino to keep you warm if you know what I‘m saying!” quipped JP whilst putting up his hoodie for extra warmth.

Yeah and hopefully there’ll be a lot more of it to go round this year. Anyway, it’s gonna be interesting who they give it to. I mean no-one’s ever been nominated for a post-it note before! Surely they gotta hand it to G*” chuckled MD fastening the zip on his camouflage jacket.

Isn’t she fab! So inspiring. Anyone could’ve done that, and now whatever happens it’s gonna sell for thousands anyway – she’s awesome!”

Eventually the escalator reached Level 3 where they were immediately greeted by a young, smartly dressed, chirpy sounding gallery assistant.

OK Gents, a very warm welcome to you both. Please follow me to your seats” and with that, she sped off quickly towards the dark chasm of the momentous arena.

It’d better be warm” snapped JP following closely behind.

These days the hall of the former power station doubled as a dramatic entrance and space for performances. The vast monolithic structure stood some 35 metres high and 152 metres long. Stripped of its original steel structure and brickwork, it often resembled an empty cathedral. In here, the junk of urban life could be regularly installed, to ravish everyone with the supposed beauty of new sights and sounds.

An hour later the announcement was imminent…

Ladies and Gentlemen. Please welcome to the stage your host, Mr. Brainwash”.

* * *

You stand there all jittery. Fingernails long bitten down. In a moment it could be you talking in front of them. Accepting the award in their Kingdom. The hordes watching you. Eyes fixed. The engorged vultures. Then the murmurs will begin. They’ll have a field day in the press. They love to slag off the art-world’s freakshow. And you could be a new member of the circus. The one who ‘did’ the post-it note. Forever known as a piss-taking clown.

* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s a great honour to be here tonight.” said Mr. Brainwash from the stage.

This prize has often courted controversy, and I’m pleased to say this year is no exception! So without any further ado – the 2012 winner is…G*!!”

Yeeeeeesssh!” slurred MD dropping his wine glass without a care.

She’s done it! She’s bloody well done it!” blurted out JP jumping to his feet next to him, before knocking over his chair and issuing a high-five into thin air.

However, a few boos and aggressive shouts could be heard from certain sections of the crowd.

It’s a fix! Art my arse! My three year old could’ve done it – she’s taking the piss!”

After a while, the cheers and jeers died down sufficiently for G* to accept her award in front of the expectant mass. Flash lights from an army of mobile phones and cameras went off repeatedly as she began her speech.

Er, well I didn’t expect that!” she said quietly, her hands shaking as she re-positioned the microphone.

It’s been an honour and a privilege to be a part of this years award. I’d like to thank Greggs for giving me the inspiration. I know some people laugh and dismiss my work as everyday rubbish” she then paused a while, coughing nervously into her elbow before eventually regaining some composure, “But that’s exactly the point…Art is the best way to understand our culture.”

* * *

You know this is your moment. Your turn in the headlights. They can shout and stare all they like. A bunch of rabid badgers the lot of ’em. You know this ‘piece’ was neither shocking or significant. This was the day a simple post-it note became a reminder to them.. A beautiful reminder of the inflated values placed on a ‘so-called’ work of art. Just a few simple words scribbled down. Black ink on yellow paper. Today’s left-overs have become tomorrow’s feast.. But is it art they’ll continually say? Yet you no longer care. All these questions of worth and value have no meaning anymore.

* * *

 

 

It’s Pointless! Martin Creed at the Hayward gallery…

 

Martin Creed, Mothers - Work No. 1092 (2011).

Martin Creed, Mothers – Work No. 1092 (2011).

I finally came out of a belated art-hibernation last weekend to catch the final couple of days of former Turner Prize winner Martin Creed’s ‘What’s the point of it?’ retrospective at the Hayward. Although I left there wondering why I’d bothered…After the impressive large rotating neon sign ‘Mothers‘ in the opening room, accompanied by a mesmerising chorus of thirty nine metronomes beating out at different speeds, I ended up quickly losing interest in Creed’s half-baked nonsense. In much the same way that the artist appears to have done with most of his own output…In fact, if I could have summed up the exhibition in one word, it would have been ‘apathetic’. So I went through the motions myself as I made my way round, writing down a few words here and there, gently chuckling at the banality of some cardboard boxes sitting on top of one another, against the sound of blown raspberries emitting from small speakers on the floor. Other works included a few planks of wood piled up, a video of a penis losing its erection, the infamous ‘Lights going on and off‘ (which won him the Turner prize in 2001, and gained instant notoriety in the tabloids), a row of cactus in descending order of height, a mechanised piano opening up and slamming shut and ok, I admit it, one of my pointless favourites, with the self-explanatory title – Work No. 79  Some Blu-Tack kneaded, rolled into a ball, and depressed against a wall (1993). You could almost hear Creed crying with laughter as visitors attempted to contemplate it.

Just old Tack from Martin Creed

Just old Tack – Martin Creed, Work No. 79 (1993).

Mind you, that was nothing compared with the couple of gifts awaiting visitors in the last room; a video of a constipated young girl attempting to shit in a sanitised white room or ‘horrible vomit’ where a guy throws up in a similar environment…Once again Creed is having the last laugh, by projecting such major taboos amongst all the other repetitive, boring, mundane detritius of everyday life. He certainly doesn’t search for beauty, and ultimately appears to stick two fingers up to everyone and everything in the most meaningful work in the show, simply titled No. 235 “Fuck off“…

 

The Crying Game

 

Derek sighed as he looked meekly at himself in the mirror. Today was going to be a special day. Yet an acute sinking feeling ran through his whole body, as if rooting him to the spot. Even standing there dressed in full livery made no difference to his fragile state of mind anymore.

“It’s been thirty years” he muttered into thin air, “thirty long bloody years of this” as he gently stroked a few stray hairs off the once faithful Tricorne, picked up his special bell for the day, and moved gingerly out of the front door, clad impeccably in traditional 18th Century dress. The bright red of his coat reflected like an orange flame in the puddles splattered along the garden path. As he closed the front gate slowly, Derek mused on how much the long scarlet and green overcoat, light grey britches and spit polished broques of his uniform had once been his only pride and joy. Now they seemed like nothing more than a rueful hindrance.

Fortunately, the short undulating walk from his modest studio flat into the centre of town did not take long. He trudged up and down past row upon row of grey, barren houses with a wistful and familiar refrain going round and round in his head…“Don’t want no more of the crying game” “One day soon, I’m gonna tell the moon about the crying game”…

Derek tried to gather himself at the top of the final hill, stopping a little short for breath about five hundred yards away from his destination, the Town Hall. He exhaled before straightening his hat, seemingly oblivious to a couple of young girls who had crossed the road to head directly towards him.

Drawing level, they both squeaked out in a high-pitched squall..“What you dressed like a clown for then eh Granddad?” skipping hurriedly past on the grass verge, carelessly splashing mud all over his shiny broques.

Derek grimaced at the mess they’d made…“I am not a clown. I’m a bellman. A Toastmaster. A Crier. A Messenger of the Queen and Lord of our manner” he shouted after them, visibly shaking. But they’d scarpered. Gone. Like the rest of the town whenever he started proclaiming these days. “What have I become?” he added in vain. A hollow silence ensued. Eventually he bent down and attempted to wipe the dirt away, wincing at the loud cracking noise from his right knee…

“First there are kisses” he babbled under his breath, throwing a discoloured tissue into a bin, “Then there are sighs, and before you know where you are, you’re saying goodbye!”

Now the moment Derek usually feared every week was upon him. Except this week was going to be different.

The refrain got louder. “I’m gonna tell the moon”…”Don’t want no more of the crying game”…

Moving on, he rounded the last bend, coming face to face with a group of drunks who flicked V’s aggressively in his direction, whilst they stood smoking furiously outside the big Wetherspoons. Derek just bowed his head and ignored them.

Finally, he reached his end; underneath the large bronze memorial to the Great War outside the Town Hall.

It was coming up to mid-day when Robin peeked out of the window from the Information point. He appeared distracted, tapping his fingers out loudly on the desk before picking a few pens up at random, only to drop them aggressively.

“Look! Our grumpy ol’ red coat’s turned up again…”

“Oh, can’t you leave the poor thing alone…” pleaded Jenny, another Town Clerk.

“No! I’m sorry, but that loud bloody bell of his drives me round the bend. And I mean let’s face it, you don’t have to listen to his pointless blabbering every other week do you?”

“OK, OK, I know what you mean, but come on, give him a break. It’s supposed to be tradition isn’t it?” Jenny fumbled with the papers in her hands after she spoke, careful not to meet Robin’s penetrative, simmering gaze.

“Well you can sod your tradition, and he can sod his ruddy bell!” He added dismissively throwing his chair to one side, but still keeping an eye on what might be about to happen outside.

Derek had stood statuesque on the pavement for nearly fifteen minutes, shuffling warily from side-to-side. The hush before the executioner’s strike. It was a Friday, the last one of the month. Farmers Market Day. He’d already approached all the main stalls; the butchers, fruit and veg and bakers, but no-one had anything for him to read out. No-one ever did these days. For thirty long years he’d been trying to keep the old customs alive, but nowadays most town folk couldn’t care less. He’d ran out of things to say a long while back. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising most people had grown tired of his random improvisations. Still, not long now he thought…

Under an empty sky, he rang his special bell; the Dead bell, very slowly about once every four to ten seconds, for the first, and very last time…

“Oyez, Oyez, Oyez…Hear ye now and hear ye no more!”

“First there are kisses, then there are sighs, and before you know where you are, you’re saying goodbye…Don’t want no more of the crying game…Don’t want no more of the crying game”

Typically, Derek’s parting declamation fell resoundingly on deaf ears. All the while, people still came and went on the busy roads and bustling pavements. Inattentively they all scurried past, clearly unaware of his last communiqué.

Only once did a couple afford him a sideways glance, when they smiled and dropped a lottery ticket at his feet on their way from the newsagents.

 

‘Friends & Lovers’ – The Radev Collection

Alfred Wallis - Three boats between a lighthouse and the shore

Alfred Wallis – Three boats between a lighthouse and the shore

A private collection of 800 stupendously good artworks is nearing the end of its only public tour; it tells a tale of friendship, love and enduringly good taste.

Read the review here: http://www.creativetourist.com/articles/art/cumbria/friends-lovers-the-radev-collection-at-abbot-hall/#sthash.JalhbO9o